[Content note: Transphobia] On Monday afternoon, Joss Whedon responded to a fan’s tweet: [The first tweet to Joss Whedon is: Joss, any advice on writing strong female leads in a comic book?#lovebuffy, to which Whedon responds: Must value #strength but also #community & not have penny/balls] Obviously, the quickest way for me, a trans lady, to get some respect is to be a sarcastic bitch on the Internet. Hence, the following: [Transcript below the fold] Read more…
The most terrifying thing about the Grantland fiasco is that sooner or later I’m going to need to go out and buy groceries.
In my case (in large part because was not Essay Anne Vanderbilt and did not know her), that was not hyperbole.
A cis person just outed a trans woman. After the trans woman took her own life, the cis person published his account of outing her and the subsequent suicide. That was just for starters.
Then, I got to watch cis people hold a national circle jerk over:
* When it’s appropriate to out a trans person
* How bad it feels like when “bloggers” and “activists” are mad at you for treating a trans person like shit
* The ways in which one cis person failed another cis person by not giving him adequate guidance over when and how to out a trans person
* The relative bravery of the two cis people in question and the powerful corporation that stands to make money from the story of how they outed a trans woman.
The story has largely faded from the national spotlight. Slate, The Washington Post, NPR, The New Republic and the two initial perpetrators (Grantland and ESPN) have moved on to other things, now that cis people are satisfied with the degree to which they discussed the ways in which trans people should be handled.
While very important cis people go on to the next topic, my ass still needs to get up in the morning and go to work. I still need to go to the store to buy groceries. I still need to live my life. Except now I have to live it with the reenforced knowledge that at any time, some cis person with a reputation to build and a fixation on my genitals can start digging into my past, can dehumanize me for money, and, should decent people object, the national media will take the time to discuss the pressing issue of what cis people should have done to me. That’s so neat. Very encouraging.
When I was a child, I had nightmares that people would find out about my “difference.” Since I’ve come out, I’ve regularly had nightmare about the consequences of other people’s feelings about my transsexuality. The past few days have been worse than usual. I’m terrified of what privileged people might decide to do with me.
Not only is this not a new experience for trans* people, it’s not a new experience for any oppressed people. It’s the defining experience for oppressed people. Read more…
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 ESPN.com) 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.
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: 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…
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
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.
Earlier this week you published a satirical story about Mark Wahlberg being a trans woman. The joke, as it were, is that trans people are trans.
I’m a huge fucking smartass, and a longtime Onion reader. I totally get that satire involves risks. I also get that satirists miss the mark a lot of the time. Y’all miss the mark a lot. That’s not surprising, given how much content The Onion‘s writers churn out. It’s also something a lot of your readers tolerate, because OMFG WHEN YOU HIT THE MARK.
But bloody hell, “trans person trans” isn’t funny (see also: “fat person fat”). It’s lazy. It’s been done (TRUST ME). It’s hurtful. It perpetuates hate and violence. Etcetra.
Look, it’s not that trans people aren’t funny. I know so many hilarious trans people who can write satire about transness that would make y’all laugh your tits and/or wangs off. A lot of us could use the cash. CALL US.
In the meantime, do the grown up thing and apologize.
[Trigger warning for rape, stalking, and other violence]
You might have heard that a cisgender attendee of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival posted pictures of trans women who attended this year’s festival, along with various personal tidbits that she was able to dig up. She also floated the idea of starting a website devoted to outing trans women at MichFest, along with suggesting that festival goers post pictures of trans women in order to be able to harass them.
I am so not going to wade into Ye Olde Michigan Wars any more than I already have. I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said.
What I am going to do is talk about the use of the Internet to threaten people. In this case, WordPress.com hosts the blog in question. WordPress makes all users agree to terms of service, including agreeing that:
“the content [of your blog will]… not contain threats or incite violence towards individuals or entities, and [shall] not violate the privacy or publicity rights of any third party”
The blog in question is clearly outing people as trans, thus violating the privacy rights of third parties. The blog also refers to trans women as “predatory males”, and calls for them to be escorted off the festival grounds. This is clearly a threat, and in the context of the post I’d say is fair to interpret as inciting violence.
WordPress has refused to remove the offending blog, despite its being in violation of the terms of service. As far as I know (feel free to fill in the details for a writer who’s busy hunting for textbooks), WordPress effectively requires someone to get a court order before they’ll remove content from a WordPress.com hosted blog. I see this as, um, problematic.
Permit me to talk about cyber-enabled violence, notably violence against women, and to spell out why WordPress.com’s inaction horrifies me. Read more…