Vaginal Discourse

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[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.

[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.

Okay, so that <3 thingy doesn’t work so well when you’re using bad-assed web typography. Still.

If you’ve followed Bitch magazine over the years (and if you haven’t, you need to start, like, yesterday), you know they’ve had pretty consistent financial struggles. Unfortunately, that’s just part of the reality that most small-to-medium-to-not-gargantuan print media find themselves in.

Bitch needs your help again.

Lemme offer up two reasons why Bitch is near and dear to me. First, I’m a writer. (And by extension, I’m a reader.) Bitch is one of the reasons why. I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing people encourage me to share my writing, but even before that started happening, I met Bitch at my local feminist bookstore.


Ninety-six pages of smart writing about things that I cared about were waiting for me inside. Holy crap, there were people writing about things I had actually been thinking about for months. Television! Music! That asshole on the bus who keeps staring at me! Better yet, most of the writers were women. A lot of them were young, like me. Some of them were huge queers. Hooray!

I have no idea how many other writers Bitch has inspired over the years, let alone how many it might in the future. And for those of us who are writing, Bitch is an important outlet. My friends need bread and readers, yo.

And let’s be frank Read more…

Last month, a Calgary radio station announced a contest where women could compete for free breast implants by submitting a photo and a personal statement. Predictably, reviews were, um, mixed. Last week, Amp Radio selected ten finalists, from which online voters chose a winner.

The votes are in. Avery, a Calgary trans woman, won the ten-way contest with seventy-six percent of all votes cast. Beautiful.

This is how we work the system.

Societies are not generally open to paying trans* people’s medical bills. Those of us who live in the United States aren’t guaranteed health insurance. To the extent that we might have our own insurance, the corporations that profit from us typically don’t pay for the care we need. Medicaid and Medicare don’t cover our needs, even for qualifying individuals.

While Canadian society generally views health care as a fundamental human right, various governmental agencies determine what “health care” actually means. Some provinces (like Alberta) don’t cover SRS/GRS at all. It’s pretty typical for politicians to treat trans* people’s bodies as budget lines and political footballs. Thus, it’s never clear what various provinces will pay for at various points in time.

Toying with trans* people’s lives is not a uniquely Canadian phenomenon. There are places that have “universal” health care that only allows an outlandishly low number of trans* people to access services each year. Some places have “universal” health care, but force trans* people to conform to narrow standards and submit to horrific psychological evaluations as a condition of their care. Often enough, both of these conditions exist simultaneously. Read more…

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