on being transgender, and the cruelty it attracts

I am an ftm transgender person. I have been living as Jay* for some time.

Sometimes, people ask me questions about being transgender. Sometimes, I hear people saying hateful or ignorant things. I would like to try and address some of these things. This post could get long, so if you’re in it for the long haul I suggest going and grabbing a snack and a glass of your choice of beverage.

Ready? Okay.

Issue the First: Washrooms. 

I see a lot of people afraid that if transgender people are allowed to use the washrooms  that correspond with their gender expression, then they’re going to abuse that right and peep at or harm women. I can’t speak to the experience of mtf transgender folks, but I can speak from my own experience, and it’s this: when I go to the washroom, it’s because I need to use the washroom. That’s it.

I hear people saying, well, biological sex is a thing, and if you have a penis you should go in the men’s room, etc etc. What about the cisgender men who are waiting in there to beat up anyone who doesn’t fit their idea of who is a man and who ought to be allowed to use the men’s room? They’re probably few and far between right? Well, so are the transgender people who are looking to harm you.

I guarantee you, the vast majority of trans people are just like me: all they want is to use the washroom in peace and go about their business.

When you make a big deal about it, when you say things like “you can’t come in here because you have a penis” etc, what you are really saying is “you are too different and unacceptable to be allowed to do the things I take for granted that I am allowed to do”.

Issue the Second: Feminism. 

This one’s gonna suck, and I apologize in advance. Herein lie slurs and frankly hate speech, repeated for education/discussion purposes, so if that’s going to upset you, better to skip down to the next bolded heading.

Recently I heard/read some people talking about the washroom issue. There were a handful of people who were like “rock on, live and let live”, and a handful of people who were all “well, NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)”.

The people who truly scared me, however, were the ones who ranted and raved about how “blokes in dresses”** being allowed to use the women’s washroom was an affront to feminism, because it was taking away from “real women”*** and erasing their safe spaces.

For the record, a transgender woman is just as “real” a woman as any other woman in the world. Maybe she wasn’t born with a vagina, maybe she didn’t grow breasts during puberty, maybe she has a penis. But gender lives in the mind and the heart, not the underpants, and it is not for anyone but the individual (and their doctor, perhaps) to speak about.

But like I said before, I have never met anyone who ever went into the washroom for any other reason but to eliminate waste, or perhaps check their makeup in the mirror/try to get something out of their eye using said mirror.

When you say things like “trans women aren’t real women, and allowing someone with a penis in a woman only space is anti-feminist because it takes away from ‘real’ women”, what we hear is you telling transgender women that being themselves is shameful, dirty, and wrong.

Issue the Third: Pronouns and Names. 

Does it really harm you that much to refer to a person with the pronouns they ask for? I don’t understand why some people have to make a point of using the wrong pronouns, even when the right ones have been provided. What we hear when you do that, is “you are not worth respecting. You are not worth being pleasant to”. Some people make jokes about it, like “you identify as he/him? Well, I identify as Overlord, what are you going to do about that?”

What we hear when you do that, is “you are a joke, not a real person with feelings”.

I chose a male name for myself. Don’t worry, I’m aware – painfully aware – that I don’t present the way I would ideally like to. Put bluntly, I look like a girl. Part of being aware of that, is knowing there’s going to be a certain amount of ignorance leveled at me. For the people who I’m spending three minutes with and will never see again? I can grit my teeth and bear it.

Sometimes, though, people can get really persistent about my name. I’ve noticed it’s usually only when I’m wearing my work uniform. On the one hand I feel like that’s because that’s the only time I wear a name badge. On the other hand, I feel like maybe it’s because since I’m in uniform, clearly representing my company, I feel less free to speak up to protect and defend myself – and members of the public feel more free to demand explanations and personal information from me.

“Is your name really Jay*?” Yes, it is.  “You’re wearing the wrong name badge.” No, I’m not.  “Did you play swapsies with the badges today, naughty girl?” …no, we’re not allowed to do that. “No seriously, what is your name?” Still Jay*. “Don’t be silly, tell me your name.” I’m not being bloody silly, and you heard me the first time!

If we were out on the street and you heard that my name was Jay*, would you challenge me? Would you persist? Would you insist that I was wrong or somehow trying to trick you? No, you wouldn’t, because if we were out on the street, I wouldn’t have a code of conduct dictating that I have to smile and be pleasant to you. I could tell you what I really think.

Don’t even get me started on the people who ask why I haven’t had surgery. I don’t, and shouldn’t, have to dignify this with an answer, but here goes: it’s expensive, it’s invasive, and the public health system here is backed up for 40+ years because it only does, I think, two of these a year. But while we’re on the subject, let me ask YOU a question. Since when did I owe you, or anyone, access to my medical records?

When you badger us for personal information, what we hear is, “you’re not worthy of me respecting your privacy and personal space.”

Issue the Fourth: Respect. 

I feel like a lot of these issues overlap. But anyway, at the end of the day, I really don’t think transgender people are all that different from anyone else. We all need to eat, and sleep, and use the washroom. We all want to be loved, and accepted. I wouldn’t dream of asking you what you have in your trousers, because it isn’t my business – so I don’t see how what’s in my trousers should have any bearing on anyone who is not me (or my partner).

All anyone ever really wants is to be treated with basic human decency, right? I just think, like, imagine if you were waiting in line to use the washroom, and you heard people debating whether or not you should be allowed to because of some arbitrary physical characteristic that you had no control over. That wouldn’t be very fair. And yet it happens to us every single day, multiple times a day.

For some reason, it’s more important to put us in a box and keep us away from “normal people” than it is to acknowledge that we ARE normal – we’re just OUR kind of normal – and that we’re people too. Is it any wonder that transgender suicide statistics are as high as they are, when we have judge, jury and executioner embodied in every nasty small minded person who feels like taking it upon themselves to judge us?

I’m not naive enough to think I’ve changed anyone’s mind writing this post. I just wanted to get my side out there. I know that ugly is ugly and ignorant is ignorant and that very seldom changes, but I think it’s not enough to sit in my room waiting for the world to change. We have to talk about these things, and not let fear or lack of information rule.

* My name is not actually Jay. The name I chose starts with a J, and is a very traditionally masculine name, hence all the questions/comments. 

** This is a slur, and I am sorry to have had to repeat it. It is reductive, relies on outdated stereotypes, and, most importantly, it is unacceptable

*** Transgender women are real women. Transgender men are real men. Just wanted to repeat that. 

on free speech, what it is, and what it is not

Recently (last night) there was a piece in my local news about how a university professor has written a letter defending “freedom of speech” in New Zealand, particularly in universities. He wrote this letter, I understand, because of the things happening in America and some stuff that happened here. I think it was specifically Berkeley, where a group of protestors effectively prevented a certain right wing speaker from speaking on their campus.

There’s a lot to unpack there, so I’m going to go slow and try to get all my thoughts out in a coherent fashion. Bear with me, because I promise I’m going to at least try to make sense for at least part of this post.

I think my biggest issue with what was said on the news last night, is that the guy who wrote the letter? Was a cisgender white man. And I guess, speaking as a person who belongs to a number of “unprivileged” groups, I think it’s pretty galling to have a cisgender white man basically tell me that I am unreasonable for being offended by things that are offensive. He’s never going to be affected by that type of “free speech” the way I am – the way people of color, non-straight, and trans/genderqueer people are, so my thinking is, what right does he have to tell us anything at all?

I don’t want to be one of those people who tars everyone with the same brush (#notallmen, anyone?) but gee, it sure does seem like it’s mostly straight cisgender white men who start crying about how they’re losing their freedom of speech when really, what’s happening is, they’re being asked to stop being a**holes. That’s when they come out fighting with letters like this, because too many of them place their right to say what they like, over everyone else’s right to not be insulted or even harmed by what amounts to hate speech.

See, the whole kerfuffle started because Auckland University had a group of people who wanted to start a European Union club. Harmless on the surface, but when you probe deeper it starts to get kind of ugly. The logo they picked out was this old Celtic design that was apparently associated with Nazism and white supremacy, and really, if you think about it, what is “European culture?” I’ve heard of German culture, and Spanish culture, and French and Russian and Polish culture. I’ve even heard of Jewish culture. I just don’t see that “European” culture is a thing, other than celebrating homogeneity and frankly, whiteness.

Maybe I’m wrong. I could be wrong. It’s happened before. Maybe this was completely innocent and they were disbanded unfairly. But like, if that’s the case, maybe they might have taken on board that the logo they picked out had those very negative connotations (whoopsie, right?) and changed it. Or, maybe they could have tried to define themselves a little less ambiguously, to address the not altogether unreasonable concerns people had. But they didn’t want to do that. They just claimed their right to free speech was being infringed upon.

And in California, how I understand the situation is that this guy had some opinions and was going to come and speak, and then some protesters used THEIR free speech to say “actually, we disagree and we don’t want to hear what you have to say”. Now the man is bleating about how the liberals shut down his freedom of speech.

First of all, freedom of speech doesn’t mean what people think it means. I mean a lot of sources are pretty America-centric, and revolve around the First Amendment, but we can talk about what that is and what that is not. The First Amendment is the first amendment in the US Constitution, and it says that the government may not suppress your right to speak your mind, or practise your religion, or complain to the government if you have a problem with the government.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

US Constitution, First Amendment

Nowhere in there does it say that you have the right to be an a**hole. Nor does it say that while you can say anything you like, no one else is allowed to speak out against you, call you on your nonsense, or protest the things you’re speaking about. People are allowed to be offended by what you say – that’s their First Amendment right.

So to that guy, I say, well, the government never said you couldn’t speak. The students at that university said they didn’t want to hear you, and I guess your invitation to speak was revoked. That doesn’t mean you can’t still say what you have to say. It just means you can’t say it THERE. And the government had nothing to do with that. First Amendment: INTACT!

free_speech
Free Speech by xkcd.com

But okay, so that’s America. In New Zealand, we have similar but not identical rights. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act of 1990 states, and I quote,

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form”.

So those Auckland University students who are weeping the loss of their club are talking about “losing our right to freedom of speech” well actually, the university has a responsibility to serve ALL its students, not just you, so I guess you can go on being as proud as you want about being a European (coughwhitecough) but I guess on balance the university PTB (powers that be, don’t you know) decided it was more important to make sure people who weren’t European continued to feel safe at that school than it was to pander to a group of people who picked a logo that made others feel super uncomfortable. Bill of Rights Act: MOSTLY INTACT!

(Sure, the club was disbanded, but no one said they weren’t allowed to feel proud of being European, just that they couldn’t gather in a big scary hood-wearing pitchfork and flaming torch carrying group to be proud of being European. Which I think is pretty well fair enough.)

I probably sound a little dismissive about these people. Well, I guess that’s my freedom of speech in action, huh. I could write an essay about those people alone, but that’s another story.

The news piece last night stated that “New Zealanders need to be thick-skinned if they want to keep their right to free speech”. I think that’s fair, if you take it at face value. Trouble is the tone in which that message is delivered. The subtext here is “God, the PC Brigade wants to ruin MORE of our fun” or similar.

This is what I think. I think you ABSOLUTELY have a right to freedom of speech. I defend to my dying breath your right to hold opinions, even if they’re awful, even if I don’t agree with them. But I don’t think you have the right to be an a**hole. I think the right to freedom of speech ends right about the point where you’re actively upsetting someone. And I’m not talking about the handful of people out there who actually are trying to stifle free debate etc by claiming offense at everything (because they are out there, I’ve seen them). But the big things, racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, I think if you’re called out for one of those things, I don’t think you should have the right to continue being hurtful.

Here’s an example. I was in a Facebook community discussing an unrelated (non-social justice) matter, and a girl made a comment along the lines of “Oh my god, this is so gay.” That’s… that’s a pretty obvious slur, no matter how you try to dress it up with “language evolves” and “I don’t mean it like that”. The point was made that it was offensive to certain people in the group, myself included, and still, she fought. Railed against us. Insisted that because she didn’t mean it “like that”, then it didn’t mean “that”, and we were being unreasonable to be offended.

But she was literally using a facet of our beings, something that made up our identity, to express a negative sentiment. How are we supposed to take that, but to assume that she associates being gay with something negative? And why should we let that go by without expressing our offense? She has the right to freedom of speech, yes, but don’t we also have the freedom to call her out and try to educate her on why what she said was problematic?

I guess I’m just sick to actual tears of people thinking that their right to say whatever they like, without forethought (and sometimes with malice aforethought) trumps my right to not come home and cry myself to sleep at night.

on Kaepernick

On Facebook, a woman who I will identify only as E proclaimed, “That stupid football player is the biggest freaking joke I’ve ever seen in my life. I hope to G*d his career ends today.” [nb: censoring mine. She uses a number of words I no longer say]. She further advocated “frying” him, and said that a man sitting down for the national anthem is a disgrace. “And I think he should be removed from the NFL or apologize”. She invoked the troops who had fought for his right to stand for that anthem.

Here’s what I have to say to her, and to every person who is vilifying this man for standing up (or more accurately, sitting down) for what he believes in:

You want to talk about the men and women fighting for America? They’re fighting for your rights. They’re fighting for his. The first amendment gives him as much right to sit down as it gives you to spew all this hate against him. I have to wonder, would you be this vitriolic if he were white? Because I didn’t stand for this country’s national anthem either, when it played at my work. Should I lose my job?

The thing is, if he’d been white, they’d be lauding him as a champion of First Amendment rights. But because he’s black, he’s ungrateful, unpatriotic, and unconscionable. My question is, what exactly has he got to be grateful for?

Sure, he’s a well paid wealthy athlete, but he would have had to work hard and have actual talent for that. That’s him, all him. In terms of his rights, privileges and liberties, that his country affords him – that the national anthem in question purports to be about – he’s got nothing, because he’s a black man in a country where WWB seems to be considered a crime punishable by instant execution by cop.

Think on that.

 

on confusion

So what do you do when you’ve taken thirty years to figure out your sexuality and then something – someone – throws you for a loop?

I spent the better part of my life believing I was a lesbian (before I came out as transgender), and then circumstances and new acquaintances led me to see that I am, in fact, asexual. For the last two years I’ve been perfectly happy to be asexual. It fits. It makes sense to me. It describes me. I’m just not sexually attracted to anyone. I see a person who is aesthetically pleasing and I think “huh. That person is aesthetically pleasing”, but there’s a world of difference between this:

“You are hot, and I want to touch you.”

and this:

“You are hot, and I can see why other people would want to touch you, but I am fine with not touching you myself.”

I thought I was fine! And then I see these pictures of her and it’s just nngnhhh. So I tried to really examine what I was thinking and feeling. Do I want to touch her, or is it that I just have a working understanding of this society’s standards of beauty and recognize that she meets them? And the truth is, I don’t know. I’m fluctuating, between “She is actually a cool person, and I sure would like to hug her, but that’d be enough for me” to “She is actually a cool person, and I sure would like to get my smooch on with her, but that’d be enough for me” to “She is actually a cool person, and I would like to touch her and make her feel good”.

So. Confused.

I’m like 99% sure I’m still ace. It’s just this one girl I can’t get out of my head. She could be the exception that proves the rule, right?

Right?

on paris

I stand with Paris.

But I also stand with Beirut, and Baghdad. I stand with any city in mourning. I am sorry for any loss of human life. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that only the pretty white French-speaking European lives are worth mourning.

I’ve seen the DP pic filter on FB for displaying the French flag. Where was the Lebanese filter, when Beirut was bombed? Where was the Iraqi filter, when Baghdad was bombed?

There’s a post going around on Facebook right now, and it goes like this.

Michael McCubbing (permalink)

I have decided to revert my profile picture and remove the overlay for Paris. As much as my heart goes out to everyone in Paris, it is not just Paris that has suffered from attacks, it is not even the only place to suffer an attack yesterday.

Our tendency in the West to view attacks in the Middle East or Africa as simply unfortunate — if we pay attention to them at all — but attacks against a Western country as “an attack on all humanity” is an sad betrayal of our underlying racism and xenophobia.

A life in Beirut is worth no less than a life in Paris. A life in Iraq is worth no less than a life in Canada. We must keep ALL of humanity in our thoughts and prayers at these times, not just those that we feel closest to. And we must forbid ourselves from giving in to fear of the “other”, no matter how much we are taught to fear our fellow man.

I’m not trying to disrespect anyone who has a legitimate personal connection to Paris who is in mourning right now. I would never, ever tell another person how to mourn. That’s none of my business. What I am condemning is the way a crisis in a predominantly white country like France is currently occupying the majority percentage of our collective consciousness, while crises in the brown countries, countries in the Middle East, get a cursory mention at best.

I’ve looked at the feed from the biggest online news provider in my country. 90% of the articles in the World section are about Paris. There’s one about the royal family planning a visit to India – 10 to 1 it’s there because of the royal family (they’re white), not because of India. There’s a bunch of stuff about miracle survivors (in Paris) and some stuff about how we’re frightened the same thing could happen there. Oh, and there’s a very cute piece about a baby fox found frolicking in someone’s back garden.

WHERE IS THE NEWS ABOUT BEIRUT? ABOUT BAGHDAD? Why is it that we care so much about France, but not the others? Have we become so desensitized about violence and tragedy in the Middle East that we no longer care?

Maybe it’s a defense mechanism perhaps, that it happens so often that we can’t let ourselves care.

I stand with Paris, but I’m not going to let myself only stand with Paris. I stand with anyone mourning tonight. I won’t pray for Paris alone. I’ll pray for the world.

on false friends

I’ve had mixed responses to my slow process of figuring out my identity and such. For the most part, they’ve been overwhelmingly positive, but not all of them. I’ve had at least one truly awful experience, the details of which I won’t get into here. But I think by far my most frustrating experience was with someone who pretended to be my friend, yet completely disregarded everything I had told him about myself and everything I had discovered myself to be.

I told him I’m ace, in a roundabout sort of way (we were at work at the time).

Me: I’m not really… interested in anyone.

Him: Yeah but like, boys or girls?

Me: Neither? I really don’t like anyone like that.

Him:  Oh darling, we can fix that.

Me: I… don’t want or need to be fixed?

Him: Oh, honey. We’ll find you someone.

Dude. I don’t want anyone. Not in the way you’re talking about. That’s the whole point?

I told him I’m not a woman. I told him my preferred name, my pronouns. He is probably the one person I know who has consistently refused to even try to use them, despite being told numerous times. Like, people have messed up before, but at least I know they’re trying. And that one horrible experience, she was awful, but she never pretended to be anything other than awful (to me at least. She was a horrible two faced piece of work in front of our superiors, but again, that’s another story).

This guy acts like we’re such good friends. He calls me darling, and honey, and sweetie, and he’s so pleasant around me. Then he calls me by my birth name, refers to me with she/her pronouns, or says something like “bye, girls!” referring to me and the girl I’m walking with. And it’s so frustrating because when I call him out, he laughs.

Him: Do you have any idea how hard it is to change? You’re [birth name] in my head, I can’t help it.

It’s funny to me how literally everyone else in my life has assimilated the information and got on with it. He’s the only person who is making me feel like I’m not worth the effort it would cost him to even try to respect me. And with the horrible piece of work, she’s awful, but you expect awful people to be awful. I expect people who call themselves my friends to at least try to show me the smallest amount of respect.

on winning and losing

There comes a time when it’s time to stop fighting.

Sometimes, even when we know we’re right, we can’t win, and the harder we fight, the harder we end up losing.

I’m right. I’m definitely right. And she’s wrong. But I live in an imperfect world and the harder I fight, the less I’m being listened to. Never mind that I have to keep asking because the people who are supposed to help me, don’t want to. I made the mistake of pushing against a woman who clearly, has enough friends in high places that she will never face consequences. Not on my account, anyway.

I always do this. Make the mistake of thinking people like me when I’m tolerated at best.

I’m letting it drop not because I want to, but because I need to if I want to retain any credibility. The injustice of it all just staggers me, but there’s literally nothing I can do about it. The only weapon left in my arsenal is the Leonie Gambit: “I’m not even going to do anything. I’m just going to sit back and give you enough rope and watch you hang yourself.”