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Laverne_Cox_allure

Laverne Cox in Allure Magazine

Laverne Cox, along with several other women, recently appeared in a nude photo shoot for Allure Magazine, which was perhaps the first time that a woman who is openly trans had been included in such a feature in a women’s magazine and was widely hailed for this in progressive media, especially given the context in which trans women of color like Cox are forced to negotiate the complex intersections of racism and misogyny in the patriarchal world we inhabit.

On Feminist Current, Meghan Murphy, who has been criticized for transphobia in the past [1], took a very different view: that Laverne Cox’s body naked body in a women’s magazine represents nothing more than an attempt to appeal to the male gaze. Why the other women in the photoshoot were not subjected to similar criticism is not stated.

Murphy writes

If women or transwomen were truly allowed to love themselves, I doubt they’d be spending thousands and thousands of dollars sculpting their bodies in order to look like some cartoonish version of “woman,” as defined by the porn industry and pop culture. The fact that Cox’s body is seen as “subversive” because she is trans doesn’t change that. Her body doesn’t look subversive. It looks like any other objectified female body, sculpted by surgery and enhanced by Photoshop.

Murphy hypocritically refers to Cox as a ‘cartoon’ while decrying the objectification of women.  Also one will notice the dogwhistle trans-misogyny throughout the article such as putting “women” in quotes, which is successful in that the article attracts even more blatant hateful transphobes in the comments section who misgender Cox and gleefully trash her further.  (And notice that while Murphy challenges many other comments, she never responds to these blatantly hateful comments, which are heavily upvoted on her site).

I argued with Murphy in the comments section myself, where she makes the utterly silly defensive claim that her comment about “cartoonish” bodies didn’t refer to Cox at all.  Nobody would believe her in this claim, including her own transphobic supporters in all likelihood.

Here I created I relatively brief storify documenting some of the awesome responses to this hateful trash from feminist twitter.  I’m sure I’ve overlooked a lot of awesome responses, but hopefully this gives an overall idea.

[1]  Regarding Meghan Murphy’s history with transphobia, see this uncritical interview with Sheila Jeffreys focusing on her elaborate transphobic conspiracy theories.

Wow. I hardly even know how to react to this one, except I guess just to say that Julian Vigo takes an extended opportunity to lay it down on us annoying, “hyper-feminine” trans women.

While I don’t really have time to sit down and write a proper response, there were a few immediate thoughts I had in response that I wanted to write out while they were fresh on my mind.

In the first paragraph, Vigo writes

“Even to undertake a strictly political analysis of the trans community one risks being labeled ‘transphobic’ especially if one is a radical feminist. As a result of this assault on dialogue, the true violence of transphobia (ie. assault, rape, murder and many other forms of discrimination) is cheapened and diluted in the larger space of discursive disagreements with feminists. Conterminously, the mislabeling of dialogue under the guise of ‘transphobia’ masks another type of violence perpetuated towards radical feminists who speak about these discursive differences with trans activists.”

So apparently Vigo thinks that calling out individuals (including but certainly not limited to “trans-critical” radical feminists) for making dehumanizing statements about trans women cheapens our efforts to combat sexual violence and other forms of violence against trans women.

A friend of mine Jordana Greenblatt called my attention to an interesting question on this point earlier. When mainstream media and other voices in society make dehumanizing comments about women, would Vigo accept patriarchy’s claim that calling these voices out for misogynistic speech cheapens the “real fight” to end sexual violence and other forms of violence experienced by all women?

Read the rest of this entry »

Note: the following is an earlier draft of an article that just appeared at Autostraddle; the draft below focuses slightly more on a Toronto perspective, while the final draft at Autostraddle gives a more complete analysis (I’ll recommend the Autostraddle version for most readers).

Word has quickly spread on the web in the last couple of days that Rachel Ivey, a member of the Deep Green Resistance environmentalist movement that holds openly transphobic views as “core” principles, is putting together a tour consisting of a few relatively high profile speaking events in June and July.  This speaking tour supposedly includes events at City College of NYC as well as the University of Toronto.

You can see the webpage for Rachel Ivey’s online fundraiser for her speaking tour here, along with several planned dates and speaking venues.  This includes her planned July 4 speaking engagement at the University of Toronto.  The page also mentions that further events will be listed in Ontario.

From there, I’m guessing that it’s not a coincidence that this date occurs right before the radical feminist RadFem Rise Up conference, which is scheduled for Toronto on July 5-7.  My guess is that Ms. Ivey will be be speaking at the conference as well.

One point however is that the venue for the ‘Rise Up’ conference is being kept secret, at least for now. That is clearly because anti-trans radfem activists have found it increasingly difficult in recent years to find institutions and organizations that are willing to host them and promote their views on account of their bigoted views regarding trans individuals.

Indeed, one of Ms. Ivey’s scheduled speaking events on her fundraiser page has already been cancelled by Bluestockings Bookstore, the venue that had been scheduled to host her second speaking event in NYC.  Bluestockings cited DGR’s “blatantly transphobic rhetoric” as the reason for the cancellation.

As a trans woman who has strong ties to Toronto, however, I will say that I don’t necessarily think that calling for these events to be canceled is the best course of action.   Read the rest of this entry »

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: This is an archival post of a recent column at Autostraddle.

Last Monday, March 25, about three hundred people gathered outside of the offices of the Daily Mail in Kensington, London to hold a vigil in honor of Lucy Meadows, a British school teacher who was found dead at her home about a week earlier. The vigil was held at the Daily Mail headquarters in silent protest of how the UK tabloid (and other elements of the British press) had strewn details of a small-town teacher’s personal life across national headlines – likely playing a role in her apparent suicide. Many of those same members of the press hardly flinched as they continued disrespecting Meadows, even in reporting her death.

On December 19, 2012, the story appeared in the local Accrington Observer that Lucy Meadows, who had formerly lived as a man, would be returning to her teaching duties at St. Mary Magdalen’s School after Christmas break now living as a woman. The story incorrectly gendered Meadows as male throughout and featured a scowling picture of Wayne Cowie, a parent of one Meadow’s pupils, holding a copy of a letter to parents informing them of Meadows gender transition. Mr. Cowie was quoted speaking about his son, “He has had this teacher for three years. All of a sudden [she] is going to be coming to school after Christmas as a woman.” He added, “They are too young to be dealing with that.”

I would argue that children are perfectly capable of dealing with the issue of gender transition; my experience is that beyond perhaps vague curiosity, they usually don’t care very much (if at all). This naturally leads us to a more immediate question: why would anyone, unless perhaps they are directly connected to the school, care about this story? I have difficulty seeing how this story is worthy of any news coverage, even at the local level.

Of course, the press has every right to ask questions when it has some kind of (even broadly-defined) relation to the public interest. Usually that would mean asking questions of public figures or focusing on issues that affect a significant number of people. Lucy Meadows is not a public figure and her gender transition had a direct impact on very few people.

The manner in which the press was obviously bottom-feeding to dig up dirt in this case was a bit unreal. Read the rest of this entry »

Note: This is primarily just an archival post of my recent article at Autostraddle, however I added a few comments below to clarify a couple of points (the added/edited parts will appear in underline). Anyone who feels the urge to argue with me over this article, please feel free to go to the original Autostraddle post, as I will continue reading every comment that is posted there. Also note that I have already posted a follow-up comment on this.

This article also appeared at Huffington Post and Everyday Feminism.

Recently, I went on a dinner date with a cis woman that ended a bit awkwardly. Some of the conversation we shared was nice, we talked about film (fyi – an easy topic to hold my interest, ladies!), our common roots back in the States, and her background in performance art. At one point she shared with me her frustrations over a performance meant to showcase artists from our region in the U.S. The thing is, whoever put together this particular exhibition had invited a number of men from her theatre program to participate — meanwhile she and several of the other women who graduated from the program found out about the event later when one of the guys posted it on facebook.

It’s pretty easy to feel anger over such blatant sexism, and it immediately reminded me of some of my own experiences of feeling ignored at times in my own workplace. But then she said something that struck a really odd chord:

“Yeah, it’s supposed to represent artists from the South, but it turns out it’s just a total sausage fest.”

Okay, we all get the basic intended meaning here. But is she really implying that the men who were invited to exhibit their work were asked to do so on the basis of their genitalia? I have to say that, since my transition, being a woman with a penis never got me special treatment in the academic world. And given that she was aware of my body configuration I have to think that is a strange comment to make to me on a date.

Sadly, the situation only further deteriorated with the appearance of the word “ladyboy,” and the fact that somehow the subject kept getting changed when I tried to discuss these things. Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Please sign the petition here calling for Richard Littlejohn to be sacked from his column at the Daily Mail.

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A tragic story emerged today from Accrington, a small town in Lancanshire, England. This week, grade school pupils from St. Mary Magdalen’s Church of England Primary School were informed that their teacher Lucy Meadows had died.

As heartbreaking as that must be for the children, the fact that their teacher was almost certainly bullied to suicide by the British Press will probably only make things more difficult.

The background to the story is that Meadows, a trans woman, had previously been living and teaching as a man. Her students had been informed that following winter break, she would be returning to teach as a woman.

From my own experience, I can say this really isn’t that big of a deal. Children are smart, they’re adaptable, and they can work these things out.

Unfortunately, adults can sometimes be more complicated.

Of course, we all know from the recent Leveson inquiry as well as the Julie Burchill ordeal, the British Press has seemingly raised hateful transphobic and transmisogynistic journalism almost to the level of a twisted art form.

The comments from Richard Littlejohn in a Daily Mail column from Dec. 20, 2012 are a perfect example of this sick obsession that more than a few in the British Press seem to have with trans people.

For some inexplicable reason, Littlejohn seems to have believed that the gender transition of a small-town teacher in England should be UK National News headlines. So he gathered a few quotes from parents (probably taken at least somewhat out of context), prying into the business of some small town he’s likely never even visited before, just to shove this young woman’s personal life into the spotlight and ridicule her with public abuse.

And abuse he gave, including the fact that he consistently misguiders Meadows, refers to her by her previous male-typical name, and includes private photos– including a shot from her wedding for good measure.

Littlejohn begins the article stating he has no problems with NHS funding for gender confirmation surgery, apparently attempting to suggest he has no problem with trans people. He goes on to make the problems he has very clear; for a rough jist of the article (archived above):

Schoolteacher [birth name deleted], 32, says he always knew he was born into the wrong sex. Yet he married and fathered a child, now aged three. It was only fairly recently that he decided to go public with his inner turmoil.

The first indications came when he began growing his cropped hair and dyeing it purple. He started turning up for class wearing pink nail varnish and sparkly headbands.

His pupils at St Mary Magdalen’s Church of England Primary School in Accrington, Lancs, couldn’t help noticing. A crayon drawing of Mr Upton by a Year 6 pupil on the school’s website shows him with long hair swept back over his shoulders.

This week, the school’s 169 pupils, aged between seven and 11, were informed class-by-class that from now on, ‘Sir’ would be ‘Miss’.

So that’s all right, then. From now on, kiddies, Mr Upton will be known as Miss Lucy Meadows.

What are you staring at, Johnny? Move along, nothing to see here. Get on with your spelling test. Today’s word is ‘transitioning’.

But the real kicker of course comes from the following entirely ironic and hypocritical statements:

But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.

Why should they be forced to deal with the news that a male teacher they have always known as Mr Upton will henceforth be a woman called Miss Meadows?

So there you have it folks, Richard Littlejohn doesn’t have any problem with trans people… he’s just worried about the children.

Of course, what about the challenges of a young child who has to go through the experience of seeing a teacher that they admire being dragged through the mud in the National press? What about the moment when they learn that their teacher won’t be coming in to lead class after all, as she has likely committed suicide as a result of that experience? (The fact that the original article attacking Lucy Meadows has now been scrubbed from the Daily Mail site speaks volumes).

Of course it’s all about the children, right Richard Littlejohn? If that’s the case, then let’s see you do the best, most responsible thing for them that you could possibly do: publicly apologize and resign from your column at the Daily Mail immediately.

Recently, I commented on a series of ads featuring trans women characters from the Swedish corporation IKEA. There I commented that two of the three ads they created fell simplistically into the realm of trans-misogynistic tropes and weren’t really all that clever on the whole. The humor of the Thai language ad, for which IKEA has since publicly apologized, in particular boils down to a man discovering that the woman he is with is trans and him literally running the other way in response.

However, I stated there that I could probably go along with some of the intended humor in those ads, if they didn’t just so neatly boil down to classic anti-trans woman tropes. In that vein, I was somewhat intrigued when I saw the following skit from last week’s Saturday Night Live, featuring Justin Timberlake.

Briefly recounting for anyone who might not be able to view the video, it’s basically a film preview style parody of dime-a-dozen romantic comedies in which Timberlake’s character falls in love with a non-op or pre-op trans woman (Melanie, in the stereotyped role of “an adorable brunette”). Throughout most of the 1:45 minute preview, Timberlake’s character dramatizes an internal struggle with the idea of dating a woman with a penis, while his friend at work (in the role of “a confused black friend”) comments repeated variations on, “Wait, what, she’s got a d***?” to constant laugh track response. The character intimating the Melanie’s father, in a stylized version of Eugene Levy, states, “Well sweetheart, if he can’t accept all of you, he doesn’t deserve any of you.”

Halfway through the preview, Timberlake’s character shows up outside the woman’s apartment screaming, “Melanie, I don’t care! Come on! let me in.” The title of the film, “She’s got a D!%k,” is announced right at the end, followed by the “confused black friend” character finally commenting, “can I see it?”

Screen shot from SNL "Romantic Comedy"

That looks kinda fun

Okay, first of all, the repeated laugh track harping in response to bleeped out variations of “she has a dick” from the Confused Black Friend (CBF) character is aggravating from the start and doesn’t let up even at the very end. Read the rest of this entry »

I do realize this post might seem a tad ironic in light of the events of the last few weeks (aka Lobstergate)… but it isn’t. Not even a little.

Last Wednesday, Suzanne Moore published a piece in the Guardian on the education policies of the UK’s ruling Tory party, specifically focusing on a controversial series of reforms presently being pushed (quite aggressively) by UK education secretary Michael Gove. Those reforms consist in part of a new exam system as well as the development of so-called “free schools.”

I’m not so familiar with the details of the UK system, but in the US we have a perhaps similar move to charter schools that are more independent of the traditional public school system. These schools have yielded mixed results, at best. While not all charter schools are run for profit, this transition can be viewed as part of a larger (and very questionable) move towards privatization of the education system in the U.S. It’s also no coincidence that the state with the greatest number of charter schools is Louisiana, as rightwing ideologues used the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to push through new policies that would have been strongly opposed under ordinary circumstances.

In a blog piece at the Telegraph, British journalist Toby Young responded with a critique of Moore’s Guardian article. While I’m pretty certain that Young’s critique is wrong (see a deconstruction of his argument based on actual data here), that is not the primary focus of the present blog piece.

The primary point here is that Young’s colleague, climate change skeptic James Delingpole, wrote a tweet in support of Toby Young that alluded to Young having metaphorically raped Suzanne Moore. While Delingpole has since deleted his tweet, it was quoted by Moore herself:

Read the rest of this entry »

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:

Read the rest of this entry »

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