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Note: the following is an archival post of my recent blog piece at Huffington Post.
Earlier this week, Piers Morgan interviewed transgender advocate Janet Mock for his CNN show, focusing on her new book, Redefining Realness. The interview quickly set off a critical response on social media as Morgan focused his questions on Mock’s transition history and the moment she came out to her partner as transgender. The captioning on the program (and Piers Morgan’s tweet to promote the interview) referred to her as formerly being a “boy,” and Morgan himself used similar language throughout the interview. He also referred to Mock’s male-typical birth name several times.
When I watched the interview, it felt like the questions towards the beginning of the interview, focusing on Mock’s gender expression through adolescence, were leading specifically towards one of the media’s favorite tropes regarding trans women: surgical status. When Morgan actually asked the question, it came out about as awkwardly as one could imagine: Read the rest of this entry »
Wow. I hardly even know how to react to this one, except I guess just to say that Julian Vigo takes an extended opportunity to lay it down on us annoying, “hyper-feminine” trans women.
While I don’t really have time to sit down and write a proper response, there were a few immediate thoughts I had in response that I wanted to write out while they were fresh on my mind.
In the first paragraph, Vigo writes
“Even to undertake a strictly political analysis of the trans community one risks being labeled ‘transphobic’ especially if one is a radical feminist. As a result of this assault on dialogue, the true violence of transphobia (ie. assault, rape, murder and many other forms of discrimination) is cheapened and diluted in the larger space of discursive disagreements with feminists. Conterminously, the mislabeling of dialogue under the guise of ‘transphobia’ masks another type of violence perpetuated towards radical feminists who speak about these discursive differences with trans activists.”
So apparently Vigo thinks that calling out individuals (including but certainly not limited to “trans-critical” radical feminists) for making dehumanizing statements about trans women cheapens our efforts to combat sexual violence and other forms of violence against trans women.
A friend of mine Jordana Greenblatt called my attention to an interesting question on this point earlier. When mainstream media and other voices in society make dehumanizing comments about women, would Vigo accept patriarchy’s claim that calling these voices out for misogynistic speech cheapens the “real fight” to end sexual violence and other forms of violence experienced by all women?
Note: the following is an earlier draft of an article that just appeared at Autostraddle; the draft below focuses slightly more on a Toronto perspective, while the final draft at Autostraddle gives a more complete analysis (I’ll recommend the Autostraddle version for most readers).
Word has quickly spread on the web in the last couple of days that Rachel Ivey, a member of the Deep Green Resistance environmentalist movement that holds openly transphobic views as “core” principles, is putting together a tour consisting of a few relatively high profile speaking events in June and July. This speaking tour supposedly includes events at City College of NYC as well as the University of Toronto.
You can see the webpage for Rachel Ivey’s online fundraiser for her speaking tour here, along with several planned dates and speaking venues. This includes her planned July 4 speaking engagement at the University of Toronto. The page also mentions that further events will be listed in Ontario.
From there, I’m guessing that it’s not a coincidence that this date occurs right before the radical feminist RadFem Rise Up conference, which is scheduled for Toronto on July 5-7. My guess is that Ms. Ivey will be be speaking at the conference as well.
One point however is that the venue for the ‘Rise Up’ conference is being kept secret, at least for now. That is clearly because anti-trans radfem activists have found it increasingly difficult in recent years to find institutions and organizations that are willing to host them and promote their views on account of their bigoted views regarding trans individuals.
Indeed, one of Ms. Ivey’s scheduled speaking events on her fundraiser page has already been cancelled by Bluestockings Bookstore, the venue that had been scheduled to host her second speaking event in NYC. Bluestockings cited DGR’s “blatantly transphobic rhetoric” as the reason for the cancellation.
As a trans woman who has strong ties to Toronto, however, I will say that I don’t necessarily think that calling for these events to be canceled is the best course of action. Read the rest of this entry »
Note: This is primarily just an archival post of my recent article at Autostraddle, however I added a few comments below to clarify a couple of points (the added/edited parts will appear in underline). Anyone who feels the urge to argue with me over this article, please feel free to go to the original Autostraddle post, as I will continue reading every comment that is posted there. Also note that I have already posted a follow-up comment on this.
Recently, I went on a dinner date with a cis woman that ended a bit awkwardly. Some of the conversation we shared was nice, we talked about film (fyi – an easy topic to hold my interest, ladies!), our common roots back in the States, and her background in performance art. At one point she shared with me her frustrations over a performance meant to showcase artists from our region in the U.S. The thing is, whoever put together this particular exhibition had invited a number of men from her theatre program to participate — meanwhile she and several of the other women who graduated from the program found out about the event later when one of the guys posted it on facebook.
It’s pretty easy to feel anger over such blatant sexism, and it immediately reminded me of some of my own experiences of feeling ignored at times in my own workplace. But then she said something that struck a really odd chord:
“Yeah, it’s supposed to represent artists from the South, but it turns out it’s just a total sausage fest.”
Okay, we all get the basic intended meaning here. But is she really implying that the men who were invited to exhibit their work were asked to do so on the basis of their genitalia? I have to say that, since my transition, being a woman with a penis never got me special treatment in the academic world. And given that she was aware of my body configuration I have to think that is a strange comment to make to me on a date.
Sadly, the situation only further deteriorated with the appearance of the word “ladyboy,” and the fact that somehow the subject kept getting changed when I tried to discuss these things. Read the rest of this entry »
So a couple days ago my first piece landed over at Autostraddle: Getting With Girls Like Us: A Radical Guide to Dating Trans* Women for Cis Women. As I’ve read AS off and on through the last couple of years, I’ve thought before that I would hope to someday have the opportunity to publish something with them. Particularly, I was impressed with several amazing pieces from Annika.
As Annika recently decided to focus on other aspects of her life– writing her farewell piece for Autostraddle as she rode off into the sunset– I was a little saddened to think that we wouldn’t have new articles for her to look forward to in the future. But I admit I was also intrigued when AS linked to one of my pieces in their call for submissions for the Trans*Scribe theme issue, featuring trans women telling their stories from their own perspectives in their own words.
The piece that I chose to submit for Trans*Scribe was kind of a belated follow-up to my previous article on dating as a trans woman in the queer women’s communities, which was originally published at Prettyqueer, focusing on my feelings of distance and sometimes alienation dating as a trans woman. Primarily, I viewed that article as a call for dialogue between cis women and trans women on trans woman inclusion in the queer women’s communities (not that my piece is the first article along those lines, far from it). However, while that piece focused a bit more on an argument for trans woman inclusion, the recent piece at Autostraddle was a bit more focused towards women who might already be dating trans women or explicitly open to that possibility (of course, some trans women aren’t really separable in any obvious way from the larger cis woman population in the first place, and then a number of these questions are somewhat of a moot point anyways).
The follow-up piece has been something I’ve been planning to do for a while, in part because I wanted to clarify and refine a few points from the earlier article. That includes the statement I made in the more recent piece about the so-called “Cotton Ceiling” that had originally proposed in the context of the No More Apologies conference back in January 2012. The comment in the recent piece, basically stepping back from that particular framing of the issue, is something I had been planning on writing about for quite a while (unfortunately, I’m not always the fastest writer; luckily the Autostraddle window provided me with the right opportunity to put together a lot of these thoughts that I had had in mind for a while).
The discussion about why the Cotton Ceiling isn’t the best way to frame the issue is something that I plan to return to and make a more detailed comment about at some point in the future. For now, however, I will just point to this particular important comment that was left on the Autostraddle article.
I have to say I totally did not see the overwhelming response the more recent article has received coming at all; the comment thread has blown up in a way that I just never expected. By and large those comments have been supportive, expressing that they gained insight into trans women’s issues and perspectives. However, there has also been significant pushback from a number of (I’ll be generous and say) trans-critical women (and a couple of men as well).
I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify a few points here that keep recurring on the comment thread. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s what it comes down to: telling a six-year old transgender girl that as she grows up she would would naturally make other girls uncomfortable (or that she would even represent a “threat“) because of her genitalia is actually somewhat comparable to telling a nine-year old cisgender girl that she is a “c*nt.”
In the latter case, society is attempting to teach a young woman to believe, “you are inherently to be devalued as a human being because of your genitalia, and your body has only sexual value. We have set your lot in life before you, and you are always to be victimized.”
Meanwhile, in the former case a young woman is also cruelly being taught, “You are inherently an aggressor because of your genitalia. Because of your body configuration itself, you can’t help yourself but subjugate someone or make them feel uncomfortable.”
One is teaching patriarchy from a victim-coercive perspective, the other teaches patriarchy from an oppressor-coercive perspective. They are two sides of the same coin, a misogynistic narrative that ultimately teaches us to reduce human beings to their body parts one way or the other.
See here for another compelling perspective from a different angle.
Update: See here for another great perspective that also focuses on the implicit sexualizing of children in the arguments against forcing this young woman out of the girl’s bathroom.
Follow-up comment: I should have made acknowledgment in my comments above that there were very apparent racialized dynamics involved in how Hollywood and the media interacted with the nine-year old girl mentioned above at the Oscars. It is difficult to imagine that such a horrific comment would ever be made about a nine-year old white girl, and I have no doubt that racism played a role, even if race was not explicitly mentioned in the Onion’s tweet itself. (The tweet was almost certainly made in the context of or in response to the racialized interactions that others were already having with this young lady in the media).
Thanks to those who have pointed this oversight out to me (in the comments section below and elsewhere), as I should have included a comment to this effect from the beginning.
In a victory for women across the U.S., today Congress decided to stop playing games and finally passed the overdue Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Importantly, in the end Congress passed the far superior Senate version of the bill that included support and resources for trans women, queer women, undocumented women and all women living on native lands.
VAWA was allowed to expire during last year’s election cycle as a result of GOP foot dragging, although many expected that would end in the aftermath of the election (especially one in which Republicans performed particularly poorly with women voters). However, the foot dragging continued, even after the Senate recently passed a fully inclusive version of VAWA. For a moment, it looked like the GOP might attempt to pass a much more narrow version of the bill, which would have almost certainly lead to difficulties in passing the bill at all. Luckily, women’s groups across the country stood their ground, the Senate stood with them, and finally today the GOP accepted reality: all women deserve support and the resources to combat pervasive misogynistic violence throughout the country.
See here to learn more about and sign a petition in support of an ongoing campaign by women anti-violence activists at the University of North Carolina.
Earlier this week the Onion rather notoriously tweeted a reference to a nine-year old girl as the c-word. While they did at least delete the tweet and apologize, I do think that cultural mindset of devaluing women’s bodies reflects on two of the big stories of the last couple of days, in which such devaluation translated into actual victim-blaming and dismissing rape charges against women.
Yesterday it was revealed that a unit of the Met (UK Metropolitan Police Service of the Greater London area) set up specifically to investigate rape and sexual assault cases had actively discouraged women from reporting rape. They did so by haranguing women in the preliminary stages of investigation, tending to disbelieve their stories and attempting to convince victims to retract their claims of rape and sexual assault. Hence numerous rape allegations were dismissed under circumstances that an independent commission referred to as “clearly inappropriate.” It turns out that a primary motivation for such dismissal of serious criminal claims was to improve that police unit’s statistics for investigations leading to prosecution in order to claim (quite superficially) greater success to the public.
In the most shocking case, the police unit dismissed a woman’s claim that she was raped by her husband who had made further threats of violence; that man eventually killed their two children with a knife as an act of aggression against her. The police recorded the original rape as “consensual sex” and never even conducted an interview with the man in question. (Source: London Evening Standard).
Yesterday I came across another story involving dismissal of rape allegations that has recently gotten a fair amount of attention (although not nearly as much as it should have). This one struck a bit of an internal chord with me because it occurred on the campus of my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (I did undergrad there).
The backdrop for this shares disturbingly similar overtones with the previous story: Read the rest of this entry »
I do realize this post might seem a tad ironic in light of the events of the last few weeks (aka Lobstergate)… but it isn’t. Not even a little.
Last Wednesday, Suzanne Moore published a piece in the Guardian on the education policies of the UK’s ruling Tory party, specifically focusing on a controversial series of reforms presently being pushed (quite aggressively) by UK education secretary Michael Gove. Those reforms consist in part of a new exam system as well as the development of so-called “free schools.”
I’m not so familiar with the details of the UK system, but in the US we have a perhaps similar move to charter schools that are more independent of the traditional public school system. These schools have yielded mixed results, at best. While not all charter schools are run for profit, this transition can be viewed as part of a larger (and very questionable) move towards privatization of the education system in the U.S. It’s also no coincidence that the state with the greatest number of charter schools is Louisiana, as rightwing ideologues used the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to push through new policies that would have been strongly opposed under ordinary circumstances.
In a blog piece at the Telegraph, British journalist Toby Young responded with a critique of Moore’s Guardian article. While I’m pretty certain that Young’s critique is wrong (see a deconstruction of his argument based on actual data here), that is not the primary focus of the present blog piece.
The primary point here is that Young’s colleague, climate change skeptic James Delingpole, wrote a tweet in support of Toby Young that alluded to Young having metaphorically raped Suzanne Moore. While Delingpole has since deleted his tweet, it was quoted by Moore herself:
Over the past couple of days, we have seen a bit of an internet temper tantrum coming primarily from some in Britain, centering on some voices in the British commentariat, who are very upset about the fact that trans activists and allies have critiqued an unfortunate line in an article and rather blatantly transphobic comments on twitter by journalist Suzanne Moore (see for example my own previous comment about the issue here). Moore initially made an awkward, de-gendering reference to “Brazilian transsexuals” in her NewStatesman piece, followed by a blatantly transphobic tirade on twitter when gently approached about that odd line in the original article.
Let’s say something off the bat to put all of this in some context. The news media (as well as most every other media, in fact) has a long history of writing about trans people, and trans women in particular, in ways that are extremely sensationalistic, exploitative and ultimately damaging to our lives and livelihoods. These types of media tropes about trans women, habitually dehumanizing and de-gendering us through words, serve to stigmatize our bodies and our lives and therefore promote the discrimination, marginalization and violence that the vast majority of us have experienced quite commonly. I myself have experienced some measure of all of these, however trans women living at the intersections of racial oppression, poverty, and others tend to experience these even more dramatically than someone like myself with white privilege.
For examples of this type of media reporting in the U.S., consider a local TV report covering the murder of Coko Williams in a Detroit neighborhood back in April 2012. Coko had her throat slashed and was shot, yet the news story said little about the loss of human life, instead airing grievances of a neighborhood man who complained of street crime and finding trash on his lawn. When the loss of human life was alluded to towards the end of the interview, Coko’s name was never used and she was inappropriately referred to with male pronouns; further, another resident basically said she had the murder coming because she was trans. Finally, even when a queer website covered the murder, the picture included with the story featured a picture of trash from the first interviewee’s lawn rather than a picture of the woman who had been murdered.
Then there was the New York Times coverage of the passing of Lorena Escalera who died in a fire last May. The NYT story focused on details of her sex life and reported what amounted to rumors about surgery a neighbor believed she might have had. Of course, the NYT (or any reputable news source) would never report such sensationalized details after the passing of a cis woman (or probably anyone else, for that matter).
Meanwhile, as detailed by Trans Media Watch in its submission to the Leveson inquiry, elements of the British Press have shaped exploitative and damaging reporting about trans people almost to a twisted art form; this includes outing trans people regardless of any dangers they might face and publishing exploitative pieces about a trans child whose life and images were put on display in a sensationalized manner that invited public ridicule and abuse.
Then of course there are the endless array of plot lines of movies and shows such as CSI in which trans people, and trans women in particular, are presented as freaks or psychotic individuals, not to mention the sitcoms on which trans women are commonly presented as nothing more than a joke.
It is of course within this wider context of sensationalistic media coverage that most any comments about trans people in the press will be received. Therefore it is in this context that such comments must be viewed, including the line from Suzanne Moore’s original article:
“We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.”
As myself and many of my fellow trans activists have pointed out over the last few days, this final phrase is odd and alienating. As I pointed out earlier, it represents body-policing, and it’s anti-feminist. Although she has objected strenuously to this characterization of her words, the comments that Moore made on twitter when approached about the issue clearly revealed a much deeper prejudice about trans women and trans women’s bodies.