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Note: this is an updated version of my recent article at Autostraddle.
Update 2: I noticed that Science Careers editor Jim Austin has quietly deleted the most egregious of his tweets. I take that much as a small, positive development.
One of the best known and most respected publications in science and technology chose to run a sexualized, trans-misogynistic photo for its cover this week, and when the editor was challenged on twitter for pandering to the male gaze, he responded that he thought it would be interesting what would happen when those males “find out” the women in question are transgender.
While the focus of Science magazine’s July 11 issue on combating HIV and AIDS worldwide is laudable, the editors unfortunately chose the route of crude sensationalism to present that story to the public. The magazine cover features a dehumanizing image of trans women sex workers in Jakarta that focuses on their bodies, crops out their faces and primarily centers on their exposed thighs. The text accompanying that picture says, “Staying a step ahead of HIV/AIDS,” as if trans sex workers are somehow an image that is naturally synonymous with this disease.
And while, yes, trans women globally, on average, do face significantly elevated risks, could you imagine how out of place it would be for Science to run the same cover text accompanied by an image of two men in a sexual embrace, and further only showed them from the neck down? It has also been pointed out that apparently Science has never previously run any similar cover image that crops human bodies in a sexualizing manner.
However, when one of the Science editors was challenged on twitter over this image, the situation worsened quickly. 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 »
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.
Prominent trans man porn star and sex-positive activist Buck Angel recently introduced a new online dating site buckangeldating.com. He also gave an interview (titled “The Trans Man of Your Dreams”) with Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon.com promoting his dating site, in which Buck emphasized that one of his primary goals was to avoid fetishization of trans men. Buck is quoted as saying:
That is because I have been getting so many requests … about how to meet guys, how to meet transmen. … I’ve been wanting to do it for years, but I hadn’t found a company that I felt was going to respect [that] it wasn’t going to be a place where we’re freaks and guys are just gonna come gawk at us and fetishize us.
So far, so good. As trans women, both of us agree completely that fetishization of trans people’s bodies is gross and hurtful and providing trans men a place to get away from that certainly sounds like a worthy endeavor.
Tracy later asks whether the site is only for people interested in meeting trans men, to which Buck replies, “Of course, I specifically marketed it that way, because that’s who I am and that’s what I know,” [emphasis added] while clarifying that he is attempting to accommodate people from a wide range of genders on his dating site. Okay, that seems reasonable as well. Buck is a trans man; so trans man experiences are probably those to which he can most immediately speak. We agree.
Tracy then asks about the usage of the phrases “FTM” and “MTF” on the dating site, noting that many people object to these terms or find them inaccurate. Buck replies, “What are you gonna do? I push people’s buttons daily, so there’s not much I can do other than make it as positive as possible.” Well, whatever. It’s for good reason that a lot of people do find those terms offensive, including both of the present authors; however, Buck can describe himself and his customers however they like (just don’t ever apply those terms to us, please).
However, Buck continues in a somewhat different direction,
It’s very difficult for trans people to go into a bar and find someone to hook up with because they don’t necessarily want to out themselves right away. It’s a very different experience on the site, you get it all out there in the open right away. You would be amazed at how that makes dating or hooking up so much easier.
Whoa, hold on a second here. Is Buck really trying to speak for the universal experience of trans people in bars? Cause we have to think, there has to be a pretty wide range of variety in that. And let’s think about this for a second, because Buck previously stated that what he knows best is his own experience as a trans man. So how can he possibly speak for everyone, including trans women, under the generalization “trans people”?