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Last Sunday, Ashley del Valle was in Savannah, Georgia’s historic City Market, enjoying time on vacation when she was approached by two police officers. The officers claim that she was sitting on a park bench with her breasts exposed, and that she cursed at them and walked off when they approached. Del Valle, a Queens native who was spending time on vacation with her cousin, says that she was merely wearing a sheer top. She was subsequently arrested for indecent exposure and disorderly conduct. (And why should a woman have to listen when a man complains about what she’s wearing anyways?)
Her ordeal grew steadily worse when jail personnel realized she had a penis, as she was subsequently moved throughout the jail system over the next few days. She spent two days in a holding cell, during which jail personnel were reportedly rude to her, calling her “a thing.” She was then moved to a cell in the men’s section of the prison. During this time, del Valle reports that men in the surrounding cells “were banging on walls, calling [her] names,” and that she was afraid for her life.
Chief Deputy Roy Harris claims that since the other cells were locked, del Valle was not in any danger. Of course, this argument completely ignores the obvious emotional and psychological trauma that a woman would likely experience from being locked up with nearby men hurling abuse at her. While the information we have available to us from the single news story on the incident isn’t very detailed, it’s not hard to imagine such abuse might well have continued throughout the day and into the night.
On the fourth day, Harris claims that del Valle was placed in an isolation cell. While perhaps solitary confinement might be viewed as a temporary improvement over having abuse hurled at a woman held in a men’s prison facility, this points to a much larger problem that trans women face when pushed into the prison system. Many trans women who are incarcerated in the United States are forced into long-term solitary confinement by a prison system that either doesn’t care or just doesn’t know what else to do with women whose bodies don’t conform to society’s cissexist norms.
The fact is however, that long-term solitary confinement is incredibly psychologically damaging and cruel.
Fortunately, Ashley del Valle has at least now exited the prison system and has been able to speak out publicly about her ordeal. However, her case points to several issues. First, her case calls attention to the contradictions that trans women are forced to negotiate in a trans-misogynistic society: she was arrested for allegedly showing her breasts, then placed in prison with a group of men who themselves almost certainly never would have been arrested for exposing their chest in public. Secondly, this itself draws attention to one of society’s many misogynistic double standards: no big deal for men to appear topless in public, but the same behavior from women is viewed as criminal.
To place this more fully in the larger context, one should also note that the violence and unjust incarceration experienced so often by trans women in general are social cruelties disproportionately inflicted on trans women of color and trans women sex workers. As an example of the former, consider the case of CeCe McDonald, an African American trans woman who was incarcerated in Minnesota after killing one of her white-supremacist attackers in self-defense, and who was later herself held in long-term solitary confinement.
Note: An earlier version of the title of this article included the word “blind.” Someone pointed out to me that this usage was ableist, so I have changed it. Apologies for my mistake. –Savannah
Earlier this week, British journalist Suzanne Moore wrote a piece in the New Statesman titled “Seeing Red: the Power of Female Anger.” In the overarching theme of the article, Moore has a strong point to make: that women’s anger can be a powerful force for justice against male social dominance and patriarchy’s control over women’s lives and women’s bodies. It critiques soft-bellied mainstream liberal forces, for example, for attempting to cozy up to patriarchy regarding rape allegations against Julian Assange (see, for example, Naomi Wolf’s comments on the issue on Democracy Now).
That having been said, there are other feminist writers who have written similar critiques, and written them better. Moore hints at her position of privileged ignorance when she speaks up for Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman without any mention of Caitlin’s unapologetic racism (given what is revealed below, I also question whether Moore has any business discussing women’s rights in the context of the Arab Spring– personally I would rather hear from an Arab woman who was actually, you know, there).
Things take a more blatant turn for the worse however when Moore makes the following comment:
“The cliché is that female anger is always turned inwards rather than outwards into despair. 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.”
Note first of all that Moore does not refer to “a Brazilian trans woman” (or even “a Brazilian transsexual woman”), she refers to “a transsexual” in an odd way that hints of a suggested non-gendered individual. This might seem like a subtle point, however I can assure the reader that most trans women (who get this kind of crap all the time) will pick up on it immediately. When we see this kind of thing, we get that it hints at a deeper transphobic mentality. In the present case, this deeper mentality was confirmed rather swiftly after an ally questioned Moore about this on twitter; Moore responded with a pretty epic trans-misogynistic twitter rant (epic, although sadly familiar).
For example, when a cis woman ally questions her on transphobia, Moore responds:
This Sunday, Erica and I posted our joint response to some unfortunate comments made by trans man porn star Buck Angel during an interview with Salon, in which he publicly bought into society’s trans-misogynistic victim-blaming narrative that trans women are being “disrespectful” if they do not disclose trans status in romantic/sexual relations with their partner. The following would be the most pertinent quote:
I’m a huge advocate for disclosure, because I believe a lot of people get themselves in bad situations because they do not disclose. For example, trans women who might hook up with a cis-gendered guy and then he goes home with her and finds out she has a penis and flips out and beats her up or kills her. That’s horrible, and I really believe by not disclosing it’s very disrespectful to the other person because they might not be into it and it makes them feel very freaked out about themselves.
Here I would like to elaborate on our previous response, more narrowly focusing on the issue of disclosure and drawing out more fully the implications of the above line of thinking.
In the initial posting, we touched on the case of Gwen Araujo, a trans woman of color who was tortured and then murdered by strangulation in Newark, California in October 2002 by four men, at least two of whom she had previously engaged in sexual relations.
According to the standard narrative of how events unfolded, it was during a party held at a private residence that these men began asking questions about Gwen’s status. One of them then went into the bathroom with Gwen and forced her to reveal her genitals against her will, confirming her trans status. It was this confirmation that preceded brutal violence in which Gwen was beaten on the head with a soup can and had a skillet smashed across her face. The setting only becomes more gruesome when we consider that much of the violence apparently occurred in front of party attendees.
However, there are in fact several conflicting accounts of what actually happened, including some key gaps in this standard narrative.
One of Gwen’s murderers, Jason Chase Nabors, has acknowledged that he suspected her trans status all along. And while he further claims that the others did not realize that she was trans, oddly, in a letter to his girlfriend he acknowledged that he and one of the other attackers had discussed killing her days before the party at which her trans status was purportedly revealed (San Jose Mercury News, February 25, 2003, archived here).
Now, this is odd, because if the sole motivation for the murder is supposedly “panic” in response to Gwen’s status, why was Nabors discussing the murder with his friend days before it occurred? It seems clear that we have either a lie about the motive for the murder (i.e. did one of them desire to kill her before he even realized she was trans?) or we have a lie about the moment when a second attacker realized that Gwen was trans. I quite strongly suspect that the latter is the case, and that in fact at least two of Gwen’s attackers realized, on some level, that she was trans all along.
Now, given that the courts were apparently fully aware of this information, what are we to make of the “trans panic” defense that was used to obtain reduced sentences for those who murdered Gwen Araujo? Let me emphasize that it was not only the legal defense team for the murderers that bought into this line of thinking. In fact, it was the prosecutor Chris Lamiero in the case who is on record as stating:
Gwen being transgender was not a provocative act. She’s who she was. However, I would not further ignore the reality that Gwen made some decisions in her relation with these defendants that were impossible to defend. I don’t think most jurors are going to think it’s OK to engage someone in sexual activity knowing they assume you have one sexual anatomy when you don’t.
In other words, the defense, the prosecution, the public-at-large, and just about everyone down the line bought into the idea of this idea of “panic” regarding Gwen’s status, despite the available evidence to the contrary. What are we to make of this?
The underlying reason for this of course is cissexism, because society wishes to imagine that cis identities represent “true,” normative genders, while trans identities represent purely artificial or “deceptive” genders, and that no heterosexual cis man would ever, under ordinary circumstances, be attracted to a trans woman (i.e. he could only be attracted to her by “deception”). Society wishes to imagine these things, despite the fact that they are not true by objective terms.
In a recent post on Lexie Cannes’ blog, Lexie draws attention to a disturbing case in Sweden involving a cis man who attacked and sexually assaulted a non-op or pre-op trans woman, possibly under the assumption that she was cis (however, I think we should be careful when dealing with that assumption… it’s always possible that the man knew she was trans all along and just created a different story after the fact).
According to Lexie’s English reconstruction from the original Swedish, what happened is that “The attacker brutally beat the victim and ripped off her pants in an attempt to rape her. A witness rushed to the scene and intervened. The police came and arrested the attacker.” Nevertheless, in court the judge “acquitted the rapist because the transwoman had no vagina [and hence] the planned rape would have been impossible to carry out.” The man was apparently convicted of a lessor charge (battery or similar).
I think most any trans woman would be horrified by this result, which seems to suggest that rape doesn’t count when it is committed (or at least intended) against a trans woman (then again I think most people who are simply compassionate would be horrified by this outcome). For one thing, the idea that the woman doesn’t have a vagina means that it is not possible for the man to rape her is completely absurd. It projects a very simplistic picture of what sex even is onto what may well be a much more complex situation (believe it or not, penis-in-vagina is not the end-all, be-all of sexual intercourse).
However, I think in the larger picture of things this is about more than protecting trans women from sexual assault. In fact, I think this case sets an absurdly high standard for what is required to obtain a sexual assault (or intended rape or sexual assault) conviction almost regardless of who the victim is.
As a femme trans woman usually attracted to other femme women, I am generally welcomed in spaces designated as ‘women and trans,’ and I have no shortage of queer cis woman friends, with many of whom I share a playful flirtation. But what I usually keep to myself is this: what I experience in these respects sometimes feels closer to tolerance than acceptance.
I am invited to more formal social functions, yet I often find myself outside the conversation, feeling awkward about my presence at the end of the table. My experience as a trans woman is often the most immediate story I have to share; yet as the other women nearby nod politely before changing the subject, I sometimes get the feeling I have only managed to other myself by sharing it. Unsurprisingly, this situation is not so conducive to meeting potential partners. And anyways, I sometimes get the feeling that my body does not have the same type of desirability.
Perhaps worse, there are moments when desire is expressed towards me in a context that I would prefer it not be expressed (more about that in a moment).
Previous to my transition, I was pretty deep in hiding. As a quirky intellectual-type with a good sense of humor I did attract women, but I often lacked the confidence to recognize attraction, much less act on it. And anyways it felt strange when others showed interest in my outwardly masculinized form.
Fortunately, as my physical body evolved during transition so did my confidence. And while I think my personality changed little, in the end I became the opposite of my pre-transition self in one respect: where previously I had been more timid, today I am forward and flirtatious (and good at making you laugh!). Generally dating is a bit more pleasant, and I do feel more involved in the game.
However, there are moments when I wonder if there wasn’t some quick saturation point I should have expected to encounter.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that sex isn’t available. I actually turn down many who aren’t willing to share intimacy on terms that seem equitable to me. A good illustration of this point occurred recently on a dating site I use: a woman wrote to me a few months back with a great deal of interest based on my profile. She came on a bit strong for me, but I try to be open so I put in the effort of corresponding. After about three or four quite long messages I decided to disclose my trans status, just to avoid wasting time in case that would turn out to be a hang-up; unsurprisingly, I never heard from her again. While there is nothing so unusual about this, the fact that she was an academic with a Ph.D. in Social Policy and a Masters in gender studies had led me to believe she might be more open.
However, soon after I received an odd message from a second woman who was unusually forward and seemed to be looking for something specific. She insisted that I provide a description of my body while making it clear she was interested in a no strings sexual encounter, and further hoped she might eventually take me home for a three-way with her male partner. While I think we all get these kinds of messages occasionally, I noticed that these two women had visited my profile within a few minutes of each other, suggesting that the first woman probably tipped the second off about my trans status.
Put another way, once I revealed that I was trans I instantly ceased to be a viable romantic partner and instead became a potential fuck-toy; the fact that the second woman further insisted that I describe my body in detail almost screamed, “What have you got for us between your legs, tranny?!”
Indeed, it’s not unusual for me to hear back on conversations in which one cis woman will respond, “Oh, so you’re into kink” when another cis woman acknowledges she has previously dated trans women (including myself), implying that merely viewing a body like mine as sexually desirable is outside the bounds of ordinary human intimacy.
Hence I find myself in an unpleasant conundrum: de-sexed in polite lesbian society, yet hypersexualized at the margins (preferably behind closed doors, it would seem). Caught somewhere between untouchable and walking kink is a lonely place for any woman to live.
It is for these reasons, and more, that a group of trans women activists here in Toronto (with support from Planned Parenthood and an amazing cis woman Kate Klein) put together a recent workshop that was titled, “No more apologies: Queer trans and cis women, coming/cumming together!” The idea of the workshop was to provide an opening point for a larger dialogue about trans woman inclusion in queer women’s spaces/communities and social settings.
On the one hand, we addressed the manner in which trans women and cis women fight many of the same battles, as traditional sexism targets us all socially (among other ways), while misogyny undermines our common womanhood and humanity. On the other hand, we also addressed the various ways in which cissexism divides our communities from within. For example, trans-misogyny specifically dehumanizes trans women while further serving to alienate trans and cis women from one another, when we should otherwise be natural allies (if not lovers!).
Indeed, three key points we developed to describe the motivations for the workshop vis-a-vis the queer women’s communities were:
- Because trans inclusion means more than just saying “women and trans people” in our mission statements.
- Because welcoming trans women into our spaces is not the same as welcoming them into our beds.
- Because our actions are speaking louder than our words.
To be clear, our intentions in the workshop were not to question anyone’s attraction. However, there is no question that social context and social conditioning inform sexual desire. And given the number of times that I have lost a cis woman’s interest—which at times has been accompanied by outright disrespect—precisely at the moment that my status as a trans woman has been revealed betrays the fact that crude social anxieties often play a role (think “how will my friends react,” or the particularly silly “am I still lesbian if I sleep with her?”).
It is with this hands-off acceptance of trans women in mind that one of our organizers, Drew Deveaux, proposed “the cotton ceiling”; that is, the idea that queer acceptance of trans women often proceeds only to a point (that saturation point I mentioned previously).
However, there are other dynamics at play as well. For example, another project organizer, Morgan Page, has previously written about trans acceptance in ‘queer and trans’ spaces, and how this often essentially means acceptance for trans men exclusively. Personally, I like to think that the situation in this regard might be improving here in Toronto, and that trans men and trans women are at least more likely to work together these days. But while leaning against the wall at a party or a club, watching while masculine spectrum individuals get most of the attention, it’s not difficult to see Morgan’s point.
Overall, I think the workshop was a huge success; many of us here in Toronto are still reflecting on it, and some have already begun proposing the next events (with most of those proposals coming from cis women!). With that in mind, I sincerely hope that No More Apologies might provide a breaking point for a larger dialogue about trans woman inclusion, not only in queer women’s social settings but also in queer women’s politics.
In the meantime, if you’re a beautiful woman and I meet you on the street, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll flirt with you and try to make friends. If you show interest, I promise I’ll play it off real sexy, like it’s no big deal. But I admit it: deep down what I’d really like to think is that if we share sexual intimacy, then maybe we could do something real kinky:
Yeah, that sounds nice.
This article originally appeared at PrettyQueer.
In my years since transition, I’ve found that dating as a trans woman in the wider queer women’s community is one of those aspects of trans life that turned out to be more complex than I had anticipated. It is with these and similar experiences in mind that a group of trans women (with the support of Planned Parenthood and a wonderful cis woman ally Kate Klein) here in Toronto began planning an upcoming event (Dec. 21) with which we hope to break the ice and invite discussion on these issues.
“No More Apologies: Queer Trans and Cis Women, Coming/Cumming Together!” is aimed at starting a dialogue about trans woman acceptance in the queer women’s community and further address the subtle ways in which trans-misogyny plays out in social dynamics even in supposed safe spaces.
In an upcoming blog post, I will give a more detailed account of my personal experience dating as a trans woman, relating how trans-misogyny serves to de-sex trans women’s bodies in certain circumstances, while hypersexualizing our bodies in others. In the meantime, those of us organizing the event look forward to seeing you on the 21st!
The Sex Talk Series presents…
No More Apologies: Queer Trans and Cis* Women, Coming/Cumming Together!
A FREE conference about social exclusion, sex, and sexual health
No More Apologies is a day-long sex talk, designed to name and address the exclusion of queer trans women from broader queer women’s sexual communities.
Social exclusion negatively impacts trans queer women’s sexual, emotional, and psychological health; meanwhile, by excluding trans women from our communities, cis queer women are missing out on a multitude of sexy, wonderful women to love, fuck, and connect with.
Join us for this long overdue conversation and call-to-action about how to transform our talk about trans inclusion into practice.
Because trans inclusion means more than including trans men in our communities.
Because trans inclusion means more than just saying “women and trans people” in our mission statements.
Because welcoming trans women into our spaces is not the same as welcoming them into our beds.
Because our actions are speaking louder than our words.
2:00-2:45 : “What we’re all here for”: Opening plenary by Drew DeVeaux
3:00-4:15 : Brazen: A pleasure-based sexual health workshop for trans women and the folks who are into us, facilitated by Morgan M Page
4:30-5:30 : Concurrent break-out sessions (facilitators TBA)
–> Trans women talk: A discussion on experiences of exclusion in the queer women’s community
–> Cis women talk: A discussion on trans women’s inclusion in the queer women’s community
6:00-7:00 : Coming/cumming together: A dialogue between trans/cis queer women (facilitators TBA)
9pm : Join us for Cum2GetHer, a post-conference dance party and the launch of BRAZEN: The Trans Women’s Safer Sex Guide, a new guide from the 519 Church Street Community Centre. Hosted by Drew DeVeaux with homo-gogo’s and music by DJ L-Rock (Yes Yes Y’All) and DJ Mama Knows (Get It | Got It | Good)! While the conference is only for queer trans and cis women, all are welcome to the party!
To pre-register, or for more information, please contact Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-961-0113, x. 123
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW:
– This conference welcomes both trans and cis women who have sex with women
– The conference space is wheelchair accessible, and interpreter/attendant services can be made available upon request. TTC tokens will also be made available for conference attendees. Please let us know if there are any other ways that we can make this conference accessible for you!
– For the well-being of attendees with multiple chemical sensitivities, we ask that you please avoid wearing scented products like perfume, cologne, scented lotions, or any other chemical-based products to the event.
ABOUT THE NO MORE APOLOGIES WORKING GROUP: The No More Apologies working group (comprised of Morgan M Page, Mara Pereira, Savannah Garmon, Rebecca Hammond, and Kate Klein) is a group of queer trans and cis women who came together as part of the Sex Talk Series to think of ways to fill the gaps in sexual health promotion for trans women who have sex with women. Special thanks also go to Terri Mathews and Sally Lewis for their contributions to the project.
ABOUT SEX TALK: This event is part of “Sex Talk 2: A Sexual Health Workshop Series for LGBTQ Women”. Sex Talk is a project of Planned Parenthood Toronto, in partnership with the 519 Church Street Community Centre and Sherbourne Health Centre. Sex Talk 2 is generously funded by the Community One Foundation.
Most of us are familiar at this point with the events around the boycott declared on Xtra! by trans activists following editor Danny Glenwright’s unfortunate decision to post Lexi Tronic’s birth name on his Facebook wall, his initial refusal to remove it despite multiple private requests to do so, and worse yet, Danny’s later comments on those events. Here I would like to follow up by giving an example of why this issue is so important and commenting on what a respectful relationship between Xtra! and the trans community should look like.
Towards the beginning of 2008, about a year after I graduated from the University of Texas, I took a year-long research position in Paris. Without going into all the details, this turned out to be an extremely difficult period of my life in which I experienced workplace harassment, deep isolation and severe depression. It was already a kind of in-between period for me as I took steps towards living fulltime as a woman a year later; yet, I made a difficult agreement with my mother to keep my transition secret during that time following a disturbing experience involving another family member.
Fortunately, I made it through those experiences and towards the end of my time in France I prepared to begin my life as a woman. However, I remember the sinking feeling I had in my stomach when I asked my advisor to provide a letter of recommendation using my chosen name with appropriate female pronouns and he flatly refused.
I was fortunate enough to find something (my present position here in Toronto) relying solely on recommendations from my previous research associates, however the fear I experienced for my career was intense, and I can’t help but think that other trans people in a similar situation might not have such good fortunes.
Fast forward to my time here in Toronto: as an activist in the queer and trans community I have had a fair amount of interaction with Xtra! in my two years here. A lot of this interaction has been positive; during the free speech debates surrounding Pride 2010, Xtra! took a principled editorial line in favor of freedom of expression and I would argue there have been a lot of positive outcomes from that. For example, the first trans person was elected to the board of Pride in 2011, something I find hard to imagine happening had it not been for the events of the last two years.
However, I’ve had awkward interactions with some Xtra! staffers. For example, one night last summer I happened to share beers with two cis men on Xtra! staff (I will keep their names to myself). Most of this was cordial enough, but there was a weird moment when the subject of trans rights came up (seemingly out of nowhere, I didn’t bring it up) and one of these gentlemen proceeded to argue that the need for federal protections on the basis of gender identity were overrated since such legislation would not likely be applied in many real world legal situations.
I view this differently: there is an education process that accompanies the bill, and passing it would provide a victory to a community that could use one. And anyways, recent events show that such legislation might have value in real world legal circumstances after all. However, I am not closed to debating these questions, and it’s fine that some Xtra! staff might view the issue differently.
Where I do have a problem is in the fact that while these opinions were made, neither of the cis people involved made eye contact with me even though I was the only trans person present; it felt a bit like I was in a room with people who are talking about me as if I’m not there. Indeed, the all-knowing tone of the conversation made me feel like I had to butt in just to express my view (on trans issues!).
From this experience, I wasn’t all that surprised when I read the following part of Danny’s statement on our boycott:
… the tenor of the discussion quickly changed and, in fact, any helpful, informative dialogue that could have come from this story turned into bad activism and knee-jerk bandwagon jumping.
I was once again being bullied, asked to apologize for being transphobic. “Activists” told me if I failed to apologize on behalf of Xtra for my transphobia, they would boycott this newspaper. The trans community would boycott a newspaper that is a lone voice for trans issues; and yes, these people deigned to speak on behalf of the entire trans community.
I find it disingenuous that Danny laments the lack of “informative dialogue” when in fact he not only refused to take Lexi’s calls, he actually blocked her on Facebook when she politely asked him to remove her birth name from his page (I have seen the conversation, believe me when I say that she is very polite). It is difficult to have dialogue when an individual actively refuses to listen.
Which was exactly the point of our boycott: it was a way of compelling Danny to take Lexi’s call; it was a way around a block on Facebook. Hence our boycott did not ‘shut down the discussion,’ on the contrary, it was the boycott that enabled meaningful dialogue on the issue. It also served to level the playing field between an editor at a major media outlet and a grassroots community activist and sex worker with little relative media power.
Regarding the importance of the name issue itself, I’m proud to say that I did eventually compel my former boss to refer to me as Savannah, though it took about two years, long after I had departed Paris. I accomplished this by gradually isolating him; the cis women in our lab were easiest to convince, then after a while I flipped the cis man researcher who was the third author on a paper with my former boss and myself. This served to isolate my advisor in our email correspondence and over time it became too awkward to continue using my birth name.
Further, I have myself been misgendered in print before, and in that case I had to debate with the editor why it was inappropriate and why it felt to me like it was an intentional stab at my identity (personally I feel it was a way for a writer who already desired to marginalize my voice regarding an unrelated issue to do so on the basis of my trans identity).
I would like to ask: how am I supposed to convince the transphobic mainstream press and bosses of this world that using my birth name or incorrect pronouns is totally inappropriate if even my supposed “ally” believes that doing so might be acceptable under certain circumstances, even without my permission? (And yes, if Danny feels justified in referring to me as a trans “activist,” then I am justified in referring to him as a trans “ally”).
Then there is Danny’s arrogant claim that “[Xtra! is] a lone voice for trans issues.” The fact is those of us in the trans community are very much capable of speaking for ourselves. Certainly those of us involved managed to tell the story of our boycott quite well, didn’t we? Even though that was primarily promoted by word-of-mouth on social media and my rinky-dink blog. We didn’t rely on big media to carry our voices; the power of our message carried itself.
Hence, the way I see it is this: yes, telling our story in the trans community with Xtra! helping to project our voices would be ideal. However, if a respectful relationship can’t be maintained, then we will find another way.
Here I will make two specific recommendations for Xtra on how to develop the type of relationship to which I am referring. First, it has already been suggested that Xtra! should modify its page header to include bi and trans people. Secondly, I would point out that a media organization no more radical than GLAAD has put out a set of guidelines for respecting trans individuals in the media; if Xtra! had already adopted these guidelines (or something similar), probably none of this would have happened.
In the end, I hope that this incident will someday be viewed as a mere bump on the road to developing that type of respectful relationship. But in order for that to happen, dialogue must go both ways: certainly cis allies should feel compelled to listen when trans people are speaking about their own identities and their own experiences. Hopefully if that happens, then we can do away with all these kinds of ‘quotations’ around identities, and get back to sharing all our stories with the outside world.
Note: Xtra! declined to publish this article in any form.
Cross posted at The Transadvocate.
Note from Savannah (leftytgirl): the following is Lexi Tronic’s heartfelt response to the recent debate around Xtra! editor Danny Glenwright’s cissexist decision to post her (pre-transition) birth name on his facebook profile, the subsequent decision by several trans activists to boycott Xtra!, and Glenwright’s statements on the situation. I have personally provided (minimal) editing of the statement for grammar, and clarity on a few points.
Note that we have described this action on Glenwright’s part as transphobic in the past, but we should more precisely describe this as an example of cissexism (i.e. an act of a cis person to invalidate or belittle a trans person’s identity).
Even if in previous articles I have consented to having my birth name printed (which I have not explicitly done), I still have a right to request that it not be done in 2011. In 2009 I was interviewed for an article with Xtra when they published my birth name. While I did not have a major problem with that 2009 article, I did feel uncomfortable with my birth name being used. But I was promoting a new film project and the writer was a friend of a friend and I didn’t want to be contentious. The issue is not that people know my birth name; they can find this by looking at my past film work that features my old name. But I don’t want to be referred to by my old name at all nor do I want to encourage it. Especially among people I grew up with who may still not understand my transition.
I’ve had many incidents in which I’ve gone to a public place in Winnipeg and someone has addressed me by my birthname. It gives me a sinking feeling. For that reason, I found Danny using my name for “awareness” to “alert” old schoolmates problematic and upsetting. But I wasn’t outraged, I allow room for error, so I personally messaged him privately through facebook and asked him kindly to remove my former name from his site and included a link to an article that I like for these purposes, “How to Respect a Trans Person”.
Danny responded back to me that it was his personal facebook page and he was using my name to “spark dialogue” and thus he was not going to remove it. I shared with him that I found my former first name being printed on his page to be hurtful, and I pleaded with him to remove my name. After that second message Danny blocked me from contacting him on facebook. I even tried to call him at Xtra but he would not take my calls. I was quite distressed about my former first name (FFN) appearing on his FB page, and baffled by his lack of understanding about why I didn’t want my FFN up there, even after I sent him the link for “How to Respect A Transperson.“ I was even more distressed when I started getting facebook messages from former Winnipeg acquaintances saying “Hey (FFN), I read your article, are you coming home for Xmas?”
At that point I forwarded the facebook message exchange between Danny and I to some people on my facebook whom I thought might have some perspective on how to deal with the situation. I had no idea what to do myself since I already asked him, and then pleaded with him politely to remove my FFN and he refused and then he even blocked me on Facebook.
The people to whom I went for guidance were outraged and together they decided to boycott Xtra [meaning they would no longer comment for Xtra stories –Savannah]. They felt that it was an abuse of power on behalf of the editor and disrespectful to me.
So after the story spread like wildfire, and many people came out on media to support me, Danny decided that he would now talk to me. He phoned me and I shared with him the problems I have with him using my name; I did not want people to see it anywhere, especially former school mates in Winnipeg, who have previously called me by my former name. It has been a real problem for me and I find it very hurtful.
He apologized for it and said that that was not his intention, rather that he was using my birth name to alert old friends to my “success” story and to bring awareness of my former self. He apologized and assured me he would not continue publicizing my FFN.
To elaborate, after Danny called me and apologized, which I open-heartedly and gratefully accepted, he shared that he remembered me as a very negative person in his life. We were in the same elementary school together. He stated that I bullied him and caused him great distress at this time. I listened to what he had to say, I didn’t defend myself and never denied that I had called him hames, though I don’t remember actually doing so. But I did not deny it because I did not want to invalidate his disclosure.
I was also bullied in school and I was a very fucked up kid. I was 8 years old. I grew up being sexually abused, I lived in group homes, If I did bully anyone in grade four, I would not be surprised given my circumstances. So I apologized to Danny and said that I was sorry if he felt that I had bullied him and that it was completely wrong of me and acknowledged that it must have been very hurtful. I explained to him that I was not the same person that I was 24 years ago, that I lead my life as a person out there trying to make a difference and help people. He shared his own hopes and goals around Xtra and trans people, and I hung up feeling really good and really positive. I let my friends know that he whole-heartedly apologized and that we had worked it out and there was no further need to boycott Xtra.
So I was quite shocked when I woke up to find out that a friend had sent me a screen shot of Danny’s FB page from that afternoon and he had not yet removed the post containing my FFN. I promptly called him and I again pleaded with him to take my name down. He said that he was very busy but he would do it. And then later on that afternoon Danny’s “Response to a strange boycott” was released.
I was pretty mortified by Danny’s response. I really thought we had worked it out. I am not trying to get into a pissing contest with Danny about who is the bigger victim in this situation, himself for being bullied in grade 4 by me, and/or 24 years later being accused of transphobia [cissexism, to be more precise –Savannah] by well-networked and vocal supporters of myself on facebook. But I do feel that as a trans woman and a sex worker with a grade 9 education there is a bit of a power imbalance between myself and an editor of the largest gay publication in Canada.
I will also point out that Danny is a cisgender white male who appears able-bodied. I understand by the tone of his response (he opens with the line: “when I heard the name…a lump formed in my throat”) that he feels defensive and wronged and presumably victimized by me, but I don’t really have the institutional power to oppress Danny. I don’t have the power of the law, the school system, the police; I am marginalized, despite having powerful and vocal allies.
Further, I feel that Danny reacted so strongly because I tried to stand up for myself, and people have supported me, and I feel I have been subject to oppression a second time by Xtra with Danny’s response to the boycott supported by myself, my friends and allies.
That is a lot of background. I have been asked from Xtra for a response and it has taken me a few days because I don’t want to just be reactive.
To say that I have no right to protest someone’s use of my FFN on their personal facebook page because Xtra published it two years ago, when it causes me distress and furthermore has been documented that it causes many trans people distress, is somewhat akin to saying that a rape victim is not a victim of rape because she consented to sex two years ago. Do you know what I mean, jelly bean?
Update (Dec. 18): Lexi Tronic has now released her own personal statement on the situation with xtra!.
Update (Dec. 14): Mr Glenwright has released a rather bizarre statement on this matter. I’m afraid this complicates the situation significantly. More soon.
Earlier today, the trans community reacted strongly in the aftermath of an incident in which an Xtra! editor publicly, inappropriately referred to Toronto trans icon Lexi Tronic by her birth name.
I can now announce that Xtra! editor Danny Glenwright has personally apologized to Lexi, and Lexi has accepted his apology. As a result, we are now calling off the boycott entirely :-)
As it turns out, today’s incident was in part due to a misunderstanding. Mr. Glenwright has stated that he did not intend to insult or demean Lexi or any other trans person in any way. Rather, his intention was to comment on her success as she has grown from a child to the amazing woman she is today. He simply didn’t understand that using her birth name was totally inappropriate or that it carried such weight.
Mr. Glenwright has further stated that in taking the position of editor at Xtra! that one of his main goals is to advance the story of trans people and trans rights. So while his act of referring to a trans woman’s birth name was inappropriate, his intentions were positive, which was not clear to those of us who called for the boycott. Certainly he never had any intention of hurting Lexi in any way.
For her part, Lexi told me that she accepts Mr. Glenwright’s apology unconditionally. She also commented that boycott itself may not be a perfect solution in any case, as she is more interested in creating dialogue than shutting it down. From her perspective, there may be points of improvement in the future, however she is looking forward to Xtra’s continued (and hopefully furthered) engagement with the trans community.
On a personal note I will admit that for just a split-second I hesitated on the boycott. The issue was certainly that important, I have no doubt of that, but I worried for a moment that maybe we were putting an end to a developing story rather than beginning a new one.
Indeed, when Lexi and I chatted a few moments ago we acknowledged between us that neither of us can claim to be totally perfect on these issues ourselves. Everyone makes mistakes, and Lexi wants to emphasize that mistakes should serve as an opening point for dialogue and growth, rather than a moment to shut down discussion.
Finally, Lexi Tronic, myself, and the other activists who called for this boycott would like to thank all of you for the over-whelming support we received today. We look forward to engaging in the future all the issues that we have touched on today. <3
Mr. Glenwright, thank you for your apology.
Update (8:50 pm) : Happily, I can now announce that Xtra! editor Danny Glennwright has personally apologized to Lexi, and Lexi has accepted his apology. As a result, we are now calling off the boycott entirely.
Update (7:30 pm) : It’s heartening to see that some much-needed dialogue in the queer community has already been produced around this incident, within the span of a single day. I think the comments on this blog post speak to how important and necessary that dialogue really is. The fact is that the trans community occupies some funny space in the larger queer and trans community. While I have little interest in the calls some make for trans separation from the larger queer community, it has to be acknowledged that there is a real history of disrespect and even exploitation of trans people, and that history must be addressed.
Regarding the boycott call itself, we are presently waiting for some further developments around the issue. In the meantime, those of us who proposed the boycott have been overwhelmed by the level of support that has been offered from both within and outside the trans community.
All of us, including Lexi, are overwhelmed by your support and your kindness.
Original Post (1 pm):
The trans community has a long history of disrespect coming from mainstream media sources, including mainstream gay and lesbian news outlets. This includes, for example, acts of intentionally misgendering trans individuals, revealing someone’s trans status without their permission, and printing their birth name without permission. These types of disrespect go hand-in-hand with a history of trans exploitation, in which a trans person’s story is presented in a sensationalistic manner in order to sell copy cheap and quick.
Recently, Canada’s primary queer news outlet Xtra! was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to interview Toronto local trans icon Lexi Tronic for a larger story on the dangers of sex work in Canada. The story itself (by my friend Andrea Houston) is well-written and respectful, relating the very real difficulties that sex workers– including trans sex workers– face on a regular basis, especially focusing on the fact that Canadian law as it presently stands serves to stigmatize their lives and make sex workers more vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
Unfortunately, that is not where the story ends. While the story itself was written in a respectful manner, the editor Danny Glenwright chose to discuss the story on his Facebook wall by publicly referring to Tronic by her birth name. Apparently he claims that because it’s not technically part of the story itself, it’s acceptable for to do so. This claim childishly ignores the fact that the story and what the editor of the paper say about it publicly are largely inseparable to the public at large (and yes Facebook counts as public, especially in a tight-knit community like Toronto’s queer community). Glenwright has been confronted about the issue and he has refused to apologize.The fact is that Glenwright’s actions serve to insult Tronic (and the trans community as a whole) and to publicly attempt to undermine her gender identity, especially after she graciously lent her trust to Xtra in agreeing to be interviewed. Hence, myself and others are now calling for a boycott on Xtra until Glenwright apologizes for his actions. Further, he should come forward publicly to describe that it is unacceptable to misgender a trans person or use their birth name without permission under any circumstances.
Finally, on a personal note, I will say that Lexi is a friend of mine and a local hero in the trans community. She does charity work, for example raising money for the needs of our fellow trans community members. She’s also a really beautiful person inside and out, and she doesn’t deserve to be treated this way.
Mr. Glenwright, apologize immediately.