Feb 06, 2007
Michigan prof fired for being trans
I've been following this story for the past couple of days. The story intersects my interests in multiple ways: 1) it's about a transgender woman, 2) who gets fired for being trans, 3) here in Michigan, 4) raising questions regarding the reach of Title VII (and its Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications (BFOQ) exemption) and 5) the protections provided under the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion.
Christian-based Spring Arbor University is firing the transgender professor, effective June 1, choosing not to tolerate Nemecek's transformation from John to Julie Marie.
After a half-century of internal conflict, Nemecek, an associate dean of adult studies, began to appear as a woman on campus in late 2005.
In a perfect world, I'd analyze all of this for you and tell you what the competing positions are or are likely to be -- wait, who am I kidding? In a perfect world I'd be either taking her case or working with Randi Barnabee in representing her (Randi is the lawyer who represented Smith in Smith v. City of Salem that ultimately won for the transgender firefighter in the 6th Circuit). But, it's not a perfect world and I'm still studying like mad for the bar exam.
So, instead I refer you to this post written by Dr. Jillian Weiss at Transgender Workplace Diversity. I note that she makes a couple of statements that I disagree with, but on the whole, I think it's pretty good (I think she overstates (or even misstates) the significance of Smith, for example).
Another thing that I'd like to see analyzed or discussed is the fact that Ms. Nemecek is an ordained Baptist minister, clearly a Christian. Yet, the reason she's being fired is because
"We expect our faculty to model Christian character as an example for our students," read a university statement issued by a public-relations firm. Faculty who "persist with activities that are inconsistent with the Christian faith" are subject to firing.
What is "Christian character"? Clearly, it's not "judge not, lest ye be judged", nor is it "love thy neighbor as thyself". And, whose Christian faith? I bet Rev. Debra Haffner would not suggest that Ms. Nemecek's character is un-Christian.
Jan 31, 2007
When is "Too Young"?
Many people have already reported on the story about the 14 year old transgender girl, Kim, who began hormone treatment at 12. I have pretty much stayed out of the fray until today. Today, I saw this story on ABC News (note how they say "he" when referring to Kim). It quoted Dr. Neera Ghaziuddin, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. Excuse me? Why? What possible relevance is her opinion? She herself admits that she is not familiar with the case. Perhaps ABC was just looking for someone with some sort of credentials to take the opposite side (of course they can always find the religious fundamentalists and fear-mongers to take that side). The good doctor says
"Frankly, I find this troubling news," says Dr. Neera Ghaziuddin, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. Ghaziuddin works with preteens and teens with psychological problems, and she says that although she is not intimately familiar with all the details of Kim's case, the fact that the treatment has started causes her concern.
"Most 12-year-olds are still struggling with many aspects of their identity, so a permanent or a semi-permanent procedure to change gender would be undesirable, in my opinion," Ghaziuddin says.
How do you decide when young is "too young"? I enjoyed reading Heart's post Convergences: the Rights of Children, Disabled People, and the "Other Than Normal" where she said (talking primarily about the story of Ashley's treatment, but also discussing immunizations and other medical interventions, including well baby care):
I don’t think it’s ever right, not ever, to perform these surgeries or to use these “treatments” on babies, children or teenagers. Not ever, not for any reason at all.
And, later, she says:
Sensitive, caring parents know when their kids need help. They know this by the way their child behaves — significantly differently than the way she usually behaves — or by fevers, crying, sadness, depression, dramatic changes in behavior or sleep patterns.
So, I'm not sure how she would come out in this case. The evidence -- at least as it's reported in the newspapers -- seems to suggest that this child herself made the "diagnosis" (why do we have to use such a word that connotes we are somehow sick?) and stuck with it for over 12 years. When a child consistently reports that she's a girl and threatens to take a pair of scissors and "cut off [her] thing" isn't that something that sensitive, caring parents would pay attention to? Of course, it is.
No one is advocating surgery here -- not the young girl, not her parents, not her "care-givers". But what is wrong with stopping her male puberty before it permanently alters her body in a way that would be profoundly disturbing to her? It seems to me that, in her case, this would be forcing a "sex change" upon her.
I'm really interested in other people's thoughts on this. Is she too young?
Jan 25, 2007
In doing research for Prof. MacKinnon's project I have noticed something interesting. Most public reporting of trans related issues will refer to trans people as "transgender women" if they are living as women (regardless of what other steps they may have taken toward transition). See, for example, this article (which I first reported here) that contains the following sentence, discussing some people born with an "M" recorded on their birth certificates: "Transgender women are more likely to end up in prison than virtually anyone else."
Contrast that with conservative or religious right reporting and -- notably -- medical journal reporting where "transgender" is often a modifer of birth sex. For example, consider this quote (discussing the fact that male prostitutes reported): "lower frequencies of physical assault and rape than did women and transgender men". Emphasis added. Perceived Health Needs of Inner-City Street Prostitutes: A Preliminary Stydy, Am. J. of Health Behavior, 10873244, Jan/Feb 2001, Vol. 25, Issue 1.
So, my question is: why the difference and who gets to decide?
Uppity Biscuit has a post up, entitled "Do Not Call Me Cisgender. You Do Not Have My Permission To Name Me." While I have some blog friends who identify as cisgender, I would never presume to refer to Uppity Biscuit by that term now that I know she doesn't like it. Is there anything more personal to us and our identities than our names? We should honor that. I'm sure Uppity would honor my request if I said I didn't want to be referred to as transgender, but simply as "woman". But, I'm equally clear that most media -- especially that controlled by the "medical community" (read "patriarchy") or the religious right (read "wrong") would not.
Do any of you have views on this? Is the medical community simply trying to be technically correct (as they see it)? Or, are they just dishonoring us?
For the record, I do not choose to name myself "woman". I like that I'm a transgender woman. I claim that name for myself. I claim it as my saying "fuck you" to the patriarchy and to the systems of oppression that insist we must all conform to their gender "norms".
Jan 20, 2007
When I took Criminal Law, we learned about some of the theories of imprisonment and punishment. We learned that retribution and deterrence (individual and societal) were two of the main justifications (it's more complicated than that, but I won't go into an analysis of Utilitarianism and Retributivism here). I wrote back then about my reaction to rape as a crime as distinct from other crimes based, perhaps, upon my personal experience with it.
Recently, I've read a couple of stories about rape. One, which I read first at Feminist Law Professors, frankly turned my stomach (I also note that Women's Space/The Margins and Feminist Nation also reported it). It is a story about a man who kidnapped his wife, raped and tortured her to create a porn video (original story here).
ORLANDO - (AP) -- A man kidnapped his wife, raped and tortured her and then hung her from a tree to film a two-hour bondage porn video, authorities said Tuesday.
The 30-year-old man was charged with aggravated assault and battery, sexual battery, kidnapping and false imprisonment. He was being held in the Brevard County Jail Tuesday on a $3 million bond.
Do you know that there was a time -- very recently -- in this country when a man could not be convicted of rape if the victim was his spouse? Even now, the Model Penal Code says:
§ 213.1. Rape and Related Offenses.
(1) Rape. A male who has sexual intercourse with a female not his wife is guilty of rape if:
(a) he compels her to submit by force or by threat of imminent death, serious bodily injury, extreme pain or kidnapping, to be inflicted on anyone; or
(b) he has substantially impaired her power to appraise or control her conduct by administering or employing without her knowledge drugs, intoxicants or other means for the purpose of preventing resistance; or
(c) the female is unconscious; or
(d) the female is less than 10 years old.
Thank the feminist movement for bringing about positive change in that particular absurdity, although we obviously have far to go.
Then, last night, I came across this story where a San Antonio police officer was just convicted of rape of a transsexual woman. I first blogged about this crime last June, and updated the story in July.
According to testimony, Gutierrez left his patrol area and forced Bernal into his squad car at Zarzamora and Laredo streets. Testimony established that Gutierrez took Bernal to a dark and secluded area, where Bernal said the officer orally and anally raped her, and struck her in the face with his hand and on the leg with his police baton.
Although this former police officer was sentenced to 24 years in prison (the minimum the judge could give under the sentencing guidelines) I disapprove of the punishment.
My first reaction was to say "YES! The bastard got what he deserved." And, so, perhaps he has. If so, is this "just deserts"? Does this satisfy our need -- and the victim's need -- for retribution? What about the deterrence aspect of punishment? Surely, spending the next 24 years in prison will deter this criminal, but what about other potential rapists (and maybe even this won't deter him -- who's to say he won't rape again while in prison)? The studies that I recall from my first year criminal law class suggest that imprisonment actually does a poor job of societal deterrence.
Back in my earlier post, I suggested castration. I still believe it's a better alternative. Maybe we could offer the convicted a choice: 10 years in prison plus castration, or life in prison. Of course, I suspect that -- as long as we have 8 men and only 1 woman deciding what is cruel and unusual -- such a plan would be struck down as unconstitutional (note that I think it might also be stricken as unconstitutional on other grounds (thinking back to the forced sterilization of women in this country in the past century)).
I am sick not only that these women were brutalized by these men, although I certainly am. I am reminded again that women hold an inferior position in society to men. These men exercised their power over these women. These men who supposedly held positions of trust -- a husband and a police officer.
We need to find alternatives to our criminal justice system. In the meantime -- lock them up and castrate them!
Jan 18, 2007
Dr. Phil - Gender Identity "Crisis"
The Girl and I watched Dr. Phil last night. The promos really had me nervous that this was going to be just another sensationalistic ratings grab that would further marginalize the trans community. I wasn't far wrong, but it wasn't as bad as it looked like it could have been.
The biggest problem I had with the show was that it attempted to cover 3 huge areas in one (commercial ridden) hour. It therefore necessarily gave short shrift to each. In the "main" episode Dr. Phil had a 37 year-old FTM and his family on -- mother and two aunts. I wish I could understand what makes a grown person agree to such a thing. I'm guessing they paid him. In any event, most of the "family's" objections were grounded in their religious beliefs and they gave plenty of air time to that (almost so that it became enough rope; one aunt was very over the top). The only real positive contribution that Dr. Phil made in this segment was his admonition that the family should love "her" (he never deigned to calling him "him") no matter what choices "she" might make. I was also appalled at the portrayal of Gwen Araujo that the show gave. In every single instance they referred to Gwen as "he" or by his masculine name (which I've forgotten in the moment). And Gwen's mother, Sylvia, said nothing to set that straight. That bothered me -- especially since I've heard Sylvia speak and she has always honored Gwen's gender (even had her name legally changed posthumously to Gwen).
The second segment was about a family with an intersex child (4 years old) -- a female appearing person with AIS and XY chromosomes. The parents were ostensibly seeking advice about how to handle this situation and whether to raise the child as a boy or a girl. My objection to this segment is simply that they didn't spend nearly enough time on it -- they didn't discuss how there really isn't an easy option of letting the child choose for himself how she identifies. Will the child's pre-school allow her to choose which bathroom he wants to use? Additionally, I'm not sure the Intersex community would be happy that this segment was lumped in with a show on "gender identity crisis" -- smacked between an FTM and and MTF.
The third major segment was about a high school student who everyone first knew as a boy but who identifies as a girl and is now attending high school at Pace High School in Florida as a girl. Although they framed the question as "should he (again, note the pronouns) be allowed to use the girl's restroom" they spent most of the segment on how unfair it was to the other students that they couldn't wear ball caps to school, but this boy gets to wear dresses. The only real significant contribution Dr. Phil made to the segment was his agreement with the girl's attorney that people should do whatever they can to prevent abuse and violence against non-conforming students and his pointed remark that the clothes this student was wearing were acceptable if worn by "all the other girls" but only objectionable because they were being worn by a "boy".
They closed with a brief interview of two women in the audience -- an MTF and her spouse. The worst part of that was the choice of clothes the couple wore -- wow, did they clash! The best part was the MTF's spouse's assertion that she loved the person and would continue to stick with her, regardless.
On a completely unrelated note -- I have a post that I want to write with respect to experiencing gender as a social construct (and the implications of that to me) but it's not an insignificant post (like this one is) and I've just not found the quiet time necessary to work on it. So, once again, it's back to bar exam studying for me.
Jan 12, 2007
Who defines 'Self Identity'?
For many, even most couples, the transition of one partner brings about tremendous pressure on the non-transitioning partner to accept and support us as we move from one gender identity to another. I don't think we give enough credit to that struggle.
Who gets to name our relationships and our identities? I think it naive to say that we do. In the 15 years since I came out as transgender, I have known 4 couples who have managed to stay together through a partner's transition (at least they were together the last time I spoke with them).
Because gender -- the socially constructed variety -- is so outwardly visible in this society (maybe that'll change someday, but I won't live to see it so I'm not going to waste too many moments dwelling upon it) when someone transitions it necessarily brings other people into the intimacy of your relationship. "I thought you were gay/lesbian/straight!", or "what's up with your mother/father?" they exclaim. Few people have the strength to withstand that barrage, especially when it comes from family.
It is a tough road for our partners. I often think we, as transpeople, get so wrapped up in our own undeniable trauma that we don't pay enough attention to what's happening in their lives. This article reminded me of that again this morning -- so I'm sharing it with you. [Note that I don't endorse everything said in the article, especially the closing sentence; I refuse to identify my transgenderism as a mistake in any context. Nevertheless, there are some poignant stories here, worth reading.] To those in the world who find a way to name themselves without succumbing to the pressures around them, I salute you.
Jan 11, 2007
Once more, for old time's sake
PG, a long-time blog friend of mine (and someone I nearly got to meet in person this summer, but we passed like ships in the night on the DC metro) is someone whose opinions I value and intellect I admire. She blogs at both at DeNovo and Half the Sins of Mankind.
Although I said I was done with this topic (and, indeed, despite the excellence of Amp's post and now of PG's I find myself tiring of it in the extreme) I find it necessary to ask a basic question that seems to me to underlie many of the discussions people have about transsexuality, but which I have seen little or no discussion (perhaps I'm simply too late to the party?).
Inevitably, people (courts, bloggers, medical professionals, and others) discuss something called "biological sex". My question is: what is that? Is it reducible to genitals and chromosomes? PG phrases it thusly:
I'm not clear on how being trans is an "inborn characteristic," given that gender is a social construct. You are born with a set of genitalia that give you a physical sex, but the set of characteristics accepted as "masculine" or "feminine" is socially taught. If we had a gender neutral society in which everyone wore skirts, no one wore makeup or had shaved legs, and the genitalia of people you found attractive was no one else's business, there would be no such thing as "transgender."
I don't know that I disagree with her. Indeed, I've made the same basic argument because it seems to me to be logically coherent based upon what I have been taught to believe about biology and the social construction of gender. See, for example, my own recent post about whether or not trans people should have surgery, as well as this post entitled "How do you know?". [Also, see my post "Am I a Woman" which talks in some detail about my experiences with gender]
However, something nags at the back of my consciousness. Perhaps that something is nothing more than my unwillingness to deny the truth of my own experience; I can't say for certain that it's not. But, what if there were such a thing as "brain sex"? What if "biological (or physical) sex" were more than chromosomes and genitals? I don't know that it is, although there is some evidence that it may be (see, for example, this brief which asserts in part: "Thus, although sex assignment at birth by the criterion of the external genitalia is statistically reliable, in people experiencing transsexualism it is not: they are exceptions to the statistical rule. Further, the attached extract from Nature entitled ’A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality’ concerns a study which has been carried out of a region in the hypothalamus of the brain which is smaller in women than in men. Strikingly, the region was of female size or smaller in six male-to-female transsexuals, regardless of hormone treatment. This research indicates quite clearly that, medically, the sex of an individual must be regarded as being decided by the construction of the brain: it is not an issue of ’psychological sex’ but of physiological differentiation.") Regardless, it seems to me that we assert many things are inborn without an external manifestation. PG in her post even acknowledges that sexual orientation is inborn. Why can't gender identity be so? I'm not suggesting that the desire to wear lipstick or high heels or spit on the sidewalk is inborn, merely the personal experience of one's gender or sexual identity.
It seems to me that the logic that underlies the theory of gender as 100% social construct is the same theory that underlay Dr. John Money's conversion of Bruce into Brenda. Later, of course, he discovered the truth, changed his name to David (Reimer) and, eventually killed himself. If it were pure social construct, why didn't the experiment work? Despite being socialized as a girl from infancy and even given female hormones as he matured to ensure his "normal" female development, David had an innate (inborn) sense that he was not female. The intersex also seem to belie the connection between biology as defined merely by genitalia and chromosomes -- to which gender do they belong? Many pick the gender assigned to them, while many more choose a different one.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to argue that gender is NOT socially constructed. Clearly, for the most part, it is. I'm just curious if there is something else at work here, that we don't know about, or choose to ignore.
Finally, I have to say that PG's position is infinitely more palatable to me (as a transwoman, of course) than the vitriol we've seen over the past few weeks. She at least shows respect for the decisions that people who live in a gendered culture make in order to live their lives. But like all of us, she generalizes sometimes. To wit, she says:
That is, I don't find transsexual people at all threatening in themselves, but I am a little troubled by the necessity of literally reifying the sex-gender connection by altering one's genitalia, taking hormones, etc. This enaction of the oppressive social rule that XY = masculinity and XX = femininity on the body seems like something that shouldn't have to happen, even though it's obviously something people can do if they want.
Shortly after this, she quotes from Winter's post:
You know, perhaps transgender people offer an even more radical proposition, not only in proposing that gender can be cut loose from the biological body, but that gender can be something other than a source of oppression. Should we only be viewing gender as something to be destroyed, or should we be listening to transsexual people and considering the possibility that it's time to radically rethink our feminist ideas about gender in the light of what they have to tell us.
I don't know if she sees the contradiction in this or not, but I see one. We, as transgender people, do not necessarily reify the sex-gender connection merely by our transitioning. We can offer a completely different perspective -- i.e. that gender can be cut loose from the "biological body" (again, as constrained by chromosomes and genitals).
Every trans person I know has spent some amount of time thinking about this issue and has come to some sort of peace with it. Some of us simply say "It's too big a question for me right now. I have to live my life and this is where I'm happy." Others, continue to search and question. Some find a theory (provable or not) that works for them, in their life. Personally, I bounce around between all of them. For now, I'm just bored with it.
Jan 09, 2007
In a tie -- the penis rules
From Gazette.com in Colorado Springs, CO comes this story:
A judge has ruled that a hermaphrodite facing theft, fraud and bond-jumping charges is competent to stand trial.
Storme Shannon Aerison, 42, has been held at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo since 2004. A judge ruled her incompetent to stand trial in 2003.
Psychiatrists had testified Aerison suffered from dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder.
But 4th Judicial District Judge Edward Colt believed a psychiatrist in Pueblo who wrote: “Aerison is feigning cognitive impairment in an effort to avoid prosecution.”
Aerison is terrified of serving prison time in a male prison and has rejected plea agreements that involve prison time, court records show.
Aerison was born with male and female genitalia and never had sex-assignment surgery, according to court testimony. Her parents named their child Charles Daugherty, but she legally changed it to Storme Aerison when she decided to be a woman.
Aerison is being held in the men’s jail of the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center because of a policy requiring anyone with male sex organs to be housed there. No court date has been set.
I note that the reporter uses the outdated term "hermaphrodite" to describe Ms. Aerison, but then also uses the pronoun "she". I find it interesting that the reporter says that Ms. Aerison "decided to be a woman". What a pity that because she lives her life as she was born (not having had "sex assignment surgery" -- because you know how important it is that we assign sex to everyone!) our criminal justice system will subject this person to punishment above and beyond whatever the law gives her. Either they will house her (as they are now doing) with male inmates subjecting her to a substantial increased risk of rape and abuse or they will confine her to solitary. Neither is acceptable.
In a related note, if you've not seen the movie Cruel and Unusual, and you get the opportunity, I recommend it. It has some flaws, but the overall main point of the movie is good. From an interview with the directors:
How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
We learned about a young transgender woman who went to jail, and we began thinking about what happens to someone who doesn't fit into either gender being placed in a strict and harsh institution that is organized by gender. We found these two amazing women who put out a newsletter to transgender people in prison, and they ran a paragraph about our film project which said we were looking for people who would be willing to be interviewed, given that we could get permission from the prison.
Over the course of 2 years we got hundreds of responses, and began asking prisons for permissions, having no idea what would happen. We requested permission from prisons in almost every state, and got permission to go into 6 prisons for interviews. We were surprised we got into any prisons, given the topic. We also followed two women just after their release, and one who was released in the course of filmmaking, so we get to look at the course of their lives, and what it's like to be a transgender woman, with a prison record, trying to make a living, and hoping, hoping that she can get sex reassignment surgery one day.
Jan 04, 2007
"The Surgery" -- or, not
A long-time, faithful reader of mine sent me an email asking me why I chose to have surgery (see this link for my initial posting about this) and would I counsel for it or against it (and also wondering if the initial ingestion of estrogen affected my desire for surgery). I thought I'd respond here, in case anyone else has such questions.
I first began taking estrogen in August 1997. At that time, I wasn't convinced that I would ever have surgery (and, indeed, it took me until May 2005 to have it (see above link). I didn't hate my penis, I didn't hate my body in any way, really. It had served me well, to that point. The only thing I didn't like was that because of the way my body was shaped (and the way I dressed, and the name I was given) people always called me "he" and "sir". I didn't like that interaction and I wished to change it.
For me, blessed as I am, the estrogen was enough to change all that. After many months (this is a powerful drug, but it's not instantaneous) I was able to "pass" (god, how I'm learning to hate that word). Once that happened, the need for surgery diminished even more.
But, then, other things began to happen. My wife decided to divorce me. I decided to come to law school. I turned 50. I began to think about practical effects -- travel, intimacy, violence against trans people, etc. Again, those things are all related on the post linked to above. But, the most compelling for me was intimacy. I was still young, I was now single -- and I hated it. How could I ever find love again with this "mismatch" (which I believed in, despite the arguable societal creation of it) between my gender identity and my genitals? So, I had it.
But, would I do it again? Yes, given my life circumstances, yes. I did find love again, to my eternal and wonderous joy. And, she did (does) actually care about the shape of my genitals (in fact, she's constantly after me to write a thank you letter to Dr. Marci).
Once again, though, I feel it necessary to reiterate that I do NOT think surgery is necessary to be "complete". I never did. I'm not saying that it's not right for others to feel that way; I just don't feel that way. It is a step -- arguably a step that only one or two people in your life will ever know about. You. And an intimate partner. OK, maybe a doctor here and there. In her email to me, my reader noted that she had seen me at the Southern Comfort Conference (SCC) in 2003 -- still 18 months away from surgery. She marvelled at how I seemed "well adjusted" and "sure of [my]self". And, indeed, I hope I was (and am). Surgery did nothing to change any of that. I'm not clear that it can have that effect.
I contrast that with another trans-woman I used to know who would regularly diss me for not being "real" (Jami, you know who I'm talking about). She had had "the surgery" and believed it to be the ultimate goal; she insisted that I would know what she was talking about if I ever had it and, until that point, I should keep my opinions to myself. Well, I've had it and I'm all about sharing my opinions! :)
So, there you have it, dear reader. To others, I ask you to drop a comment: Why or why not on surgery?
Jan 03, 2007
F v. T -- comments
A fairly new reader, Stacy, commented in the post Feminists v. Trannies – again that she was not pleased that I had signed the petition that I linked to and she made some excellent observations. I attempted to answer her comments in comments, but I got so long winded that I decided to just put them into their own post.
The petition that you link to is fairly problematic. Here are some excerpts in the “fine print” of the petition (you have to scroll down the petition page a good bit to find these excerpts):
"We recognize, support and affirm those women whose separatism is part of a practice of woman (born woman) only spirituality and their right to practice woman (born woman) only spirituality in spaces set aside for that purpose.”
"We reject the theory that underpins the idea and practice of trans, both transsexuality and transgender. We understand notions of trans or genderqueer to be mostly about gender enforcement, about purveying of gender stereotypes, and as such, we find them to be confining and disrespectful of women as women, rather than liberating.”
I had read the first of those paragraphs she quoted before I signed the petition. I am not in disagreement with it (people do, in my opinion, have a right to separatism if they wish to exercise it). I am often saddened by such exercise (as with the MWMF), but I support people’s right to it.
As to the second paragraph, I see that it can be interpreted two ways. One, as I suspect you suggest (and probably correctly) is, that they reject the "idea and practice of trans" as "confining and disrespectful of women as women." The other is that they reject the idea of "gender enforcement" and the "purveying of gender stereotypes" as confining and disrespectful of women as women. I agree with the latter construction and, naturally, disagree with the former.
Having said that, however, I can see an argument that might even allow me to agree with the former. It is highly theoretical and grounded in the belief that gender is mostly (exclusively?) performative (as Judith Butler would argue). To the extent that that is so, the experience of trans does seem to me to generally reinforce gender and I hate that. Not that I can do any other, you understand. I am who I am and I’ve tried being someone else for too many years to go back. We have, generally, two accepted genders and this one suits me better. If we had an infinite number of accepted genders would I have needed to transition? To what? From what? So, as I say it’s highly theoretical, but I can get there.
So, I signed the petition. I want to reach out to all who are willing to take my hand. And, I want to take the hand of all who reach out. I am no saint and I can’t change anyone’s mind about anything – except my own, and I can’t do that unless I’m willing to listen. So, I’ll build a bridge of communication wherever I can. And, I’ll listen and I’ll consider. Perhaps we can get Nexy Joto comment on her interpretation of these paragraphs and her co-authorship of the petition (see also her roundup of the posts that started this whole mess).
As to Stacy’s comments about Heart (also one of the co-authors) and the posting of comments, I can only say that I’ve experienced something similar – but with the blog Uppity Biscuit. I’ve left a couple of comments there. For example, under her (I assume her) link to the above petition, I commented that I had signed it. That comment was never posted, and the next time I looked, comments had been closed. In her previous post, regarding the MWMF, I also commented – affirming my support of the organizers’ right to be exclusive. In that comment, I also asked a sincere question related to Uppity’s comment about being “born female”. I asked, simply, what does that mean (speaking of being highly theoretical; I sincerely do NOT know. Is there a universal experience of any gender)? Again, this comment was never posted although a later comment was posted. Perhaps I’m just not someone she wants commenting on her blog.
So, my point is, I know that people moderate their comments (see this post, and this post, discussing the same topic). I am sure they do so to advance their own agendas and to not foster conversation and debate. I support them in their right to do this! I am not made angry by it. Stacy said: “These days, she’s [Heart is] doing a much better job of hiding her transphobia—but it’s still there.” Perhaps Stacy is right; I hope not. But, perhaps, just perhaps, Heart is not hiding her transphobia – perhaps she’s kept her mind open and through that has refined her position and is not transphobic at all. I will hold to that hope.
OK, like others, I am DONE with this. Back to studying for the bar exam! I hope you all have a peaceful and joyous new year!
Dec 31, 2006
Feminists vs. Trannies -- again
Part of the problem of having been consumed by finals, graduation, grading papers, working on my newest project and my mother's illness is that I've not kept up with my blog reading. As such, I missed this great post entitled "I did not come to feminism for this" by Winter over at Desperate Kingdoms.
When you read it -- it's long but very thought provoking and worth it -- be sure to read the related posts and the comments. This is an old issue, but it warms my heart deeply to know that there are people in the world like Winter.
As for the subject matter, I'm simply not going to comment, beyond acknowledging the fact that I know many feminists loath transpeople -- transwomen, in particular. I read this stuff. I just can't bring myself to engage them. I've commented before (specifically as relates to the MWMF). See, especially, this post. But, in the end, I know who I am. I am blessed to have wonderful loving people in my life who accept me as a woman. And, as a person of privilege, I'm able to say "it's all about me". Still, you should go read.
[UPDATE] In addition to adding my additional commentary below the fold, I found this related link to a petition for the "Declaration and Affirmation on the Importance of Woman-Only Spaces", from Women's Space/The Margins in the comments to a post entitled: "Are Feminists Allowed to be Partnered with Transmen and Transwomen?" It's a great post, and an excellent blog. I signed the petition.
OK, I lied. I can't let these three comments go without my own comments (courtesy, again, of Winter's post):
Just for the record, I do not fear or hate these psychologically damaged boys. I pity them. I do hate that “professionals” can say they are able to magically turn these pitiful guys in a woman. As I said before, they should lose their license to practice medicine by praying on and profiting off the mental problems of these unfortunates.
I’d like to take a piss in a public can knowing for a fact there are no boys in there whining “I was born in the wrong body” for fucksake, insisting I refer to him as “she.” Phobic? Hardly. Resentful that women lose yet another space of their own? You betcha big time.
Sex is static. It cannot be changed. Men cannot be frogs, they cannot be giraffes, they cannot be trees, they cannot be rocks, and they cannot be women. Get over it.
Comment 1: I don't want your pity, even if you think I'm a psychologically damaged boy or a pitiful guy. And, it's preying NOT praying. Sheesh.
Comment 2: I would rather you NOT take a piss in public, thank you very much. Personally, I try to find restrooms, preferably ones that have stalls. And you think you've lost your space?! Trying walking in a transwoman's shoes for a day. Born in the wrong body? No. But does that mean that sex is reducible simply to a set of chromosomes? What controls? If not phobic, then why do you care?
Comment 3: How must you hate yourself to compare women to frogs, giraffes, trees and rocks. Well, at least the first three are living. But, rocks? Does petrification count? Try it, would you? My god. Do you even know what a woman is? Would you please (please!) tell me?
OK. I'm done. Have a nice day (and a terrific New Year)!
Dec 18, 2006
Athlete fails "Gender Test"
OK, well, obviously none of you want to play my "guess the lights game", so I'll return to blogging about trans-stuff.
I'm anxious to learn more about this story.
Santhi Soundarajan, 25, took the gender test in Doha, Qatar, after placing second.
The Indian Olympic Association said Monday it has been told by the Olympic Council of Asia that the 25-year-old runner was disqualified.
"IOA has asked the Athletic Federation of India to return the medal as desired by the Olympic Council of Asia," the Indian Olympic group said.
The IOA also asked its medical commission to inquire into Soundarajan's case and report within 10 days.
There are no compulsory gender tests during events sanctioned by the International Association of Athletics Federations, but athletes may be asked to take a gender test. The medical evaluation panel usually includes a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist and internal medicine specialist.
An Indian athletics official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media said Soundarajan almost certainly never had sex-change surgery.
Instead, the official said Soundarajan appeared to have "abnormal chromosomes." The official also said the test revealed more Y chromosomes than allowed.
Soundarajan was not immediately available for comment.
One of the things I find interesting about this story is that she finished second. No report on whether the person who finished first was required to undergo a gender test. Too many Y chromosomes, indeed. Thank goodness the IOC has given up this foolishness.
Dec 05, 2006
A tremendous honor
In a completely unexpected email, Catharine MacKinnon just asked me if I would consider working for her for a few weeks next month to help integrate the topic of transsexuality into the second edition of her highly regarded textbook, Sex Equality.
I am totally honored that she would ask me and, of course, I will do so. Her text is so widely used that bringing the issue of transgenderism into it in a meaningful way has the great potential to influence the learning of many feminist minded students.
New York Backs Down
The forward-thinking policy announced by the city of New York to allow transgenders to change their birth certificates without having to undergo expensive, invasive, and often contra-indicated surgery has been retracted according to this report, and this one. I blogged about this earlier, when I linked to the video debate between UM Law alum Michael Silverman and the Family Research Council. I'd sure like to know why they backed off of this great idea.
NY Bd Of Health Rejects Transsexual ID Proposal
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
Posted: December 5, 2006 5:00 pm ET
(New York City) The New York City Board of Health voted Tuesday to turn down a measure that would have allowed transgender men and women to amend their birth certificates without requiring that they undergo sex reassignment surgery.
The unanimous vote came despite a strong recommendation from its own staff and four years of consultation by an eight-member panel of transgender experts and vital records offices across the country.
Under the proposal a person requesting the change in documentation would have to provide affidavits from a doctor and a mental health professional documenting the reason for the change and asserting that the proposed change would be permanent. Applicants also would have to have changed their name and be able to prove that they had lived in their corrected gender for at least two years.
In rejecting the plan transsexuals will continue to have completed gender reassignment surgery before their birth certificates could be altered.
The city's health commissioner says officials need to look more carefully at the issue. One concern is whether it would conflict with federal identity document rules being developed.
Transgender people are estimated to number in the tens of thousands in New York City and face severe and pervasive discrimination as a result of their inability to obtain identification, including birth certificates, that matches the gender in which they live said Michael Silverman, Executive Director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.
Silverman said that efforts to secure employment, travel and even do mundane tasks like enter office buildings are fraught with difficulty for transgender people whose identification does not match their gender presentation.
"The proposal recognized the reality of transgender people’s lives and the severe and pervasive discrimination that they experience on a day-to-day basis,” said Silverman.
"For many transgender people, sex reassignment surgery is a financial impossibility. For others, it’s medically inappropriate. And still others choose not to undergo surgery for a variety of personal reasons"
Silverman said his organization will press forward with the trans community’s demand "for a sensible birth certificate policy that allows all transgender people – and not just those who can afford to access expensive health care – to obtain birth certificates that reflect who they are."
Dec 02, 2006
Children and Gender Variance
Until recently, many children who did not conform to gender norms in their clothing or behavior and identified intensely with the opposite sex were steered to psychoanalysis or behavior modification.
S/he asked for thoughts and comments. I will offer some initial off-the-cuff thoughts but I'd really appreciate hearing from others -- especially lawyers with young children (such as the woman discussed in the article) like Transmogriflaw or Rayne or Legal Quandary or even Magic Cookie, or Shelley (about to be young moms). I wonder how they would react to or handle the situation this young mom faced?
Ms. B., 41, a lawyer, accepted the way her son defined himself after she and her husband consulted with a psychologist and observed his newfound comfort with his choice. But she feels the precarious nature of the day-to-day reality. “It’s hard to convey the relentlessness of it, she said, “every social encounter, every time you go out to eat, every day feeling like a balance between your kid’s self-esteem and protecting him from the hostile outside world.”
The prospect of cross-dressing kindergartners has sparked a deep philosophical divide among professionals over how best to counsel families. Is it healthier for families to follow the child’s lead, or to spare children potential humiliation and isolation by steering them toward accepting their biological gender until they are older?
So, I don't have any great insights here. The article seems fair and balanced to me. I will say that the enforcement of gender rules and norms are most felt by children, especially children who "don't fit". At least I believe that to be the case. Being accepted is a huge part of being a child; indeed, I think it's a huge part of being human. It goes to self-esteem in a direct and powerful way. It seems logical, then, to do what we can to foster it. But, this article is all about which path does that the best? The path that suggests the child dress as s/he feels or as dictated by the physical appearance of the child's genitals? It's not an easy question.
I won't suggest that I know the right answer. I will only say, however, that I approve of the approach that many of these young parents are trying to follow by allowing their children to be who they are. Our culture has a LOT invested in maintaining the boundaries between the genders (indeed, a LOT invested in ensuring there are only two genders between which to maintain such a boundary).
I recently came across a letter to the editor from a "former homosexual", Sylvia Bertolini, who said:
As a former homosexual, I can confirm that change is possible, and that people are not born gay/lesbian/
bisexual/ transgendered or other. We are either male or female. One needs only look at our physical make up to realize this truth and thus, one should act according to one's bodily form. To be more specific, since it seems that this may be necessary, if someone was born with male physiology, one is male, thus one should simply go to the men's washroom. If someone was not born with a penis, then one should go to the women's washroom.
One thing that helped me in my recovery, was to look at myself in a mirror without my clothes on, and thank God prayerfully for every part of me and especially for having created me a woman. We need to accept our sexuality and not run from it. We are either male or female.
Aside from the stupidity that this woman shows by suggesting that her experience can be directly overlaid onto another person's life, is the ignorance that sex is determined exclusively by one's genitals, something you can see by standing naked in front of a mirror (although, parenthetically, you have to love her characterization of a woman -- "someone [who] was not born with a penis". She defines her femaleness in the negative. You think maybe this woman has issues?).
My point with this woman's letter is that many people do identify sex in that most narrow of ways. How do you think we get those "M's" and "F's" on our birth certificates? Do you think they check our chromosomes, or ask us how we feel?
It seems easy to say -- "let them dress as they feel; no one will be the wiser. Genitals aren't visible to the other kids." But, I'm not so sure. Children are amazingly prescient and perceptive. Also, kids tell everything, ask about everything. The fact that you're an innie or an outie is a "secret" not long kept, I think. Then what?
OK -- so, in the end, what would I do? Being me -- a transgender person, with my experience and knowledge -- I'd have to say that I'd let my kid be who she felt he was. It'd be a huge risk, and I'm not sure I'd ever know if I followed the right path, but it's one that I'd take. It'll be interesting to know how these kids feel 20 years from now. Did their parents do the right thing?
I'd really love to hear your thoughts.