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As most of us are probably aware, the conservative movement’s attacks on trans people and trans rights have gotten particularly ugly in recent months. Most prominent in the spotlight has been North Carolina, where Republican governor Pat McCrory recently signed HB2 into law, which, among other things, requires everyone in North Carolina to use gender-segregated bathrooms in public institutions according to the gender appearing on their birth certificate.
The radical law is part of a wider political wave aimed at creating obstacles in the lives of ordinary trans people (among other communities) that has taken hold across parts of the U.S., including the underhanded campaign that last November resulted in the overturning of Houston’s anti-discrimination ordinance HERO as well as the recent passing of a “Religious Freedom” bill in Mississippi that, like HB2, unambiguously codifies discrimination into law.
As a native North Carolinian, it’s difficult to express my disappointment; while the conservative movement has often had influence, I’ve always thought of my home state as having a more complex balance of political forces and ideas. Unfortunately, supposedly moderate Governor McCrory has played into the reactionary forces within his party, likely as part of a cynical re-election ploy.
While it is not yet entirely clear exactly how these kinds of laws will ultimately impact people’s lives in day-to-day circumstances, there are already indications what may be on the horizon. It’s rather obvious that the bathroom aspect of HB2 cannot possibly be enforced in any consistent manner; however there have already been signs that it may enable targeted harassment of trans people by law enforcement and civilians alike.
It should also be kept in mind that trans people, especially trans women, can face harassment and discrimination with regard to bathroom usage even in the absence of such laws. A recent story from neighboring South Carolina illustrates the point in an unfortunate way: at White Knoll High School in Lexington, a young trans girl named Anna is facing expulsion simply for using the ladies washroom.
Anna had been told she could not use the gendered bathrooms of either sex, but instead must use a single bathroom in the nurse’s room. Obviously this places a special burden on her since she must travel further throughout the grounds to use the bathroom than anyone else at the school, which places her at risk of being tardy for classes, for example. Teachers have also asked Anna inappropriate questions about her gender, even in front of other students.
Finally the bathroom issue has come to a head, as Anna is now facing expulsion from her high school for nothing more than harmlessly using the women’s bathroom between classes. What’s more, this comes a mere four weeks before her planned graduation.
It’s very difficult to understand why school officials would ever escalate this issue to the point of kicking a young girl out of high school, and I can’t help but think this is a sad result of the hyper-sensationalizing of trans bodies and trans lives that has been pushed in recent years by so-called ‘radical feminists’ and conservative extremists alike. In any case, Anna’s supporters have raised a petition to push back against her expulsion; please sign the petition in Anna’s defense here.
Meanwhile, it will probably take years before the full fallout of HB2 and similar hate bills is clear. Much of it will likely depend on how it is enforced on the ground; if the history of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” provides any example, it’s very possible that some agencies will choose to implement these laws in the most anti-LGBT manner possible. And although the date of the incident is not clear, a recently widely shared video of a butch cis woman being kicked out of a public bathroom by police illustrates the point that these laws will likely also impact on gender non-conforming cis women, among others.
Here’s what it comes down to: telling a six-year old transgender girl that as she grows up she would would naturally make other girls uncomfortable (or that she would even represent a “threat“) because of her genitalia is actually somewhat comparable to telling a nine-year old cisgender girl that she is a “c*nt.”
In the latter case, society is attempting to teach a young woman to believe, “you are inherently to be devalued as a human being because of your genitalia, and your body has only sexual value. We have set your lot in life before you, and you are always to be victimized.”
Meanwhile, in the former case a young woman is also cruelly being taught, “You are inherently an aggressor because of your genitalia. Because of your body configuration itself, you can’t help yourself but subjugate someone or make them feel uncomfortable.”
One is teaching patriarchy from a victim-coercive perspective, the other teaches patriarchy from an oppressor-coercive perspective. They are two sides of the same coin, a misogynistic narrative that ultimately teaches us to reduce human beings to their body parts one way or the other.
See here for another compelling perspective from a different angle.
Update: See here for another great perspective that also focuses on the implicit sexualizing of children in the arguments against forcing this young woman out of the girl’s bathroom.
Follow-up comment: I should have made acknowledgment in my comments above that there were very apparent racialized dynamics involved in how Hollywood and the media interacted with the nine-year old girl mentioned above at the Oscars. It is difficult to imagine that such a horrific comment would ever be made about a nine-year old white girl, and I have no doubt that racism played a role, even if race was not explicitly mentioned in the Onion’s tweet itself. (The tweet was almost certainly made in the context of or in response to the racialized interactions that others were already having with this young lady in the media).
Thanks to those who have pointed this oversight out to me (in the comments section below and elsewhere), as I should have included a comment to this effect from the beginning.
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.
Update 2: Tabatha Southey, writing for the Globe and Mail, has put together a really insightful editorial on this issue.
In the last line of the articles she states
Let’s allow a transgender woman, for example, regardless of which private medical procedures she has undergone, to mark her passport “F,” and go on.
She is exactly right, given the present system that we work under. However I have to point out that ultimately I think the real solution is that gender markers should be removed from identification entirely. Otherwise, I think that problems like this will always arise, somehow or other.
Update: So it seems there are some scattered reports showing up of trans people facing hassle based on these regulations. I want to emphasize that the regulations should definitely go. I think it would be helpful though if we had all those stories together about people being hassled before taking everything public.
Yesterday a story suddenly broke in Toronto’s trans community: pre-op and non-op trans people would be immediately banned from flying! Indeed there is a quite troubling passage of Canada’s Identity Screening Regulations that reads
5.2 (1) An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if
(c) the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents;
When this came to light, social media went ablaze with stories that trans people would be immediately banned from flying. However, it turns out that this problematic section of the regulations was apparently added July 29th, 2011. Personally, I am a non-op trans woman and I have boarded multiple international flights from Canada since that time with no problem.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these regulations should not be challenged; in fact, we must challenge them. However, before making dramatic over-statements about the issue or drafting petitions over it, let’s take a moment and think about what’s really going on here.
I called the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) [1 888 294 2202] to ask about the regulations. The person with whom I spoke stated that CATSA checks an individual’s boarding pass and that the boarding pass does not have a gender marker on it, which is certainly true.
My suspicion about this type of regulation is that probably it’s the kind of thing that rarely gets enforced when a privileged white trans person like myself visits the airport. That of course does not mean that we should not fight it; on the contrary, if gender non-conforming individuals from vulnerable racialized communities are targeted under this law, then we should push back with everything we’ve got. The thing is, we don’t know much about how this law is being enforced at present. Maybe it’s not being enforced at all, I have no idea. And before we respond to it, maybe we should figure out what it actually is first and who it actually impacts.
Just a thought.
*okay, unless they’re Muslim too, fair enough.
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 😦