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The last couple of months have been really busy so I’ve fallen behind on blogging, but I wanted to quickly revisit a story from March that I have been meaning to comment on for a while.Back in mid-March, stories began to appear in the Orange County local press about Perla Serrano, a 51-year old trans woman who allegedly committed identity theft over a thirteen year period against another Southern California woman.
These stories linked above contain many of the sadly not-unexpected flaws of mainstream media coverage of trans issues and identities– especially common in local news sources– specifically, they misgender Perla throughout, never even acknowledging the fact that she clearly identifies as a woman and lives her life accordingly. However, unlike some particularly awful local news outlets, they at least avoid the route of intentionally sensationalizing the story or playing it off for cheap laughs.
Unfortunately, another outlet was even less responsible, and several larger media outlets picked up on the story over the next few days and chose the path of blatant ridicule.
The Los Angeles local KTLA 5 broadcast (which was apparently rebroadcasted outside the Southern California area) opens with the sensationalizing line,
If Perla Serrano did indeed commit identity theft, then obviously that is a serious crime. That having been said, do you know what’s actually bizarre about this? The accusation that Serrano would transition to living as a woman purely for the purposes of obtaining free healthcare. That is completely bizarre. And utterly stupid considering the obvious fact that if she had no interest in living as a woman in the first place, she could have simply chosen some man’s identity to steal. Why would anyone, no matter how desperate, go through the trouble of transitioning their body merely to obtain healthcare by posing within the binary gender role with which they do not genuinely identify?
If you think identity theft is a drag, hear this: a bizarre case of stolen identity. A man is arrested after masquerading as his female victim for thirteen years in an elaborate plot to steal her identity and drain her bank account.
Then of course there is the childish reference to `drag’ in the opening sentence. The story continues with reporter `on the beat’ Chip Yost who continues the masquerade by showing pictures of Perla while repeatedly referring to her as a `man.’ The story ends with Yost’s snarky account of Perla’s arrest:
The deputy confronted Serrano, saying he knew Serrano was a man, but Serrano… denied it, insisting she was a woman. That issue was finally settled during the booking process… [after which] Serrano was ultimately placed– in the men’s prison. [emphasis added]
Well of course she denied that she was a man, since she is a woman. Further, the fact is that trans women arrested in the U.S. are usually unjustly placed in the men’s prison so that really doesn’t prove much of anything.
The transphobic news charade continued from this point with Latino Fox News who opened their story with the idiotic line, “Identity theft can be a real drag,” and even the Huffington Post got in on the fun with it’s own report filed under “Weird News.”
Of course, there’s nothing especially `weird’ about a woman posing as another woman to obtain healthcare. It’s wrong of course, but it’s not weird (and I do want to make clear that the victim of Perla’s alleged identity theft deserves full financial and legal restitution for any damages that might have been incurred).
However, stepping beyond the analysis of the transphobic media coverage itself, I think this issue raises another question about why this type of derision would be directed against a most likely impoverished trans woman of color in the first place. Of course, it’s nothing unusual for local media outlets across the United States to belittle trans women by referring to them with slurs and transmisogynistic language– even when reporting that they have been murdered. This isn’t even the worst case. But there’s something particularly ridiculous in the attempt to deny that Perla Serrano even genuinely identifies as a woman in the first place.
For one thing, I think most of us can look at Perla’s image and tell she wasn’t “acting as a woman to get healthcare.” Even someone who is fairly ignorant of trans issues should be able to recognize that she isn’t simply putting on a costume to bilk some healthcare out of the system.
In fact, I don’t think it is Perla who is putting on a costume in this instance; rather it is the privatized U.S. healthcare system that is doing so. The fact that the healthcare system in the United States is gradually spinning out of control has become widely recognized in the past decade or so by many Americans outside the throes of rightwing or libertarian ideologies– both of which are rather up-front about the fact that they have little interest in dealing with real world social problems anyways.
The problems with the system are varied and complex, but the primary issues come down to the fact that privatized healthcare apparently does nothing to reduce costs and that having multiple parties to finance care results in a bloated bureaucracy and massive inefficiencies. Further the fact that doctors in the U.S. are generally paid on a fee structure rather than a salary presents a rather obvious incentive for doctors to order unnecessary tests and lab work, resulting in significant waste and abuse (and American doctors, particularly specialists, who are overpaid in comparison to their European counterparts).
Indeed, studies have shown that the ballooning cost of healthcare will exceed the U.S. budget itself within only a couple of decades.
Given this reality, the powerful lobby groups and insurance industry executives who profit the most from the current situation are presented with a conundrum: how to prop up a system that not only consistently wreaks havoc in the lives of ordinary Americans while propping up profits for a handful of elites, but is actually destined to break the back of the American economy itself?
The answer is of course that at least a significant portion of the population must be duped into actually believing that the system is fair. And that’s where a story like Perla Serrano’s comes to clash with the picture that elites who profit from the system desire to paint. The fact is that in Canada or Japan or elsewhere in the industrialized world Perla would not have needed to commit fraud just to get basic healthcare (which is apparently what she obtained). And that is the real story in this news piece, not her trans status.
In other words, Perla’s arrest and the fact that she felt she had little choice but to commit fraud in order to obtain healthcare makes the system look bad. Fortunately for the corrupt healthcare system and its supporters, the fact that Perla is a trans woman gives them an opportunity to flip the script: instead of presenting a story in which Perla’s situation makes the healthcare system look like a clown, they rely on transphobia and transmisogyny in a disgusting attempt to paint Perla as a clown.
In fact, when we really think about the situation, the fraud allegedly committed by Perla simply mirrors the fraud of a doctor who orders a lab test for you when they know damn well that you don’t need that test. Of course the fees that the doctor would be fraudulently obtaining are spread out among a larger group of people; however, apart from that I don’t see much of a difference. Perla simply took on a corrupt behavior in order make her way in an deeply corrupted system.
And further, and this would be my main point, I think the belief that a health care system that primarily works for those who can afford to buy into it is moral or just almost requires this kind of dehumanization of the poor and others who are left behind in order to provide some semblance of psychological justification to the wealthy and to society as a whole.
So in the end, Perla Serrano’s case is just one more indication that the U.S. healthcare system is in desperate need of a major overhaul. Sadly, President Obama entered the White House with a decisive mandate to reform the system, however, assuming his health care plan even survives a late June decision from a right-leaning Supreme Court, it may well be that he blew the opportunity by relying on reforms that are simply inadequate to deal with the underlying problems.
Last January, a campaign was set in motion to repeal a law in Sweden requiring trans people to undergo sterilization procedures in order for the Swedish government to recognize their gender identity change on government-issued ID. While a petition to this effect received over 77,000 signatures, it appeared that a small rightwing party in Sweden’s government would block the repeal.
However, just recently it has been announced that this party has changed its position and will now allow the repeal to move forward
Unfortunately, there is still plenty of work to do, as it is clear that many governments around the world have similar laws. For example, it has been pointed out that, other than Sweden, the following European countries still require sterilization for gender change recognition: Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia Switzerland, Turkey and the Ukraine.
In my own experience, I’m glad to say that Texas (where I recently obtained a court order for name change and gender marker change from ‘M’ to ‘F’) has no such legal requirement (although it seems the rules are a bit vague and perhaps interpreted differently in different circumstances). I recall that I once had a thought about storing sperm myself before starting transition, although in the end it turned out to be too expensive. However, when I mentioned this idea to my doctor (who had otherwise been generally helpful) she gave me a strange expression and simply said she’d never heard of anyone doing that before.
Finally, here is the video featuring a Swedish trans man that was used to promote the campaign in Sweden (and worldwide). The campaign was spearheaded by AllOut.
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.
Update: While a majority in parliament apparently support the change in Sweden’s law that would do away with coercive sterilization of trans people, a small rightwing party has blocked the repeal.
**********************************************************************For about a seven-month period during 2009 I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark, which is where I began living full-time as a woman. While I loved Denmark in many ways, it struck me when I learned how conservative the laws actually are regarding trans individuals who need to update their documentation, post-transition. After all, Denmark is associated with two of the first persons who were widely known to have obtained sex reassignment surgeries: Lili Elbe (Danish citizen who obtained the surgery in Germany in the early 30′s) and Christine Jorgensen (American citizen who obtained the surgery in Denmark in 1952). Hence it surprised me when I found out that just getting a simple name change requires a letter from a physician if the birth name is associated with male while the chosen name is considered female, or vice-versa.
However, knowing that the Scandinavian countries have some similar laws, I wasn’t surprised this morning when I came across a petition regarding trans rights in Sweden. While I think the overall laws are somewhat more liberal than Denmark, it turns out that it is not possible to get a gender marker change in Sweden without a physician’s letter attesting to some type of medical sterilization. While of course bottom surgery (or possibly other procedures, such as hysterectomy in the case of trans men) is a big step in the transition process for some trans people, requiring this in order to have a simple gender marker change is ridiculous.
After all, many trans persons (including myself) may choose never to undergo such procedures. And I can’t help but think of a trans man friend of mine who recently gave birth to a beautiful child. Personally, I couldn’t be more proud of him and I think the fact that he birthed a child makes him more of a man, not less
Hence, please sign the petition to change this particular law in Sweden.
As for my old friend Denmark, it turns out that there was a similar petition at one time, however it appears that it was not successful
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 email@example.com 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.
In response to the recent challenges the trans community has faced in dealings with mainstream queer media, Montreal artists Rae Spoon and Elisha Lim have released a video featuring a beautiful song of support.
The description the artists have included on the video states:
In light of recent events in the Canadian lgbt press where trans folks have had their right to choose their name or pronoun taken away, we thought we would sing this love song for the community.
Personally, I think the song is really adorable <3
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.
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.