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Note: the following is an archival post of my recent blog piece at Huffington Post.
Earlier this week, Piers Morgan interviewed transgender advocate Janet Mock for his CNN show, focusing on her new book, Redefining Realness. The interview quickly set off a critical response on social media as Morgan focused his questions on Mock’s transition history and the moment she came out to her partner as transgender. The captioning on the program (and Piers Morgan’s tweet to promote the interview) referred to her as formerly being a “boy,” and Morgan himself used similar language throughout the interview. He also referred to Mock’s male-typical birth name several times.
When I watched the interview, it felt like the questions towards the beginning of the interview, focusing on Mock’s gender expression through adolescence, were leading specifically towards one of the media’s favorite tropes regarding trans women: surgical status. When Morgan actually asked the question, it came out about as awkwardly as one could imagine: Read the rest of this entry »
So a couple days ago my first piece landed over at Autostraddle: Getting With Girls Like Us: A Radical Guide to Dating Trans* Women for Cis Women. As I’ve read AS off and on through the last couple of years, I’ve thought before that I would hope to someday have the opportunity to publish something with them. Particularly, I was impressed with several amazing pieces from Annika.
As Annika recently decided to focus on other aspects of her life– writing her farewell piece for Autostraddle as she rode off into the sunset– I was a little saddened to think that we wouldn’t have new articles for her to look forward to in the future. But I admit I was also intrigued when AS linked to one of my pieces in their call for submissions for the Trans*Scribe theme issue, featuring trans women telling their stories from their own perspectives in their own words.
The piece that I chose to submit for Trans*Scribe was kind of a belated follow-up to my previous article on dating as a trans woman in the queer women’s communities, which was originally published at Prettyqueer, focusing on my feelings of distance and sometimes alienation dating as a trans woman. Primarily, I viewed that article as a call for dialogue between cis women and trans women on trans woman inclusion in the queer women’s communities (not that my piece is the first article along those lines, far from it). However, while that piece focused a bit more on an argument for trans woman inclusion, the recent piece at Autostraddle was a bit more focused towards women who might already be dating trans women or explicitly open to that possibility (of course, some trans women aren’t really separable in any obvious way from the larger cis woman population in the first place, and then a number of these questions are somewhat of a moot point anyways).
The follow-up piece has been something I’ve been planning to do for a while, in part because I wanted to clarify and refine a few points from the earlier article. That includes the statement I made in the more recent piece about the so-called “Cotton Ceiling” that had originally proposed in the context of the No More Apologies conference back in January 2012. The comment in the recent piece, basically stepping back from that particular framing of the issue, is something I had been planning on writing about for quite a while (unfortunately, I’m not always the fastest writer; luckily the Autostraddle window provided me with the right opportunity to put together a lot of these thoughts that I had had in mind for a while).
The discussion about why the Cotton Ceiling isn’t the best way to frame the issue is something that I plan to return to and make a more detailed comment about at some point in the future. For now, however, I will just point to this particular important comment that was left on the Autostraddle article.
I have to say I totally did not see the overwhelming response the more recent article has received coming at all; the comment thread has blown up in a way that I just never expected. By and large those comments have been supportive, expressing that they gained insight into trans women’s issues and perspectives. However, there has also been significant pushback from a number of (I’ll be generous and say) trans-critical women (and a couple of men as well).
I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify a few points here that keep recurring on the comment thread. Read the rest of this entry »
A Thai trans rights group, Thai Transgender Alliance, has recently stated its objections in an open letter about a Thai-language advertisement from the Swedish furniture manufacturer IKEA.
The ad, seen below, features a thai trans woman who is talking with a man (a date or her boyfriend, by all appearances) in an IKEA store. When the woman notices an item on sale, she suddenly exclaims “Hooo… sale” in a deeper voice, intended to reveal her status as trans. The man responds by giving her a bizarre look, then at the end of the commercial he literally runs the other way while she is picking up furniture to buy (the fact that she picks up three presumably heavy boxes also seems to be an attempt to suggest, “she’s really a man!”). The title of the video, translated as “Forgot to Deceive,” implies that she is intended to represent a “disguised man,” falling squarely into the classic deceitful trans woman trope.
In their open letter, Thai Transgender Alliance stated that
The MTF transgender/transwomen character is openly mocked as being “deceitful” … The transgender content of the advertisement is negative and stereotypical in nature, perpetuating misunderstanding transgenderism as human sexuality for “deceitful and deviant lifestyle”.
This plays into the disclosure myth that has been used to victim-blame trans women who have been the targets of abuse and violence from cis men.
The ad was played on Bangkok’s sky train system for about two weeks at the beginning of the year.
However, this is not the first time trans-misogyny has appeared in an IKEA ad. The following was an ad that ran in France back in 2006. It shows a woman putting on make-up, apparently preparing for an evening out. As the woman heads out the door, she hits her crotch on a table, obviously causing her a great deal of pain.
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.