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Update March 19, 11 AM: The card no longer appears on the Urban Outfitters site; instead one gets a message, “We are sorry, this item has now sold out.” I don’t believe that for shit, but I guess at least they figured out this was going to cause them a serious problem and had the sense to pull it.

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America’s major ‘urban’ cultural appropriations outlet Urban Outfitters, already notorious for releasing products containing racist memes, has apparently now decided to make money by commodifying transphobia and transmisogyny in the form of some type of weird gift card:

Transmisogynistic "Jack and Jill" card from Urban Outfitters

On June 5th, 2011, CeCe McDonald and a fellow group of young queers of color were walking to the grocery story in a local neighborhood in Southern Minneapolis when the passed the Schooner Tavern. CeCe is a young black trans woman who has already survived numerous hardships in her life. Hence when a 47 year-old white man, Dean Schmitz (who was later found to have a swastika tattoo on his body), and two other white bar patroms began hurling racist and transphobic insults at their group, CeCe didn’t back down; she stood up to the bar patrons and confronted their ignorance and hatred.

In response, one of the white bar patrons smashed her glass against CeCe’s face, punctuating her cheek and lacerating her salivary gland. A fight ensued between the two groups, and in the end, Dean Schmitz was dead. And although multiple people were involved in the melee, when the police arrived CeCe was the only one charged.

Unfortunately, injustice does not end even there, as from this point the system took over in the enforcement of racism and trans-misogyny: from jail, in the late hours of the night, CeCe was coerced by detectives into signing a false confession, which she then recanted as soon as she was able. From that point, CeCe was then held in solitary confinement (which is a quite common abuse against trans women prisoners) supposedly for her own “protection,” but against her own wishes.

From this point, Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman charged CeCe with two counts of second degree murder. He has since refused to drop those charges, despite the fact that he has dropped charges in other cases this year under similar circumstances.

Fortunately, there has been an outpouring of support for CeCe, both from her local community and from many activists and allies across North America; she has also kept her own spirits high in the face of injustice. And a petition has been raised demanding that Michael Freeman drop all charges against CeCe (please sign the petition here).

Make no mistake, what CeCe is is being condemned for here is defending herself from bodily harm as a trans woman of color.

In other words, a group of people wanted to make clear that they view her physical body as inferior to their own white, cisnormative bodies, and when CeCe verbally resisted that violent designation, those people then resorted to physical violence to enforce hateful, white supremacist views. And further, when CeCe stepped up to defend herself from physical assault, the system stepped in to reinforce racism and trans-misogyny.

Again, here is the petition.

Today I came across this neat resource from the UC Davis LGBT Resource Center: a diagram that describes why certain language around trans issues might be inappropriate. For example, it addresses the ever-exhausting question “Why would you transition if you’re going to be gay?” (which I myself have been asked on several occasions). Of course the answer is that sexual orientation and gender identity are separate issues. To put it in personal terms, gender identity has to do with how I feel about my own internal sense of gender, while orientation addresses the question to whom I might be attracted :)

However I did notice one problem with the diagram. In the third text bubble down on the right hand side, they use the word “transperson” as one word with no space in between. On the contrary, one must always use phrasings such as “trans person,” “trans woman,” and “trans man.” This is because the incorrect word “transwoman” implies that there is some qualification on a trans woman’s womanhood, as if there are “women” and then there are “transwomen.” In reality, there are trans women and cis women, both of which fall under the larger category of women.

However, I notice that the correct phrasing appears in the first bubble on the right hand side, so perhaps the above case simply represents a typo.

Finally I will just point out that I came across this on the Bilerico site earlier today.

Infographic on trans-appropriate language from UC Davis LGBT Resource Center

After recently being called out for her unabashedly cissexist, transphobic rant about the trans woman with whom her former fiancé cheated on her with, a November 18 press release from GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) announced that Kelly Osbourne has now published an apology to the trans community for her words. Kelly writes:

“As a lifelong LGBT ally and friend, I feel it is my duty to not only apologize for my wrong but to also correct it. The word “tr*nny” is a derogatory and hurtful word. I was completely ignorant to this and soon came to realize most of my peers and LGBT friends are too. This is a word I will no longer use or allow. It wasn’t until I googled it after speaking with GLAAD that I found out just how unbelievably offensive it was.  When friends jokingly called me that in the past, I took it as a compliment or a joke, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Transgender people are some of the bravest people on Earth and among the LGBT community. I cannot imagine the courage it takes to live your life openly and honestly, reflecting who you truly are, or the hurt that comes from having to hide who you are because others may not support and accept you.”

Kelly goes on to acknowledge the recently passed Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR).

While this apology for using the word “tranny” and acknowledging TDoR are definitely steps in the right direction, I want to emphasize that these things still do not address the core problem with what Osbourne said in the first place. What Osbourne stated was that she found it particularly offensive and humiliating that her former lover cheated on her with a trans woman. As I stated previously, if Osbourne had said she was particularly humiliated to tell her parents that her boyfriend cheated on her with a woman of color, wouldn’t we describe those words as racist? So how do we describe it when she says that she was humiliated in particular that her fiancé cheated on her with a trans woman?

To illustrate the point, consider this: if we replace all of the “offensive phrasings” in Osbourne’s original statements with non-derogatory phrasings, does the statement become significantly more palatable?

“Having to tell them (my parents) my fiance had cheated on me with a trans woman who sold her story to the press (was the most uncomfortable moment). It was so humiliating,”

“It’s hard enough to get your head around someone cheating on you, but when someone is a trans woman? Up until then, I’d always thought that the worst way to get cheated on would be with an ugly girl. Don’t you think?… Because at least if they cheat on you with a gorgeous girl it makes some kind of sense.”

Is this really a dramatic improvement? After reading Osbourne’s apology, from my perspective, the issue remains unresolved.

The fact that even some of the coverage of the apology has contained transphobia is not exactly a heartening sign either.

Celebrity and singer Kelly Osbourne, daughter of rocker Ozzy Osbourne, recently has gotten herself in some trouble after she described the trans woman her ex-fiancé cheated on her with using derogatory anti-trans slurs. The background is that her former lover Luke Worrall two-timed her with another woman who, apparently, knew nothing about his pre-existing relationship with Osbourne. The other woman is a model and happens to be trans.

In an interview, Osbourne describes the woman in question as a “tranny” as well as a “chick with a dick” and further misgenders her. Anyone who is educated on basic trans issues will immediately recognize these phrasings as slurs; their use is intended to stigmatize a certain social group: trans people (and trans women especially).

Now, there is a lot of confusion around these words in the mainstream media. This is in large part due to the fact that the word “tranny” is thrown around casually (and sometimes as an insult) among gay cis* men. Further, gay cis men have become visible in media in a way that trans people still have not. Gay men occupy space on talk shows and reality tv programs galore, while trans people are largely absent. As a result, gay cis men often effectively act as the arbiters in the public eye of what is acceptable (and what is not) around LGBTI issues. Unfortunately, many of these men are actually totally clueless when it comes to trans issues; hence playing this role often creates more confusion than it does anything else.

Further it might be confusing because sometimes trans women do themselves use the word “tranny.” One point is that some people have tried to compare this T-word to the N-word, and usually I think that is over-simplistic. However, in this respect it is the same: us trans women can use the word tranny all we want. Osbourne and other cis people cannot use the word at all, end of story. Especially if they want to call themselves allies.

However, in the debate around these phrasings, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that using those words, while bad in and of itself, is by far not the real problem with Osbourne’s statements.

Osbourne claims that it was uniquely humiliating to explain to her parents that her former lover cheated on her with a trans woman, stating, “It’s hard enough to get your head around someone cheating on you, but when someone is a chick with a dick? Up until then, I’d always thought that the worst way to get cheated on would be with an ugly girl. Don’t you think?… Because at least if they cheat on you with a gorgeous girl it makes some kind of sense.”

What Osbourne is suggesting here is that any given trans woman should be automatically valued less than herself. This is the point about her words that goes beyond merely offensive. Think about it… if Osbourne had said she was particularly humiliated to tell her parents that her boyfriend cheated on her with a woman of color, wouldn’t we describe those words as racist? So how do we describe it when she says that she was humiliated in particular that her fiancé cheated on her with a trans woman? The answer is that her words are deeply transphobic.

When confronted on twitter about the interview she gave, Osbourne initially apologized, although my impression is that she was merely apologizing for her word choice, not the deeper meaning behind those words. At a later point she balked at the description of her words as being bigoted, which in my mind confirms my suspicion: she still doesn’t get it.

That having been said, I do think it is important to say that we shouldn’t go too far in this criticism. On one blog, another trans woman criticized Osbourne’s words by stating, “Angie Zapata was an eighteen year old trans woman that was brutally beaten to death by Allen Ray Andrade. When he was arrested Andrade said he killed “it”… I’m not comparing what Andrade did to what Osbourne said. That would be absurd. But her bigoted language does contribute to a society that sees trans people as less than human. It may be a drop in the bucket, but it does matter.”

I want to make a delicate point in response to this. Osbourne’s words are indeed stigmatizing, and there are larger consequences to that type of language. However, introducing our sister Angie Zapata’s death into this is not going to help the discussion. It’s too emotional, and it’s too much weight— no matter how qualified— to put on one person’s shoulders in the present context.

Further, we can explain why Osbourne’s words were totally unacceptable without relying on that particular argument. Speaking from a personal perspective, her words were reprehensible because they hurt. Personally, I can say that most of the time when I hear the words that Osbourne used on the street, it comes from someone who wants to belittle me or isolate me; if I hear “tranny” or “chick with a dick,” usually “freak” isn’t far behind.

But of course, that is only addressing Osbourne’s word choice and not her core message, which implies that trans women are inferior. Now, keep in mind that part of the story is that she ended up becoming friends with the trans woman in question. However, becoming friends with an individual is not necessarily the same thing as unlearning an old prejudice. It is perfectly possible, for example, for a white casual racist to have friends of color.

Further, given the constant dehumanizing media depictions of trans women as being nothing more than sex objects, drug addicts, freaks, etc. the suggestion that a person should feel shame for being (even indirectly) associated with a trans woman is deeply harmful terrain. Of course, Kelly Osbourne has every right to feel hurt or even shame that her fiancé cheated on her. However, unless she is prejudiced, the fact that the woman in question was trans should make absolutely no difference whatsoever. This is especially true given that Osbourne claims to be an ally.

Finally, I would like to end this piece by speaking directly** to Kelly, assuming (I hope) that she will read this.

Kelly, I know you are feeling hurt right now over this. You feel like you’re being attacked, and it’s okay to feel that way for now. But the reason people are responding this way is because your words truly were bigoted. And until you accept that and embrace that, you will not be capable of apologizing in a way that has any meaning to the people that you hurt, and you will not truly be capable of moving on, and most importantly, I will not be able to call you my ally.

*cis (cisgender) means opposite of trans (transgender), in case anyone reading this is not familiar. Cissexism (as in the title) refers to a belief among some cis individuals that they are superior to trans people.

**As one further point, I would say that if Osbourne decides to give any donations in relation to an apology, such a donation should be given to a trans-specific organization, not a mainstream LGBTI organization, which all too often is only peripherally involved in trans issues. One suggestion I would make is the NY-based Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

Note: This post represents the second part in a two-part series on washroom-related gender issues on the University of Toronto campus. The first part can be found here.

Part two: focus on gender diversity, mobility support and other campus constituencies

In an earlier post I focused on the question of gender parity in washrooms, pointing out that the University of Toronto Office of Space Management (OSM) has an explicit policy to build female and male washrooms to reflect pre-existing gender imbalances on campus. I argued that this cynical policy undermines the University’s own goal of recruiting women into the hard sciences and sets a poor example of gender inclusion for the wider community.

Presently, I will focus on gender diversity, best accommodated through the implementation of gender-neutral single stall washrooms in addition to traditional multi-stall washrooms. This solution dovetails with the needs of other campus community members such as those with special mobility or medical needs as well as parents with young children.

First let us consider the case of trans and intersex people as well as other gender-nonconforming folks, for whom washrooms can often be uncomfortable or unsafe spaces. Traditional gender-segregated washrooms force people into categories, which may be an issue considering that their personal gender identity may not be consistent with what others visually assign them. Hence a simple visit to the washroom may lead to discomfort, harassment, or even violence.

Unfortunately there are numerous examples of such violence, including the well-publicized case of a trans woman who was severely beaten last April by two cisgender women after using the women’s washroom in a Washington D.C. area McDonald’s. These two women and other onlookers proceeded to laugh as the trans woman in question fell into a seizure. However, washroom violence is not unique to trans individuals, as illustrated by the case of a lesbian cisgender woman who was recently attacked by three men outside a pub washroom near York University campus.

Gender neutral single user washroom signage (BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY)

With this in mind, the best approach is to complement traditional gender-segregated washrooms, when possible, with a gender-neutral single-stall washroom. This way gender-nonconforming individuals can decide for themselves where they are most comfortable.

However, the advantages of single-stall washrooms go beyond the needs of trans individuals. Multi-stall washrooms are usually less accessible for people with mobility needs. Single-stall washrooms can provide greater privacy, more space for maneuvering a mobility device and more thorough mobility accommodations than the common multi-stall model, which is to have one larger stall equipped with grab bars. (The single-stall washroom near the back entrance of 563 Spadina provides a good example of more thorough accessibility accommodations).

Other campus members with particular medical needs (for example, those with medical conditions requiring regular injections) may also benefit from the greater privacy afforded by single-stall washrooms.

Additionally, gender-neutral single-stall washrooms can be a great help to parents with young children who may be uncomfortable or have difficulty bringing “opposite sex” children into gender-segregated washrooms.

The present situation on campus for gender-neutral washrooms is somewhat mixed. In theory, the OSM guidelines require that “single user accessible washrooms… be provided near classrooms.” In practice however there are several campus buildings in which this is not the case. Hence it is important to increase awareness of the issue on campus and to emphasize the need for such facilities to the administration, especially when considering important building projects, such as the upcoming expansion of Robarts Library (presently the entire building has a lone publicly accessible single-stall washroom on the first floor). In the meantime, the Sexual and Gender Diversity Office website provides a map where such facilities are presently available.

The Toronto star also recently reported that progress is being made on this issue in the wider Toronto community.

Finally, I would emphasize that many of the problems and anxieties we face in relation to the washroom are unnecessary. A good illustration is provided by the fact that even multi-stall gender-neutral washrooms may be workable. They are more common in Europe but there are a few in Toronto (mostly at clubs). The stalls usually have more careful architecture without cracks at the doorjambs and such, but the fact that girls and boys and everyone in between can pee within a few feet of each other without the world exploding illustrates the point: many of our anxieties around the washroom exist primarily in our minds.

A version of this article appears in U of T’s Varsity paper.

Sec. 1.5 of the "Design Criteria for Classrooms" document from the University of Toronto Office of Space Management.

Note: I am transgender, not 'transgendered.' My trans status didn't fall on me while I was walking through the forest.

Anti-trans ad produced by the Institute for Canadian Values

A firestorm of criticism has erupted in response to an ad that recently appeared in the National Post and Toronto Sun. Placed by Charles McVety’s so-called Institute for Canadian Values (ICV), the ad features a wide-eyed young girl accompanied by the phrase “Please! Don’t confuse me”, followed by, “I’m a girl. Don’t teach me to question if I’m a boy, transexual [sic.], transgendered, intersexed or two spirited [sic.]” (The original version misspelled “transsexual” and “two-spirited”).

The ad attacks a new Toronto District School Board (TDSB) resource guide that provides teachers with an age-appropriate approach to sex education that incorporates both sexual and gender diversity.

For example, in an activity outline called “‘Pink versus Blue’ – Challenging Gender Stereotypes,” students are asked to divide a group of toys into “girl toys,” “boy toys,” or those that are gender-neutral. Students are asked to question why they associate gender with certain toys. They are further asked how a child might be singled out if they do not conform with traditional gender norms, such as a boy who likes to skip rope or a girl who plays sports better than the boys, and how that might hurt the child’s feelings. The lesson is clearly aimed to prevent bullying. It is not designed to convince a young girl she should consider becoming a boy, or vice-versa.

That being said, there is the possibility that someone in the class might have some such inclination— I did. Growing up in rural North Carolina, I knew from around age six I was somehow different. I knew that while my body was ‘boy’ and others viewed me that way, I felt more like one of the girls. I didn’t completely understand it or know what it meant (I first heard the word ‘transgender’ around the age of twenty), but I was a smart kid and I knew that if I shared my feelings I could expose myself to isolation and violence. So I hid myself and, though it wasn’t intentional, I gradually internalized that fear as deep shame.

It took about twenty years before I could seriously begin the process of unlearning that shame, overcome (ironically) self-imposed isolation, and begin living as myself. That process was not always fun but I survived it, which is an immense source of pride for me today.

The ICV ad is meant to tell my story, only with the opposite conclusion: trans children, intersex children, anyone who does not conform should learn silence. Silence is often taught through bullying.

Consider the case of an intersex child, who has no choice whatsoever about the fact that their body may not conform to either female or male. There is no shortage of horror stories about surgeries performed on such children, combined with attempts to force conformity to either normative gender category— only to have them reject such assigned roles later in life, often resulting in great misery or even suicide. This is why an intersex child must be afforded safe space to work out their own gender, which will not happen in school without strong classroom guidance.

The ICV ad attempts to undo that, calling on provincial party leadership to “stop confusing” the little girl in the picture. This effectively acts to silence intersex and trans children into shame and self-erasure, possibly even reinstating bullying as a means to accomplish that.

As a result of the backlash against the ad, the National Post was at least compelled to issue a ham-fisted apology (the apology itself confuses gender identity with sexuality).

Unfortunately, some responses even from LGBTI organizations have been less than stellar, with many describing the ad as “homophobic” or “anti-gay”. The ad certainly does contain (mostly implied) homophobia, which must be condemned. However, the ad aggressively targets trans and intersex individuals. Make no mistake, this is intentional— the religious right believes that by attacking more marginalized members of the LGBTI community they will eventually create an opening to attack the entire community. The appropriate response is not for mainstream gay organizations to avoid discussing trans issues, but rather to stand up forcefully in order to disarm such an attack.

What’s worse, avoiding the issue acts as yet another erasure of trans identities and trans and intersex bodies— ironic, considering that is the intent of the ad itself.

On October 2, the heat was turned up further when it was reported that Progressive Conservative candidates in recent provincial elections were distributing flyers projecting a similar message, claiming the TDSB manual promotes “cross-dressing for six-year olds.” Such bizarre claims obviously represent an intense fear of trans and intersex acceptance that must be countered with a forceful response. We must call on both the Toronto Sun and the PC provincial party for a public apology, and for mainstream LGBTI organizations to stand unwavering in the face of anti-trans hate speech.

A version of this article appeared in the University of Toronto’s
the Varsity paper, as well as on Bilerico.

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