Vaginal Discourse

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Irrespective of the bigoted opinion of Tea Party hardliner progressive darling Elizabeth Warren, a few days ago a federal appeals court ruled that a prison inmate has a constitutional right to sex reassignment surgery:

The 90-page ruling was written by U.S. Circuit Judge Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson, an Obama appointee, who asserted the Massachusetts Department of Corrections denied Kosilek essential medical care by withholding from her gender reassignment surgery.

“Those findings — that Kosilek has a serious medical need for the surgery, and that the DOC refuses to meet that need for pretextual reasons unsupported by legitimate penological considerations — mean that the DOC has violated Kosilek’s Eighth Amendment rights,” Thompson writes.

[Content note: Transphobia, violence]

Eight years ago, when I came out to my HMO, they couldn’t give me proper healthcare. They didn’t know how to deal with people like me.

When I went to the co-op, they didn’t know what to do with my ID. They didn’t know how to deal with people like me.

I’d run across people in the street who didn’t know what to do with me. Once, a bunch of them chased me. Much more than once, they pointed and laughed.

I called a couple of fertility clinics to let them know that I needed to donate sperm. When I told them my name was Kate, they told me they didn’t know how to deal with people like me. Then they hung up.

I went on job interviews where people didn’t look me in the eyes, because they didn’t know how to deal with people like me.

When I found a fertility clinic that would store my sperm, they told me that they couldn’t put my name (“Katherine K-A-T-H-E-R-I-N-E”) into the computer, because people wouldn’t know what to do.

Shortly after I moved to New York, I sat through a murder trial where I heard an EMT testify that he paused for a moment when he realized the gunshot victim he was treating had a penis, because he didn’t know what to do.

When I moved back to Wisconsin, my new doctor didn’t really know what to do with people like me.

I had to get on an airplane for work, and the security agents didn’t know what to do with a woman whose x-ray looked like mine. They laughed.

I asked my HMO to cover my healthcare costs, but eight years later, they still didn’t really know what to do with people like me.

And now I’ve learned that Caleb Hannan, Bill Simmons, and the staff at Grantland (and an editor from didn’t know what to do when faced with a story about a woman who was trans. A chorus of journalists has voiced the same sentiment. Journalists should do better, but dealing with trans people is hard for cis people.

Let me help.

Helpful hints on what to do when faced with a trans person:

1) Treat them like a human being.
2) Do your fucking job.

PS: If you do happen to fuck up, don’t act like you’re the first person in the history of the world to stumble into transphobia. Apologize and take your hateful shit down. There’s plenty out there for cis people to learn from. Your special little bit of fuckery just ain’t that special. Sorry.

[Content note: Transphobia, outing, suicide]

Imagine if a journalist wrote a tension-filled exposé that got “stranger by the second” as it uncovered a con artist. Now imagine if the final shocking twist was not that the subject had swindled an investor out of tens of thousands of dollars, or falsified her credentials. What if the real shocker was that this con artist was (gasp!) French?

In retrospect, it seemed obvious. The investigation repeatedly turned up evidence that foreshadowed this most bizarre of revelations. She ate rabbit kidneys, something almost unheard of amongst real Americans. She spoke with a “mutated accent.” She was constantly getting into trouble in British pubs. What’s more, she was damned seductive.

I imagine this journalist’s editors being pretty fucking pissed, if not downright incredulous. Was the writer trying to imply that French people are con artists? Why was his piece, ostensibly about fraud, dripping with French stereotypes? Clearly, this guy was a bigot with deep-seated problems with the French. After all, what does the subject’s being French have to do with anything?

At best, I imagine the editors demanding the piece by re-written to lose the bizarre Francophobia, lest the publication become a laughingstock. It would be equally likely that the journalist might be asked to take some time off to deal with his obvious issues. That is, if he wasn’t quietly shown the door for good.

Of course, last Wednesday, Grantland published an piece by Caleb Hannan that followed this exact formula. Except in Hannan’s case, the subject was trans, and the result has been several rounds of cis people wringing hands over the difficulties of telling the truth and being a bigot.

[If you’re unfamiliar with the story, last Friday my friend Melissa McEwan at Shakesville wrote a summary that’s getting a lot of traffic. The traffic is driven in part by the fact that it’s a well-written piece. Liss was also, to my knowledge, the first cis person to write about the problematic nature of Hannan’s piece, which might have been why cis folks actually picked up on it.]

In the aftermath of Hannan’s piece and the continued refusal of Hannan or Grantland to admit that they fucked up pretty badly, a lot of the focus has been on whether or not Hannan’s harassment drove Essay Anne Vanderbilt (the trans woman in question) to suicide.

That’s not the point of my criticism. I’m not here to give cis folks a primer on trans lives, and why outing a trans person is bad. A lot of the supposedly “moderate” voices (meaning people who think Hannan’s a pretty good guy who’s challenged by the difficulty cis people have grasping other folks’ humanity) seem to get that outing trans people might be a bit insensitive. Hell, Josh Levin (Slate’s executive editor) even made this point while somehow republishing the name Vanderbilt was assigned at birth.

I’m also not hear to debate why Vanderbilt committed suicide. (It could be the outing! It could also be the uncovering of her fraudulent enterprise! It could be both!) Hell, I’m not even here to dwell on the ethics of publishing a story that contains the details of a suicide for which the victim appeared to hold the author accountable.


I’m hear to put forth the radical proposal that the real problem is that Hannan is fascinated by the idea that some people are trans. What’s more, the problem is that the majority of cis people refuse to consider why this fetishization of trans* people is inappropriate.

When folks first alerted me to Hannan’s piece, I stopped reading when I got to his pronouncement that Vanderbilt had “been born a boy.” I was disgusted and appalled that the editors of a major website (part of an even larger media empire, no less) would decide to publish some bigotry.

In my mind, the suicide is simply the thing that made Hannan’s piece go viral. It was the extra violent topper to an already violent story. Lots and lots of cis people are heavily invested in missing the transphobia that surrounding Hannan’s writing prior to those last few paragraphs. Sure, self-harm is tragic. Sure, physical violence against trans people might occasionally garner attention in the media (notably, when the victim is white and middle class, as opposed to the majority of victims of anti-trans* violence).

As for having a problem with the rest of it, trans* people are apparently being oversensitive. After all, these sort of things are very, very, difficult for cis people.

I’m going to do my best in the coming weeks and months to post more frequently (or not. Wev.) As part of that, I’m going to expand what I blog about here to include stuff that’s not trans* activism. Stuff like food and whatever and segment fragments.

Speaking of which: Ladies, you know that feeling when it’s -10 below and you’re shopping for skinny jeans and you have to warm up before you can try anything on just so you can see how it fits? That.

[Content note: dehumanization]

I was at the Walgreen’s buying gum (the kids still chew gum, right), and I was standing in a long-ass line because I was at the Walgreen’s. I looked over at the magazines (it was either that or the cigarettes), and I saw that such and such celebrity reportedly “wants to be a woman.” Fucking fuck.

1) Cram your “wants to be a woman” bullshit.

2) I don’t give a fuck. I mean, cool, I’m all hugs and shoes when folks want to come out, but I really don’t care about random celebrities. Gaga takes shit. Usher does thing. (Do the kids still listen to Usher? Does Usher even sing?) Like I care.


The neat thing about this incident is how it ties in the way in which society views celebrities as something to consume as it does marginalized bodies.

I mean, we all have raging boners when Prince What’s-His-Face is surprisingly decent and we’re all totally appalled when Justin Beiber is a huge asshole about Anne Frank, but folks tend not to treat random cis het white dudes on the street like they exist for our enjoyment.

On the other hand, tons of folks are super eager to:

Gossip about trans* women’s underwear.
Ask trans* people about their surgical histories, and “real” names.
Touch black women’s hair.
Touch pregnant women’s bellies.
Ask women to smile.
Offer dietary advice to random fat people.

And so on.

And so forth.

So when there are unconfirmed rumors that such-and-such celebrity may or may not wear women’s clothes, basically the universe creams itself and I got to watch that shit while I’m trying to buy gum. And that’s why I take Ativan. Assholes.

[Content note: Transphobia, outing]

I’m not psychic, but I’m hoping that in the coming days more cis people will speak out against Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs, but you knew that) super neat habit of outing trans* women and girls, trying to get them fired, contacting doctors to try to stop them from getting medical care, etc., etc.,

I mean, I’m not super stoked about this, because: a) I don’t think it’s very likely that the big name white cis corporate feminists who don’t usually give a crap about people who aren’t also white capitalists are going to make much noise, and b) TERFs don’t what y’all think. Still, indulge me for a minute.

I’m imagining a scenario where a bunch of white people speak out about terrorists trying to hurt a group of my friends, pat themselves on the back, and then go home. Yawn. Were this to actually happen, I guess I’d be down with the basic display of human decency, but that’s about it.

Do y’all know what goes into not being outed? You usually have to change your legal name, which typically costs a few hundred (or more) dollars and can be a huge PITA. If you’re a trans woman, you likely have to undergo facial hair removal, which takes fucking forever and costs thousands of dollars. If you’re in the US, you likely have to change your birth certificate, thanks in large part to bullshit “post 9/11” laws that require you to constantly document your existence if you want to hold a job or travel. That require you to have been born in a state that will issue a new birth certificate. (I was born in Minnesota, which will only issue an amended one. Three states won’t even amend birth certificates.) Just about always, you have to have proof of some sort of surgery (which most folks can’t afford) in order to make that happen.

So, you know, aside from lot outing and harassing trans people, there’s a lot more that would be allies could do.

Here’s one route:
– Fight for insurance to cover trans* people’s medical bills
– Fight to make legal names changes and new birth certificates easier to obtain.

Here’s another route:
– Fight to make sure all people have access to all necessary medical care.
– Fight bullshit laws (like REAL ID) that police people’s identities. I’ve had to show my birth certificate to my last two employers. It’d be sweet if I had a shiny new birth certificate, but remind me again why employers need to see that shit?
– Change society’s weird fetishization of legal names.

So yeah, I’m being heavy-handed here (although I didn’t bring up class warfare, so I could have been a lot worse), but yeah, for the bieberillionth time, intersectionality matters. I want folks to speak out against violet transphobes, but that’s not enough. I want folks to push for trans* friendly laws and policies, but that’s not enough either. If you want to earn a cookie (or was it a merit badge), you have to actually do the work that matters.

[Content note: This post contains some major-league triggery stuff about depression and self-harm. Also, there’s transphobia. There’s always transphobia, lolsob]

Yesterday I wrote a piece about why I don’t like “love your body” campaigns. When I wrote it, I made a deliberate decision to omit any of my issues with self-harm. I’ve been thinking about that a lot.

First off, I think it’s inappropriate to start talking about self-harm at the same time that I’ve got widget up raising money for my medical bills. The whole “give me money or I’ll cut myself” thing is manipulative as hell.

Just to be clear that I’m not being passive-aggressive, I’ve long since decided that if I ever find myself insinuating that self harm is eminent, I’m absolutely stopping raising funds prior to doing so. It’s just not cool to put folks in that position, full stop.

And you know, since friends and family are likely reading, let me just say that I’m having a fairly decent week, all things considered. I’m an old hand at managing my depression. I’ve got a great support network. This being trans* shit ain’t fun (nor is mental illness). If it was, all the kids these days would be doing it.

As much as I like to ground my writing in my experiences, I’m not really here to talk about me as much as I am why I’m usually careful to not publicly talk about self harm.

If you’re trans* (or intimately involved in a trans* community), you’ve probably already noticed this: we’re constantly talking amongst ourselves about self-harm.
Read more…

Yesterday was the National Organization for Women’s 16th annual Love Your Body Day.

Here’s how NOW explains the day’s purpose:

Every day, in so many ways, the beauty industry (and the media in general) tell women and girls that being admired, envied and desired based on their looks is a primary function of true womanhood. The beauty template women are expected to follow is extremely narrow, unrealistic and frequently hazardous to their health. The Love Your Body campaign challenges the message that a woman’s value is best measured through her willingness and ability to embody current beauty standards.

Right on.

1) Popular culture is saturated with some horribly misogynist (and racist, ableist, homophobic, fat-hating, trans* phobic et al.,) messages about bodies and lives, particularly when it comes to women.

2) Nobody should feel obliged to listen to other people’s critiques of their body. This includes multi-national corporations shilling crap just as it does random assholes on the street.

To me, this is all pretty straight-forward. Smash patriarchy, etc., etc.,

However, folks (and in particular, I’m looking at the cis folks out there) have to decouple “don’t let other people tell you what to think about your body” from “I think your body is super.” If the kyriarchy isn’t allowed to talk shit about my body, it shouldn’t be pushing any views on my body just to make itself feel better about itself.

My body, my perspective.


I sense that this is probably counter-intuitive to a lot of people. However, while I can’t speak for other trans* people, I’m sick and tired of other people telling me that I should be cool with my body.

When I came out, people asked me why I had to go and change my body, because all bodies are beautiful.

When I complain to people about having to shave my beard once (or more) a day, people point out that lots of women have lots of facial hair, as if this is somehow relevant to how I feel about my facial hair.

This isn’t just idle chatter. Activists have argued that the medical treatments that I (and countless trans* people) seek amount to the mutilation of our beautiful bodies. I don’t recall asking them for their thoughts on my body.

I (and I’m not alone in this) don’t have access to necessary medical care because other people have decided that it’s “cosmetic.”

In the end, I don’t see a whole lot of difference between people who object to my transsexuality because I’m going against the word of God and people who object to my transsexuality out of my need to not listen to what the wrong people say about my body.

Nobody should be forced to wear cosmetics.

Nobody should be forced to have reconstructive surgery.

Nobody should be forced to be feminine.

And yet, some people wear cosmetics, have various appearance-altering surgeries and/or are women. We’re not sell outs to some bullshit ideal (if I only had a vagina for every time I heard that garbage), we’re just being ourselves.

I’m happy that lots of other people love their bodies. It’d be awesome if everyone loved their body, but that’s not a call I get to make.

So while I applaud NOW for fighting on this one particular front (even if it’s one that corporate feminists have been fighting on seemingly forever), I don’t want to answer anyone’s bullshit questions about why I love my body. I don’t want people to act as if I’ve never considered loving my body.

Shit, I try to tolerate my body. I’m a strong person, but every single day in this body is a struggle. I’m not throwing that out there to elicit pity (HEY LET’S ALL GET ON THE INTERNET AND FEEL BAD ABOUT OUR BODIES). I’m just pretty jarred that so many cis people think telling other folks to love their own bodies isn’t extraordinarily hostile. I get that the idea probably never occurred to a lot of you, but that’s the precisely the problem.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a glut of opportunities to consider the ways in which society privileges cis bodies. More specifically, I’ve been reflected on how society privileges cis people’s medical needs.

A few years back, I was at the radiology department of a local hospital, because it was the third Sunday of the month and I played roller derby. (Seriously. Let’s hear it for the rad techs.) Anyhow, I’m about to get my chest or head or whatever x-rayed or scanned to make sure that everything is of the appropriate size and relative location, and I’m talking to the tech.

According to my driver’s license and my chart, I’m a woman, so I have to answer the usual questions, because if I’m pregnant and playing roller derby, it would be totally inappropriate to expose the fetus (or fetuses!) to radiation.

Now, there’s two basic ways a provider can approach that question. Read more…

[Content note: homophobia, transphobia, violence]

During Monday’s inaugural address, President Obama referenced “our forebears” traveling through Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall on the long road towards freedom. It was an unexpected and poignant moment for me and many of my fellow LGBTQ Americans. Cool beans.

In the intervening days, the media has been awash in explanations of what happened at Stonewall:

“In 1969, some cops rolled a boulder in front of New York’s gay bar. Miraculously, the gays’ mix tape lasted for eight days. When some asshole moved the rock so he could get free parking, the gays came out and had a grand feast with the police. To commemorate the police’s decision to for some reason let Rosie O’Donnell have a TV show, each year those people hold a big parade that makes it a total pain in the ass to drive to that Saturday’s ballsport matches.” -Some douche, probably

And then there’s NPR:

”So, what was Stonewall?”

Given that the Stonewall rebellion happened over forty years ago, and that allowing public school teachers to acknowledge queer peoples’ existence is still a controversial matter for many Americans, it makes sense to examine Stonewall.


The NPR story is representative of a common theme in Stonewall narratives.

[G]ay men resisted police harassment at the Stonewall Inn

The Stonewall Inn… was one of the few places where gay men, almost all necessarily closet, could gather.

[A] gay male bar in New York

It was not filled, as some accounts have it, with drag queens and street hustlers.

[Authorities] targeted gay men.

[T]he men began to throw things.

It wasn’t the first time gay men had pushed back.

Gay men in San Francisco had already been protesting.

At this point, most of you already know where I’m going with this. Before I get there, let me be clear about a couple of things.

Two thousand and thirteen is not nineteen sixty-nine and community identities evolve with time.

In the late sixties, society did target gay men for punishment. It still does, even if we’ve made a lot of progress. For one thing, “homophobia” is now a word.

During the sixties, straight society had an even less nuanced view of LGBT lives then it does now. If you were the kind of person who had the wrong kind of sex with the wrong sort of people in the wrong sort of clothes, you were one of the others. There wasn’t a lot of parsing out “straight acting” homos from queer ones.

The LGBT community has always been both a community and a coalition. Yet, in the years since Stonewall, various members of the community have put themselves forward as more palatable, less threatening, and therefore more deserving of rights.

‘Sure I have sex with other men, but at least I’m not once of those lipstick-wearing penis-havers.’

‘Sure I had a physical condition, but I got it fixed and I’m now I’m having the right kind of sex, unlike some people.’

The act gets old.

Stonewall was not merely gay men’s riot. Call us what you want, but queens, trans women, and otherwise gender non-conforming people (and yes, there were butch women) were a major part of the rebellion that many gay men trace back to the Stonewall.

What’s more, while events in Greenwich Village were pivotal in queer liberation, we’d been fighting back for years. Stonewall wasn’t the first violent protest of police harrassment where trans* people played a major role. It’s also worth noting that queers of color comprised a large proportion of those fighting back.

I’m not pointing all of this out because I want to play oppression Olympics. I’m not even pointing it out to educate folks– I suspect most regular readers of both Shakesville and my work are already well aware that trans* people have long been a part of the struggle for queer rights.

I’m pointing all of this out because most straight folks are clueless about this aspect of our history. I’m pointing this out because it’s important to keep calling out certain corners of the gay community on their incomplete narrative.

Stonewall was embedded in a much larger, intersection fight for social justice. Don’t rob my elders of their legacy.

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