Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How I Changed my Gender Presentation

A friend of mine asked me if I would write a post about what changes I made when I came out as trans to change my gender presentation.

In my case, it's best to preface with the fact that I was VERY secretive about being transgender - only two people in my whole life knew, and I was very, very careful not to let any signals slip. I was bottled up tight, and I was miserable as a result of living so protected and secretive. Regardless, this had me going through appropriate therapy long before I ever told anyone I was transgender. I began taking my hormones in secret, otherwise living as I was before. This was still, relatively speaking, much later than when I first discovered I was trans. I came to understand that I was transgender when I was 18, and began taking hormones by age 22. It was fall semester, age 23 by the time I was telling people that I was transitioning. It wasn't until just before my 24th birthday that I started to present as a woman on a day-to-day basis.

But hormones were not my only preparations. Ever since I'd been driving myself to college, roughly age 20, I'd sing along to whatever music was on the radio - but in my higher-register, girl voice. I sucked at first, but 5 days a week, 40 minutes worth of driving to and from school, I improved, slowly. This meant I had roughly four years of voice training under my belt before I ever told anyone I was trans -and this all happened in the safe secrecy of my car.

Further, I'd been growing my hair out for years - since the beginning of senior year in high school, in fact - but I kept it relatively unstyled. It was just simply tied back, no special treatment besides trimming split ends, that was it. But this was my plan; to let it grow out so that when I came out, I could get a stylish haircut. This would act as a rather large, signal change. Sure I could have gotten it styled prior to coming out - but that would have limited what I could change when I did come out. Even though I would have loved to had my hair trimmed into my current style, I held off. If I could save it, it would act as a rather prominent visual cue that I was serious. Otherwise, it was just "same old me, but now I wanna be called a girl". So I had banked on this, letting my hair grow really long, so that it could be styled when I finally came out.

So fast forward back to when I came out. I explained to people that I was transgender, and as an initial step, I had my hair styled, just as planned. I went from 'middle of my back long' to 'shoulder-blade length with bangs'. Which for a lot of people signaled to the new me, presenting as a girl. So, the plan worked. I slowly began integrating my new voice into daily use; and of course I had a year of HRT under my belt before I tried presenting any differently.

Another easy change I made was the decision to go get my ears pierced. Just some simple titanium studs, but it was another step along the road that I wanted to take.

 Eventually, I realized I couldn't just tie my hair back anymore, because of the layers, I needed some clips to keep it all tied back. This ended up being kind of my signature look, as I noticed that people read me as female more with them in. Is it because of the clips themselves? Or, is it just because my face wasn't being hidden? Perhaps because it showed my ears being pierced? I'm not sure which was the biggest factor, or if it's an all-of-the-above case.

I had very little money at the time, so I did not initially switch my clothes over. However, it didn't seem to matter, as far as passing was concerned. As long as I was 'trying', I was being read as a girl.

(This is where I kind of want to point out that I am, and feel, very, VERY lucky for this. I can't attribute this success in transition to anything but scoring many numbers in the genetic lottery right. I didn't need to change much, despite being 6ft tall, despite having broad shoulders, I pass without makeup, and without particularly feminine clothes. I can't pretend this would work for everyone, and I'm aware that I'm one of the lucky ones. )

None of this stopped me from getting a better wardrobe as soon as it was financially feasible; I switched to slightly baggy, v-neck shirts, in a variety of colors. Not much yet, but it's a start. I also wore more jewelry, a necklace here, a bracelet there. Just a few touches where I could

I still have to get Laser hair removal yet. I would like to learn how to use makeup proficiently, if only to use it for more formal events. I would like to extend my wardrobe to include more variety - but I can't complain too much. I'm accepted by my friends as a girl. I pass, in almost every conceivable social situation. That's enough for me, for now.


(If you have any questions you would like me to blog about, please leave them in the comments section below, I will address them in some way shape or form as soon as I can. Anonymous posting is enabled, so you don't even need an account. If you have a question, ask away!)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Being Transgender is All Encompassing

(Preface: When I use the term "Transgender" I specifically am referring to Transsexuals. I dislike the term Transsexual, and what is implied by the term, as it is woefully inaccurate(there is no sexual motivation; moreover we don't change our sex, we change our gender). I understand the common use is to use it as an umbrella term, however, when I use it, I mean what is typically called 'Transsexual".)

I was recently talking with a trans friend, who's going to a wedding shortly. Her mother asked her "So, are you going to wear a suit? or...."

This was indicative of a lack of understanding of trans issues, and it's one I wish to tackle head-on. All too commonly, people remain ignorant of how all-encompassing being transgender is. People often latch on to superficial ideas while missing the core issues present.

The core of being transgender is personal identity. It is who we are, fundamentally. It is not what we wear, who we date, or how we act. It is our personal identity. We seek not to 'wear women's clothes' or 'act feminine'. We seek to be ourselves, whether that means wearing a flower print skirt and matching top, or if it means a tank top and skinny jeans. We seek to be recognized as our gender, not our sex.

We want to be ourselves.

When we say we're transgender, or say, we're transitioning to female for instance... that doesn't mean "We like guys" nor does it mean "We want to wear flowery skirts" nor does it mean "we want to act feminine". We want to have the freedom to better express who we are.

 This is all encompassing.

It is not a single aspect of our life, nor is it an issue we will hide. The comment that spurned on this article is indicative of a person who falsely believes being transgender is about crossdressing in private. That is the definition of someone who is a transvestite, but not someone who is Transgender.
Being transgender means that your gender is in conflict with your physical sex. It is not the kind of thing that is solved by crossdressing on the weekends, away from the eyes of the public.

It is about, fundamentally, the freedom to be ourselves, and being ourselves involves crossing gender barriers.

Being ourselves doesn't mean "being ourselves when it's convenient for you". It means, in everything we do, being who we are unashamed, and living our lives in a way that will make us happy and bring us fulfillment. It means being able to live without fear of discrimination for simply being who we are.


(Regarding the question about the divide between MtF and FtM, I do not see such a divide, nor have I ever experienced such a thing. I've encountered three trans men in my life, all of them were well-spoken, and we got along fantastically. I would write this for you, but it would all be assumptions, and they fly in the face of my personal experience, so I chose to not write on this)

If you have any questions you would like me to answer, please submit them in the comments section below. I am always hurting for prompts, and any questions posted will be considered as possible topics for posts. At the very least, if I cannot answer your question, I will provide a reason why I can't or won't address it properly. Anonymous posting is enabled, so you don't even need to sign up to comment with your question!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Gender Safe Space

Ying asked:
"I have another son who I seems to break gender rules sometimes. Just little things like choosing flip flops with pastel stripes and glittery straps. Do you have advice on how to make a safe space where a child who might be questioning feels free to explore and be themselves?"

This is a tricky question, but not because of your intentions or efforts, but because of the systematic barriers in society related to gender. Beginning with a lack of gender enforcement is a good way to start, but it will only go so far. For instance, it's really not hard to let a child choose for themselves which toys they want to play with, you simply give them whatever toys you have for them, and let them decide. Don't favor toy trucks or dolls, but maybe include both, see which the child takes a liking to. But it's never that simple.

From the moment of their birth, they're bound to be bombarded with gendered expectations, either of looks "You've got your fathers strong eyes! you're gonna be a football star, aren't ya champ!" or "Oh my, look at her darling hair and how it curls, she's gonna be gorgeous just like her mother!" Even the toys thing might be tricky, considering the second a relative knows the child's gender, the toy and clothes purchases will be gendered. Blue and Pink bibs, pacifiers, teddy bears, blankets, toy trucks or dolls... There's little way to prevent it, even if you start early.

But the above assumes starting from birth, and I'm assuming Ying is more interested in the here and now. It's fairly easy if you avoid a few pitfalls. For instance, parents will nudge their child towards certain, gender appropriate choices. "No, Timmy, you don't want the fairy princess costume. if you go out like THAT, everyone will think you're a little girl! No, come look at the power rangers costumes, yeah! Look, it has a helmet and everything!" I've seen and in some cases been the target of such nudges (when I was younger, of course). So, starting out, you let the child be the boss of what toy they want, what costume they want, etc.

To be honest, the real problem isn't going to be anything you can directly solve. It's not that difficult on an individual level to consciously omit gender 'nudges' and let the child make their own decisions. The problem is not your efforts, but the efforts of society. When your child goes off to schooling, they're bound to be bombarded with gendered expectations. While you've remained 'pure' in your attempts to let your child be themselves, other parents with far more conservative outlooks have raised their kids to be positively unaccepting of gender variance. Where you said "If you like the princess costume, go ahead" to Timmy, the other parents told Billy "No, that's a girls costume. You're not a girl." And left it at that, with a stern NO making it clear that this is NOT ACCEPTABLE, not one bit.

And all thinks considered, there's a lot more parents who think like Billy's parents than not. This means when your kid reaches school, socialization, etc, there's going to be peer pressure and taunting: "You're a boy, why do you play with dolls? Are you a girl? Look at Timmy the girl! Hi, I'm Timmy, I'm a pretty princess!" No matter how hard you try, other parent's socialization of their kids is going to play into your child's expectations. It's the nature of socialization. And that's not counting the many times in school where gender is rigidly split. Restroom trips, at least when I was a child, there was two lines, a boy's line and a girls line. The teacher often split people into class groups based on gender as well.

Here's another exercise. Look at any child's toy commercial, say, hotwheels, or maybe barbie. In the hotwheels commercial, it's always one to three boys, enthusiastically cheering on their little toy cars as they rush around the track. In the barbie commercial, it's one to three girls combing the barbie's hair, maybe walking it around a dollhouse, maybe showing that particular doll's special thing off (be it color changing hair, etc.) In both cases, the toys are gendered ONE WAY and ONE WAY ONLY. Hotwheels are boy toys. Boys play with hotwheels. Barbies are girl toys. Girls play with barbies.

These influences make creating such a safe space impossible. There's a terrible ammount of negative reinforcement here. Even if the boy really wanted the fairy princess wand and wings, give him a few years in school and you'll find him picking up the hotwheels, even if he's the only one there. Because god forbid anyone found out he was into *gasp* girly toys! It would be the end of their social life as they knew it! This danger makes even considering the 'girl' toy risky, because making a move for it betrays your intent, and that intent is, according to all forms of socialization, WRONG. Even if their inner dialog is like "But the wings are so sparkly!" they're gonna bite their tongue and say "I want the hotwheels."

All this socialization creates this atmosphere of taboo around the 'opposite' gender's toys. They're not for you. You don't want anyone to know you play with them. You'd rather play with the 'safe' toys even if you enjoy them less, to save from the potential embarrassment.

Of course, this extends on through middle school and into adulthood, except around middle school people start to call into question sexuality, adding another layer of guilt onto the pile. Now, if you indulge in the pink notebook, people will think you're gay! And, of course, it's absolutely not okay to be gay, either! Everyone else uses it as an insult, everyone says it when they don't like something, it's bad to be gay!

I'm afraid at the end of the day, I can't give you a truly viable 'safe space' for your kid. Society has a really pervasive stranglehold on gendered socialization, and while you can make it clear that your kid should play with what they want, and that you won't judge them, what flies at home with their parents won't fly with the kids at school, or their teachers. And even if you give them a perfectly isolated place to do as they please, they're gonna be bound by social taboos taught by their peers. It's an issue much bigger than any one parent can really tackle for long, short homeschooling their kid and blocking all forms of media, which anyone would agree is... a bit extreme.

So that's my thoughts on making a gender safe space, in a nutshell, it's not really possible. There's too many influences in society that make it a pipe dream. Though if you think there's something I missed that could make it possible, please, add it to the comments section below.

Quote of the day: "Everyone's been tryin' to change me, while I've been closing in on a dream. I tried to rearrange me, and ended farther outside the stream." Downplay, Edge of the Universe


(As I always do, I'm asking for YOUR questions or concerns about issues regarding all things Trans*. I'm almost always hurting for topics, and your questions help me tremendously. Anonymous posting IS enabled, you should not need to register to participate. Ask and there's a very good chance it will be the topic for my next post! Thanks!)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Response to: The Unawareness of Cissexism

Michellelianna of Transgender Talk discussed the idea of Cissexism, and how using that term, or calling people out on it, is counter-intuitive due to widespread ignorance of both the term cis, and ignorance of cis privilege. She also poses that most people don't want to be insulting, so we should be careful when addressing people on this topic. 


 Now, let me preface by saying I read her articles all the time (pretty much whenever I'm aware there's a new one) but there are some points with which I *strongly* disagree, and I would like to pose my counterargument, with all respect to her.


 Now, to begin, widespread ignorance of the term cis is not a reason to not educate people on what the term means. To accept "trans" and "not trans" as the modes of existence, we're othering ourselves. The word cisgender exists to promote equality "I may be trans, you may be cis, but we're both women". Not using this term, creates the atmosphere of "Well, I'M a woman, you're a 'trans woman'. I'm real, you're not."  The term exists to bring everyone down to an equal level. And to be honest, I 'identify as trans' about as much as cis people 'identify as cis' - I'm a woman. I was born with male anatomy. That makes me trans by definition, and I know this. But it's a byproduct of me identifying as female.


 Also, when the gay rights movement really kicked off, tell me how many heterosexual women and men 'identified as straight'? That word existed to bring the privileged, unaware majority back on equal footing, much the same way cisgender does. We need to be propagating this word, and educating people about it, because the language itself impacts how we're seen. It's much easier to say, and have people agree, that "Well the trans prefix means you aren't a woman like me. I'm a woman woman, no qualifiers!" than it is to say "Well cis women are real, but trans women aren't". If the word 'cisgender' becomes as common as 'straight', we're winning


 It also makes them question the circumstance of their gender. "But I don't identify as cis! It's not real!" then after they consider that we don't, necessarily, inherently identify as trans either, and that it's a circumstance of our birth, it helps them to understand us a bit better as well. 


 Onto privilege: I don't think it's necessarily a great idea to wave someone's privilege back in their face, under most circumstances. However, I've met more than one cisgender person (sometimes even close friends!) who assume that because their intent is good, that they can't be cissexist. The key here is discretion. You shouldn't sling it as an insult, but use it as a gentle reminder. "Hey, you know, that was a pretty privileged thing to say. You probably didn't realize it, but it was very cissexist" The key is letting them know you appreciate their intent was to NOT be that way. In this way, you can make them aware of their privilege, that the way in which they exercise their privilege was not really okay, and to, basically, check themselves. Just because they're ignorant of their privilege doesn't give them a free ticket to be a privileged ass. And if they ask "wtf is cis" explain it. I've said it before, I'll say it again: if 'cisgender' becomes as common in language as the word 'straight', then we're winning. So yeah, mostly agree with her here, except that I think I advocate being a bit more active with this than she does.


 One more point I agree with is that, if a person is determined to be a bigoted asshole, nothing you can say will make them change their minds. But defending yourself from them is not intended to do that. The people you're reaching out to are the onlookers who might be swayed. So again, discretion. If it's you and the bigot, and they have no other relevance to you, then yeah, it's not worth it. Steel your heart, and realize they're a lost cause. But if it's a public affair, with casual onlookers, use your superior grasp on trans issues and rights to call them out. Not for the sake of the bigot, but for the sake of those onlookers who might be swayed.


 So yeah. That's my thoughts on cissexism. Again, props to Michellelianna, no disrespect, I read her stuff a lot, I just happen to disagree with some of her points.


(The questions on my last article: I have them. I wanted to respond to this article in a timely manner, and I'll get to them in the following blog posts. However, if you have questions or ideas you would like me to weigh in on, please leave them in the comments section)


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Being a Transgirl Gamer

Hello, readers! Today, since nobody presented me with a particular question, and since I've been busy slaying demons in Sanctuary (Diablo III, for those who haven't heard) I'm going to speak on why I got into games, and how it's been an important part of my life. I know this is a rather jarring switch from the usual trans-issues topic to something a bit more personal, but more than a few of the transwomen I've met have been into gaming, so maybe it's a bit more universal than I give it credit for. Nevertheless, if you have a question you'd like me to write about, submit it at the end. This little change is 40% because of Diablo, 60% because of not having a better question. Anyways, onto the post.

I never really fit in, as has been the story for most people who I've spoken to who're trans. I never really understood how or why I was different, but I just was. I liked fantasy stories, I liked science fiction, and was never really into girl stuff. I played with legos and K'nex growing up. So placing myself as trans took a lot longer for me, and a lot of self reflection, and as a result, it wasn't until highschool that I really understood myself well enough to state "I am transsexual".

So that left a very confused me growing up. I never fit in, I was constantly made fun of, and I didn't relate to guys very well. This lead to all manner of teasing and in some cases, getting beat up. When your life is grim, escapist hobbies(like video games) tend to, in my experience, really give you a way to literally escape all the bad around you. You're no longer "that chatty nerd that everyone picks on", instead you're a hero, saving the land or the stars from all manner of evil.

Of course, gaming itself, and immersing yourself in a fantasy land, has limits to what it can do for you. Even I can admit, I played far, far too many video games. But then what was I to do? I had no friends, anyone who considered befriending me was insulted and teased by the others until they left. I didn't relate to the boys, and I was the super-uncool nerdy 'guy' to the girls. So I gamed. and I gamed and I swapped cartridges, and gamed some more.

And an interesting thing happened. After really immersing myself in a ton of games, I noticed that I was able to hold a conversation with some guys. I had a thing I could relate to them with! I didn't speak guy very well, but I spoke game fluently. And through that, I managed to make a few, albeit shallow, friendships.

This was still a step up for me, however. I wasn't eating alone at lunch, and I was now had people to talk to. For a while, this was good enough. Better than the alternative of loneliness, ay any rate. But it was still shallow. If the topic switched from games to anything else, I was a fish out of water. If I spoke up, I was clearly not with the group opinion. And in most cases, I simply wasn't interested in the topics they went on about. It became apparent somewhat fast that gaming, although it had given me a way to connect with guys, wasn't solving my issue. My friendships were all based on games and games alone, and we had no other real communication or understanding besides those. And it grated on me.

Bearing in mind, at this point I still was too ignorant of my own self to realize I was going against the grain by trying to hang out with guys. I didn't even know I was trans yet, so I persisted. Over time, I'd gotten into all manner of games, ranging from Pokemon (both the card game and the gameboy game), Halo, Magic the Gathering, and others. I was able to keep up a fairly good conversation on the basis of games alone. Having a breadth of games I was into gave me numerous 'topics' to choose from. But it was all still superficial, limited to only games, and nothing more.

An unrelated incident on an online forum some years later, just before I was to graduate high school, made me aware of transitioning, and the process by which it was handled, and that, yes, people actually do this. Not people who go to shady bars, getting off on being dressed like, and performing as, women on stage. In my mind, that's what "trans" was; bad makeup and a 5'o clock shadow, hairy legs and a dress. I had no better idea until I saw this person. This kicked off the journey known as my transition, and set me on the path toward college with some better understanding of myself.

I still relied on my old standby - games - to make friends, but I relied less on that than I used to. The crowd I was in was super open and accepting of everyone, which made the moment when I did come out less scary than it could have been. I quickly developed friendships with some of the girls who'd been around our group, and in short order I was one of the group. And for the first time, the friendship wasn't a shallow, superficial 'friendship' based on a single common interest, but rather a mutual talking, laughing, chatting, understanding friendship. Something new to me, and something I'd sorely lacked.

 At the end of the day, I'm still a gamer. I still look forward to new releases, I still burn midnight oil playing the newest online [insert genre]. But understanding how I came to enjoy games, and why, and how it helped shape who I am, allows me to embrace that part of who I am, rather than be ashamed that I still enjoy them.

And, in case you're wondering, yes, I can thrash you at Halo :)


(If you have a question you would like me to address, please leave it in the comments. Anonymous posting is enabled, you don't even need an account!)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Why Relating Trans* to Otherkin is a Poor Analogy at Best

Orangeban asked: "Here's something I was thinking about today, what do you think about people from the Otherkin communities comparing their experiences of dysphoria with their own species to the experiences of trans* people?"

 First off, I have to admit, I've never looked into clinical/psychological information regarding otherkin. However, that's also because I've never once heard anyone really relate the two except by people trying to equate trans and otherkin, and by doing so basically arguing via slippery slope "If we accept YOU, then where does it end?"

This is actually why I took this topic, more than anything else. When I was first defending my transsexuality, I had many people compare me to otherkin and it stumped me at first. I'm now far better educated, and I hope that those who read this can use this knowledge to defend against this poor analogy.

This analogy is so incorrect, that it's insulting. First and foremost, lets begin with the biology issue. Humans, before we're born, all start out as female. The chromosomes we have in our DNA cause us to differentiate into Male and Female. This results in many structures being similar, because, essentially, we're cast from the same blank slate. Intersex people have the issue where they didn't really differentiate into one neat category properly.

(Please note that I'm speaking of PHYSICAL sex. This is in no way targeted at people who identify as gender neutral or gender-queer. In both of those cases, we're talking about gender. This topic is physical sex)

Additionally, there's studies that have found that the MtF transsexual brain has portions which are partially feminized. So what we have here is a case where the brain is not differentiated properly into a 'sex'. I'll go ahead assert that transsexuality is a neurological incarnation of intersexuality. In fact, those who write the DSM guidelines for treatment pretty well agree, but kept it on the books so insurance providers couldn't weasel out of covering us. (even though they do anyway)

So, now, how does this relate to Otherkin? Well, it's fairly obvious now: When we're developing in the womb, gendered bits of us develop one way, the other, or indeterminate. Nowhere in that gendered scale is there a chance to develop 'like a dragon' 'like an angel 'like a faerie'. Though it's entirely possible that someone may feel in their heart of hearts they're a werewolf, there is no part of their brain that is 'partially werewolfized'. It simply can't happen. The species involved in otherkin do not even exist, much less exist in human biology.

So first and foremost, they have no biological imperative telling them that something is wrong. But that extends further out into society. I know a great many transgender people who really, really hated the expectations thrust upon them by society. This is because society, and culture, are HEAVILY gendered things. Girls generally hang out with girls, boys with boys. Girls are expected to look pretty, submissive, and thin. Boys are expected to be big, strong, tough and assertive. Even the clothes we wear are scrutinized, each 'team' has their own 'uniform' As such, even just going out into society when you're trans is an intensely alienating and upsetting event.

On the topic of society, we also have the rampant discrimination that transgender people face. Our medical needs are denied because we're trans. If we're found out to be trans, some medical insurance places raise our premiums, without covering our medicines. We're denied housing, we're denied jobs, we're denied a place in society. Even the topic of marriage manages to screw us; some jurisdictions essentially rule that getting your gender changed means nothing; and they deny you rights relating to your opposite gender spouse on that basis. Others rule that it does matter, and you thus can't marry someone of your same gender. With all the rampant contradictory statements running around here, we manage to be denied marriage, identity, chance at family, chance at happiness.

And that's nothing to speak of the violence faced by transgender people. It seems you can't look up a trans news feed without seeing another notification of a transgender person murdered for being themselves, then see the police and the media ignore it like it never happened. All of this? THIS is persecution. THIS is what transsexual people find staring back at them when they read their news. THIS is why we have the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

I never see stories of people being brutally murdered because they're otherkin.
I never see stories of people being denied basic human rights because they're otherkin
I never see stories about otherkin being denied healthcare
I never see stories about how stressful it is for otherkin to interact in society with "non-otherkin"
I never hear about how otherkin cannot have children due to their medical regimen. 

I think they have every right to do what they do. They should be able to meet up, have their communities, think what they want about their 'spiritual past', do whatever it is they do. What they should NOT do is try to compare their spiritual quirk, and how people 'don't get them' with people suffering from a physical incongruity between their gender and sex. There is a definite physical difference between someone who's trans and someone who's not trans. I have yet to see even one study showing how someone's brain is "Pixified", or something similar, and until I do, I'll continue to call this comparison out for the poor analogy it really is.

[Edit]: In light of some discussion that has cropped up related to this article, I want to make clear that my scorn is mostly with cisgender people who use this argument, ignoring the differences. The only otherkin I have any similar scorn for are ones who persistently, insistently say that we're the same, in the face of all the discrimination we face. Regardless, it's not my place to say someone cannot practice a spiritual / religious thing, but it IS my place to call out comparing it to trans, with it's scientifically understood basis.

Quote of the day: "Be who you are, and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind" Dr. Seuss


(I just wanted to remind you guys that questions can be submitted by ANYONE, and that they help me tremendously by giving me a prompt to work with. Even if you don't have an account, comment submission is open to anonymous posting. Currently the number of views is fairly high (thank you, faithful readers!) but the comments are very low by comparison. If you have any question you'd like me to look at, please leave it in the comments.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cis Lesbian Dismissal of Trans Lesbians, and Why it's Wrong

Ying posed the following scenario/question: "Recently, I heard a lesbian woman comment about a trans woman (who happens to be a lesbian). She said the transwoman was not "really" a lesbian like she was. It was upsetting to me. No one can define another person's identity, right? It seemed so petty, too. What skin is it off her nose anyway? What are your thoughts on people not accepting a trans person's sexual orientation as being valid?"

Something to consider is going into this is that even though many of the LGB portion of our acronym are supportive and allies, that makes them no less cisgender. Just like any non-LGB person, they're acting from a position of cis privilege, and don't understand the implications of their actions, because, frankly, they don't have to think about it much. We pop up once in a while, in a single circumstance here or there, and that's generally the extent of it. And while they're our allies for political purposes, I've come to find in my experience that LGB people are often woefully ignorant of the issues of the transgender community they support. Which is no surprise, really: We're a vastly smaller group, a minority within our lgbt minority, so appropriately less time is spent on issues relating to us. (Just a shout-out to the LGBTU student group at The University of Akron, as they break this trend and give trans issues a much larger chunk of the spotlight than we deserve by population, because they've recognized the importance of these topics. Well done on them)

So what does this mean for the lesbian in question? Well, she's invalidating our trans lesbian's identity, plain and simple. By saying she's not 'really' a lesbian, she's implying an awful lot, and none of it is good. First and foremost, let's go ahead and define "Lesbian": a lesbian is a woman* who is attracted exclusively to other women*. Pretty simple definition, right? Well the two key elements are "Woman" and "Attracted exclusively to other women". By saying she's 'not really a lesbian' she has to be excluding our trans lesbian from one of the two criteria: and since, presumably, the trans lesbian has been with, or is currently with another woman, and has shown no interest in men, we can assume that 'Attracted to other women' is true. This means the only remaining conflict is in fact, our trans lesbian's womanhood. There's no other way around it.

Nobody else can define you but you. Labels are tools that you apply to yourself, and are not end all be all, but if the trans lesbian identified as trans lesbian, then she's a trans lesbian. It's not particularly up for debate.

As far as her actions, not petty so much as it's cissexist. It's a person, in their seat of privileged power, defining someone of a marginalized minority, which of course they feel free to do, because we're clearly not better informed of our own identities than they are. And yes, people may point out that "We're all LGBT here, I'm not discriminating" but the fact is, even though you're a part of the marginalized "L G or B" subgroup, transpeople are a step even lower on the ladder. And the trait that makes marginalized is one that you do not share with us. We are trans, you are cis. You have cis privilege.

The metaphorical 'skin off her nose' is she'd have to think about trans women more critically, and actually admit that they deserve their right to womanhood as well as the right to their own autonomy - particularly regarding their identity. This is admitting that she can no longer pick and choose how to define a trans woman as she sees fit. This is a problem because for most LGB people, they're completely fine with trans people, up to the point where it becomes a matter of sexual orientation (I.E. Something they define themselves with and take very seriously), and more specifically, their sexual orientation. It's not petty, no, it's lazy.

Just a thought exercise, for any LGB folk reading this. If a Trans* person, compatible with your sexuality(I.E. Trans man if you're gay, trans woman if you're lesbian) wanted to date you, would you say yes? I'm guessing most of you knee-jerked and said 'no'. Examine why, ask yourself why, and realize that there's a good chance you're invalidating their identity of trans people implicitly by saying so.  Even if you help them politically in debates, stand up for them from bullies, it's telling of what you *really* think if it hits close to home and you say "ew, no". Chew on that for a bit, maybe you'll come to some realizations.

And before the inevitable genital argument arises, is that really what you look for in a partner? Is it really the genitals? I've never ever heard someone say "that's a mighty sexy penis you've got there" Or "My what a lovely vagina you have" It's ludicrous. To imply that it's completely irrelevant would be untrue, but to claim that you're utterly unwilling because of this fact is... well, depressing. What if, for instance, a gay cis male came to date a gay cis male, and the latter was found to have been victim of a botched circumcision. Would you instantly dump him because he doesn't have the coveted penis? It's not to say sex is unimportant, but there's more than one way to skin a cat.

I'm going to go ahead and go out on a limb, because I think this is a general issue that plagues the thought processes of people who are trans, as well as people who don't understand trans lesbians, by clarifying once again the basic concept: Sexual Orientation and Gender are INDEPENDENT from each other. People have this fallback expectation that it's a definitive aspect of a woman that she be attracted to men. People further have a definitive aspect of a man that they are attracted to women. (This is heterosexual privilege but go with me here) Basically, since people believe these binaries are the 'normal' baseline, they expect someone who's 'just trans' to be following said baseline. I.E. if you want to be woman, a part of it MUST be that you're attracted to men. (This is also because people falsely try to rationalize why a guy would want a gender change and instantly assume it's sexually motivated). This is what leads people to say such ignorant things as "Well, if you're into guys, can't you just be gay instead?" or this gem: "If you like women, what's the big deal? You're a guy just like anyone else!"

These dismiss the fact that it's not their sexual attraction that bothers them, it's their gender, their body, their social role, etc. You aren't a 'more legit' trans woman if you're into guys, you're a straight trans woman (this argument is commonly framed "Trannier than thou"). Likewise, people shouldn't come to expect that being a transwoman comes with the baggage that you must like men. Likewise likewise, people should absolutely NOT be using a transgender lesbian's sexual orientation as some sort of 'proof' that she must be a guy. This is equating "wants to screw women" with "is a man". It reinforces the notion that being male is screw women ( and actually is homophobic - as any gay man will tell you, they are very much men, and are very much into other men).

A corollary of this is gender presentation. In my own case, for instance, I don't dress super fem - I wear a v-neck t-shirt and pants most days. That doesn't make me any less of a woman, and it would be just as wrong to imply that I'm not a woman because of my manner of dress. (Passing while wearing less feminine clothes is a whole other story, but the principle is still relevant).

Something to consider as a litmus test in this sort of situation is to ask yourself: If the person were cisgender, would I be scrutinizing X aspect of their person so harshly? In the case of the original scenario, were the trans lesbian a cis lesbian, her sexuality would have never been called into question. It's discriminating against a trans person because they're trans. This applies to anything. Telling a trans person "Well why don't you wear makeup? real women wear makeup" is silly, because if she were cisgender, you'd never suggest that she were not a real woman (though you might politely express that she'd look better with it).

 That doesn't mean you shouldn't help your trans friend with some social norms they may not be accustomed to, but please try to not come of as patronizing or cissexist (I.E. I'm a real girl, here let me teach you). Many of us who're just beginning hormones are experiencing a second puberty - and much like the first, it comes with awkwardness, confusion, and learning what's expected of you. Understanding that they ARE women, just, in terms of social constructs, inexperienced women, is key. (In that way, its more like teaching your 13 year old cousin than a 'guy becoming a girl')

Basically at the end of the day, cisgender people are conveniently overlooking sexual orientation as being fluid for the sake of using it as proof that they don't have to consider someone's gender identity. It's heteronormative, and just as insulting to homosexuals as it despicable that it's being weaponized against transgender people.

The only alternative to the above is if she mentally created a third category for trans women, but that's incorrect. Trans women are women who are trans. They're not a third category.

Quote of the day: "Searching for the answer's a lonely quest, but the act is liable to bring out your best" Bad Religion, Someone to Believe


(As always, if you have any questions you would like me to address, please put them in the comments section. It is a seriously big help to me, and you get your question examined by me!)

@ Orangeban: Your question has been answered by someone else already, and I don't much feel I have anything I could add to the discussion. You can find a link to their article in the comments section of the "How to be a Trans Ally" post.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How to be a Trans Ally

A friend of mine on Facebook asked: How can I be a good trans ally?

The answer to this one isn't nearly as complex as people really make it out to be, it comes from two key components: Respect for trans persons, both the ones you personally know, as well as ones you've not met, and an open-minded desire to learn with the understanding that no, you probably don't know everything about being trans, and that many assumption you've probably already made are wrong.

The first part seems like it would be common sense, but it often isn't. You need to respect the person and their identity. Don't use their old pronouns or name. This one is basic, if they ask to be referred to as 'Crissy', call them Chrissy. These practices should extend beyond just interacting with the person directly; it says a lot about how little you respect their decision if, as soon as they're out of earshot, you start calling them by their old name. If you talk with a mutual friend, and Chrissy comes up, she should be Chrissy, not Christopher, She, not He. Even if she's not there, it's still a matter of respecting her. In fact, a show of good faith as well as a personal reminder, switch to their new name in your phone. It shows that you respect their change, even when nobody else would see it.

Don't disrespect OTHER trans people, besides the ones you know personally. This should be fairly intuitive, if you want to be considered a trans ally, you have to be an ally to all trans people. If you aren't, your broadcasting some really negative things about yourself. For one, "It's only okay that you're trans because you're you" in other words, you're acting self important, and accepting them/treating them nice as a favor to them. It's not a favor, it's baseline respect for any trans person, period. Alternatively, in the case of "Well, but, you don't LOOK trans, you, you know, look good! not like those others" you're basically saying it's only okay that they're trans because they pass for cisgender; implying if they didn't look cisgender, you wouldn't support them. Further, there really aren't a whole lot of trans people per area. If you're speaking of someone else locally, there's a fairly good chance we know the person you're talking about, and don't appreciate you looking down on them. So, respect all trans people, easy.

Don't intentionally out them as trans. This is important for a few reasons. For one, the fact that they're trans is not a particularly relevant detail for most social interaction. Drawing attention to it does nothing but cause hassle for someone who's trans. People get curious, uninformed people may give her or him a hard time (OH, so you're REALLY a DUDE? Sorry guy, I didn't know!), she may have people become dismissive of her experiences or gender. Even in the best case, if the present party is accepting of trans people, there's STILL issues present because most cisgender people are still very ignorant and misinformed about trans people. This is clear even in LGBT communities.  If the trans person volunteers their status, that's another matter, but revealing that part of themselves is a deeply personal choice that should be left to them. 

In an argument, NEVER use their trans status against them. For one, it's going to make you look like a petty bigot. If you get into a big fight with your trans friend, don't resort to using their old name/pronouns as 'punishment'. It speaks more about you than it does about them: That your acceptance of their trans status comes on a string. That you're subtly reminding them who's in charge here, flexing your cisgender privilege and waving it in our face. You're expressing that you have power to define their gender. Basically, it makes you look like a cissexist, bigoted ass. And it doesn't even accomplish winning an argument, because insulting them is an Ad Hominem logical fallacy. So, just don't do it.

Now, on the topic of mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. I've even personally made mistakes. The key is to try your hardest to NOT make those mistakes, and to correct yourself immediately when you do. Though it's especially important when you're out and about with them in public. Trans people often face discrimination, violence, hatred, and other unpleasantness from the uninformed general public. They rely on their friends and allies to help validate their identity to others. People who look at your trans friend may not immediately be able to discern one gender or the other (many of us look androgynous), hearing your use of proper pronouns, name, etc is a social cue that helps other people to refer to your friend as they wish to be.

Then there's the darker truth to this. If a person's trans status is revealed in the wrong situation, or to the wrong person, your trans friend may face insults, derision, mistreatment, discrimination, abuse, or in extreme cases, violence, or even death. By using their preferred pronouns and name, you're shielding them from the view of these hurtful people.

Now onto open-mindedness. You may, yourself think you're open minded, you're accepting of trans, etc. But then someone tells you what you said was offensive, and you're taken aback. That wasn't your intent at all! You don't see what's wrong with calling them your "Tranny friend", you meant it in a good way, after all!

The key here is: You are not trans. You do not have the experiences of gender dysphoria, hormonal changes in your body from a medically induced second puberty. You've never been discriminated against because you're perceived as the opposite gender. You've never had to contemplate suicide over your gender, as some odd 41% of trans identified people have. You've never been slurred because of your gender presentation. You've never been expected to foot the bill for medically necessary treatments because your insurance company considers them 'cosmetic'. You're able to take your gender for granted, we cannot.

Because you are not trans, you cannot tell them what is or isn't offensive. If you offended them, take it as a learning opportunity. Turn your mistake into better understanding of your friend. Even if you think you're the most supportive ally on the planet, odds are you're still deeply ignorant to aspects of trans life. Have you ever had to worry whether or not you'd have access to a restroom before? We do. You, in all likelihood, are not as educated on trans issues as your trans friend is. You should differ to them, and trust what they say, because they will likely know better than you. Put your ego and arrogance aside, realize you don't know as much as you think, and you'll find you might learn something.

All of this comes with a caveat: we are not all alike. Not all trans folk are offended by the same things. Not all trans people are bothered by the same words. I could go on, but the gist of it is, we're all different. The only way you can know for sure what to do in a given circumstance is to ask them yourself.

For example: I'm out. Everyone directly relevant to me knows I'm trans, I live fulltime. However, I've not yet explained my circumstances to my neighbors. It's just simply never came up, and I've never gone out of my way to tell them, because our interactions are infrequent, and frankly, they don't NEED to know.  This is just one minor example, but it does highlight that you should ask your trans friend if you're unsure.

So there you have it. My short list on how to be an ally.

Quote of the day: "Mistakes are another opportunity to refine" Bad Religion, Prove it


P.S. I really appreciate when people leave me questions in the comments. I use them as prompts for my posts here, and so far there's been almost no participation. So if you can think of a question you want me to address, post it in the comments section and I'll try to get to it soon as I can. It helps me, and you get your question addressed. It's a win - win!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Trans vulnerability

A friend on my facebook asked me: Are trans women more vulnerable than trans men because of gender bias against women? 

There are a great many reasons why transgender women tend to be more vulnerable than transgender men. Please note: this isn't an attempt to invalidate the experiences or challenges transgender men face, nor is it an attempt to make their problems seem less important. I understand full well that there are many challenges we all face, this is my perspective on how, in most circumstances, trans women are particularly vulnerable. 

The first and most obvious in my mind relates to passing as cisgender. Trans men get far, far more benefit out of their hormone therapy than trans women get from theirs. By the time most trans women get their hormone therapy, testosterone has already ravaged their bodies, leaving them tall, broad, and with a deep voice. Trans men, once they begin hormones, experience their voice changing naturally, they develop facial hair (whereas trans women hormone treatments do not remove it).

This leads to trans men blending in better than trans women. This in and of itself is a layer of protection from violence - if people can't perceive you're different, then you're simply not different.

The reasons that trans women are more vulnerable is not just limited to available treatments. To begin, there's the age-old idea that men are superior to women. This is just a general thing, coming from the sexist, patriarchal roots of our culture. The man was the bread winner, the man voted, the man took care of business. Ergo, being male sets you by default on a 'higher' position. This is reflected in many places in society, from hiring practices, lower wages, 'glass ceilings', and so on, being a woman is just traditionally considered 'a step down'.

 It's even a part of how our children are raised: If a girl acts 'boyish' it's perceived as a good thing. She's competitive! She's good at sports! She's a tomboy! It's celebrated, parents enroll her in softball, soccer, track, whatever she wants. 

The male equivalent? The only word I've heard for an effeminate guy is "sissy", and it's almost always in a negative context. Even "effeminate guy" rings of someone who's "not a real man".  Young boys who more identify with stereotypically feminine things are actively discouraged; how many male flute players do you see? Male cheerleaders? For a guy to express feminine traits, it's just unacceptable.

So to begin with, transgender women are already viewed negatively, for giving up their position of assumed power. "Why would any guy willingly become... less?" is the question many people find themselves instinctively wondering. (Of course the question isn't why would a guy want to be a girl, it's why would a girl want a girl's body instead of a guy's body). This creates an air of suspicion, which combined with the misconception that we're male; trying to act/look like women (instead of being women in our own right) we're immediately branded as perverts. Either we're really gay men looking to improve our odds by giving us more people to screw, or we want our body to be female so our bodies could be our own personal playthings. Both of these are incorrect, but the idea that we're merely perverts, sexual deviants, in some people's minds, justifies acting out against us (or at least makes it more okay). Again, this is opposed to the (also incorrect) perception that trans men just 'understood men were better' and decided to upgrade their status. Trans women are just perverts, but trans men are just trying to get ahead.

Then you have the stereotypical relationship dynamic. Women are the prey, men the predators. Women put themselves on display, men come and ask the women out. (Yes, I know there are exceptions, but this is in general). This by definition puts a trans woman at more of a risk. Assuming she passes as a cisgender woman, people will assume she's a cisgender woman. This leads to the problems when people find out their assumptions were incorrect. With the aforementioned idea that we're just men in women's clothing, most males immediately react like they're being tricked into a gay relationship (which, by the way, doesn't even make sense: the things he was attracted to were her feminine traits; you know, things a straight guy should be attracted to). This leads to rejection, and tragically often, violence. 

There's two core issues here: One, the assumption that everyone is cisgender (and that we, as transgender, should voluntarily out ourselves as different), and, two, the limited scope of masculine expression. 

I could go over the first point, but it's handled in much greater detail here: (http://freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed/2012/03/20/the-ethical-imperative-of-disclosure-or-how-to-believe-your-victim-owes-you-an-opportunity-for-abuse/)

As for the second point, this is a far, far more pervasive problem in our society. The scope of activities, modes of dress, emotions that are socially acceptable to show, and so on, are drastically limited for men as compared to women. Men nowadays are not allowed to cry, they're only allowed to show anger, they must otherwise be an emotionless stoic. Men, "Real Men(tm)" want to do women, and don't care about petty things like 'feelings'. Real men like titties, beer, sports. And the final thing, "Real Men" never, ever look at another guy sexually. (This of course being an extension of the fact that women are lesser: Women want to date men, ergo if a man wants to date a man, he's being womanly, and therefore less)  None of this reflects my view on what makes a man a man, but this is what's typically understood.

Also, if you doubt the above, consider the following: Women can wear skirts, dresses, pants, suits, pretty much whatever they want to. They can have their hair long or short. They can be bisexual, bi curious, etc. 

Now how about a guy? Even if he's bisexual (I.E. attracted to both women and men) if he's ever dated a guy, even once, he's forever gay. It doesn't matter that he's dated three girls before, or two girls after. The fact that he has one male x male relationship on his record deems him irrevocably gay. If a guy wears a skirt, it's considered comical at best. If a guy has long hair, he shoots his chances of having a serious career in the foot.

So, our culture has a very, very rigid definition of what a real man is. How does this relate to dangers trans women face? 

It's this core fear that we might be turning them gay / they're gay for liking us / people will think he's gay etc. that exposes us to this violence. The fact that we exist is a threat to his masculinity, and in our culture, for how tough guys are supposed to be, our image of masculinity is remarkably fragile. He doesn't want to be viewed as less manly, and by even being seen with us, he's risking that.

By the nature of straight males in our society, and the expectations placed on them, by being objects of their desire (in a society where bisexual-leaning men are likely to repress the homoerotic half) we threaten them. We make them confront the possibility that they might not be 100% straight. We make them wonder about things that society says they ought not wonder about. 

Now, the reason that a gay trans man wouldn't face the same trouble is simply that, by the nature of a gay male coming to terms with their preferences, they're not bound by the fragile, limited male expression discussed above. Their identity being challenged by a transgender partner isn't as threatening or damaging to a gay male as a straight male, because the straight male faces no longer being 'normal'. 

So there you have it. To sum it up, trans women are in fact more vulnerable than trans men.

As always, if anyone has any questions they want me to answer, please leave them in the comments section. Seriously, I don't have a ton of readers right now so if you post it I'll probably get to it within a few days.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Trans* portrayal in the media

Orangeban asked: It seems to be that there has been a recent upsurge in the amount of trans* people being portrayed in the media, particularly TV. Do you think this is the case? And what are your general thoughts about the portrayal of trans* people in the media?

This is an undeniable truth I've personally seen just from watching television myself,  I remember watching the episode of E.R. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XygnX8DqHj4) where there was a young transgender girl who's father and mother divorced. The father supported his transgender daughter, while the mother did not. When the father died in a car accident, she was made to live with her mother, who forcefully made her live as a boy.

I've also seen the episode of Law and Order: SVU (Episode title: Fallacy) where a transgender suspect ends up convicted, put into the male prison system, who is subsequently raped and murdered.

Then there's an episode of What Would You Do? Where the setup involved a young trans girl coming out to her mother, to  her disrespect and derision. The situation is sometimes ignored by nearby people, sometimes someone stands up for the young transgirl. 

Although I didn't personally watch it, you also have Chaz Bono being allowed to compete on Dancing with the Stars.

And, of course, you have the transphobic side of visibility, in the Libra tampon commercial (which is equally insulting to trans women as cis women - Because, you know, womanhood is exclusively defined by periods, and nothing else, right?) and the Paddy Power Advertisements; as well as that failed ABC comedy "Work it".

It's safe to say, that our visibility in media is growing. This list was made just off the top of my head, I'm sure there's many others. In a general sense, there's some good, and some bad with the way we're portrayed in media, even ignoring the transphobic parts.

Lets start with the good: Most people tend to be curious about transgender people, and in many ways these examples I've listed have done a great job showing real issues we face to the public at large. From the division it causes in families, to the very real danger we face in prisons, these facets of our life are often completely glossed over by people. Making people more aware of the dangers we face can only help improve public sympathy for us, and all in all is a positive.

Now onto the negative. I've yet to hear a story or sitcom or any other form of media with a trans person who's just *there*. What I mean is, they're used as a plot device to drive interest intrigue, appearing for one episode centering on their trans status, then that's it, they're gone. There is no depiction, that I'm aware of, at least, where the trans person is just a member of the cast. This lack of representation simply reinforces cis-normativity, and more importantly, the "this doesn't happen to me" mentality. The reason? Nobody is forced to live with, and accept the person on a regular basis. They show up as an a thought-provoking anomaly, their transition (not the person themselves) gets the spotlight, then they cease to be relevant.  The closest to this was the Chaz Bono thing, but that became a media circus because of his trans status.

So, is it helpful that we're being portrayed in media more? In short, yes. We're fast becoming visible, people are aware of us. However, we still have a way to go. We've yet to make the breakthrough to just being there, being 'normal'. Once we have a positive role model who's just there, who's trans status isn't used for petty jokes, and who is just a member of the cast with few issues, then we'll have made some serious progress.


Quote of the day: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Gandhi

 (Also, there's apparently going to be another What Would You Do? scenario where a transgender waitress encounters an old acquaintance from a year ago, who causes hell for her. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/entertainment/2012/05/patrons-defend-transgender-waitress-at-n-j-diner/ )

If you have any questions you'd like to see me address, please leave them in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Hey, everyone! This is going to be a short introductory post, just putting my name out there and a little about what I do.

I'm a transgender woman, finishing my last requirement for my Bachelor's degree in English. I've been on hormones for about two years, 'out' for about a year,  and living full-time for about 6 months.

I constantly find myself discussing transgender issues with those I hang around with at college, some for, some against. In either case, we've had great talks, and it's motivated me to start a blog, both to give me a platform to talk about whatever trans-related issues come up, and to, if people take interest in my blog, perhaps answer questions people have.

So, that's pretty much it for now. If anyone has any questions to kick-start this blog, leave em' in the comments section.