tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
[personal profile] tim
Some folks have talked about the problems with the It Gets Better project -- in case you've been hiding under a rock, it's a project started by Dan Savage (an upwardly mobile cis gay guy who has made a career off boosting the self-esteem of gay folks who are kinky but not too kinky, while cracking jokes at the expense of fat people, bi people, women, trans people, and anyone who goes beyond a certain domesticated level of kink) in which comfortable adults tell queer kids, via YouTube, about their happy lives in order to encourage those kids to believe that if they just hang in and can make it four years without killing themselves, life will be ponies and bunnies.

The recent rash of suicides on the part of mostly (we're assuming) cis gay boys deserves attention. But why are there huge campaigns to save the white boys when for years, the folks who organize the Transgender Day of Remembrance have been doing so to little public notice?

No one is changing the color of their clothing to memorialize the 25 trans people -- almost all women, and many of whom were people of color -- who were murdered around the world in 2010. I should say that 25 is an extremely low estimate. Since trans people tend to be considered subhuman, even right here in the US, many such murders go unreported.

Why is it an emergency when white boys kill themselves, but business as usual when trans women of color are murdered? Where's the campaign to boost the self-esteem of the latter group? Of course, the "it gets better" message just sounds cruel and stupid when aimed at people who are likely to be murdered for being who they are. The people listed on the TDOR page ranged from 16 months to 51 years of age when they were killed. Waiting for high school to be over doesn't really change anything for some people.

So maybe Dan Savage needs to be honest and admit that his campaign is not aimed at LGBT people, but rather, at LGB people. Or possibly LGB people and trans men.

Since some people have suggested -- rightly so, IMO -- that with publicizing events like TDOR there's a risk of lulling cis people into complacency -- "I don't murder trans people, so therefore I'm doing all I can" -- here are a few suggestions for making the world a place where people are less likely to be killed for violating the norm that says that femininity is repugnant and that a male-assigned person who chooses to assert herself as a woman is a dangerous threat to any man's self-concept:

  • Don't make jokes at the expense of trans people. This doesn't just mean avoiding jokes about trans people, it means not treating the idea of a man taking on feminine attributes as an inherently hilarious concept. And if you're in a group of people where someone makes such a joke, or if you're exposed to media (whether it's "Toy Story 3" or "Family Guy") in which trans or gender-variant people get made the butt of jokes, then take it as a teachable moment and talk about why it's not funny or welcome around you.
  • Violate gender norms. I want to be careful here, because not every cis guy with a ponytail is entitled to claim the Trans Struggle as his own. But sometimes, an act like an otherwise-normative guy wearing nail polish or a woman wearing a suit with pants and a tie instead of one with a skirt can play a tiny role in letting others know the world doesn't fall down when people violate the expectations that were placed on them at birth. Maybe there are bigger ways than clothing to ask yourself whether you're being who you are or whether you're acting out some gender norm that you learned before you could question it, too.
  • Accept and reinforce other people's gender self-identification, and call out others when they don't. Talking endlessly about how trans people should inform a potential partner as to the nature of their genitalia before sleeping together contributes to a world where trans people are murdered for daring to have bodies that depart in some ways from how they present themselves. When you act on the knowledge that there is no objective gender, no "real" or "true" gender other than the one that exists in each person's brain, you take a tiny step towards creating a world where people don't murder each other in order to enforce the fiction of "objective gender".
  • Know that trans people are everywhere, and act as if they're listening. Even if you believe you know what trans people look like, you don't know how many trans people you've met who you never knew were trans. Many cis people seem to be attached to a belief that they can always spot whether someone is trans, but this belief is both logically flawed (it's unfalsifiable, since you never find out about your false negatives) and problematic as it's tied into a belief that trans people aren't real and that this difference manifests itself in some obvious, physical way.
  • Don't use transphobia and homophobia to shame others. If you're trying to motivate a guy to work harder, and you tell him not to be such a pussy or such a sissy, you're reinforcing the culture of violence against gender-variant people in a tiny way. Why not find ways to resist such violence, even in a tiny way?
  • Don't use terms like "biological" or "genetic" to delegitimize trans people's genders. It turns out that the more you know about biology and genetics, the less appropriate it begins to look to call cis men "biological men" and cis women "biological women". There's the obvious fact that everyone is biological; we're all made of the same matter, and we all need to breathe and eat in order to live. Maybe more to the point, the thing that makes cis men men is the same thing that makes trans men men: a combination of personal identification and social consensus. When it comes to gender, there is no "there" there other than that. The categories that humans develop to classify people are merely an interpretation of biological reality; the map is not the territory. Instead of "biological", "genetic", or "real" (which all tend to get used to mean the same thing), use "cissexual" or "cis" for short to refer to people whose internal self-conception matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Recognize that trans and intersex people are exemplars of the category "human" to the same extent that cis people are. This means, among other things, recognizing that the idea of a biological sex determined by whether one's karyotype is XY or XX is an inaccurate model of reality, because it fails to account for intersex people whose karyotypes are neither XY nor XX. To insist that the model must be maintained despite that reality falls short is to insist that some humans are more human than others. Similarly, when you insinuate that trans experience is less typical than cis experience (in much the same way that some people call art and literature about women's lives "women's writing" or "women's music" whereas when the topic is men's lives, it's just "writing" or "music"), you suggest that trans people aren't fully human.
  • Listen to trans people's struggles and accept that those struggles may be different from yours. Should you happen to be lucky enough to know any trans people, keep in mind that listening is good. But diminishing every problem by reducing it to one that cis people also face (for example, "Everyone has something about their body that they don't like! For example, I'd like to lose 5 pounds"), or insisting that love conquers all or some other such thing -- that by waiting, it will get better -- is worse than silence.

Some of the items on this list may seem to you to be a bit distant from the task of ending violence against trans people. I think not, though: this violence stems from a combination of misogyny and difficulty confronting a world in which personal autonomy has primacy over outside observers for determining gender. Just as language that suggests women are only good as instruments for sex creates an atmosphere that encourages rape, language that suggests trans people deceive others as to their "true gender", that there is such a thing as a "true gender", creates an atmosphere that encourages murder. So long as you're laughing at jokes about straight men who discover their partners are trans women, or poking fun at guys who act femininely, you are helping sustain the culture of violence.
Questioning Transphobia, as usual, has a good take on it:
This is part of the reason I am not entirely thrilled with the “It Gets Better” campaign – that for a lot of us, it simply does not. While many of us have the autonomy to begin transition, this often happens while forced into survival sex work, homelessness, and HIV, among other difficulties. Trans people have at least twice the unemployment rate of the general population....

I don’t mean to introduce these statistics to say anyone has it harder, but rather to question why with all the talk about bullying and getting better, why what trans people specifically face is not discussed at all. I mean 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide? As compared to the 1.6% of the general population? I remember when people questioned the idea that trans people really had a 50% rate of attempted suicide, but it looks like that is confirmed. This is, honestly, reprehensible that this is constantly kept invisible, in the background. And it’s not as if trans people are a such a small minority, either. Educated guesswork puts us at .2-.4% of the population, with numbers supported in multiple countries, not even counting non-transitioning trans people that were neglected by Lynn Conway’s paper. In the US that means out of 310,430,000 people (per Wikipedia). 620,000 – 1,240,000 trans people.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-10-11 06:01 am (UTC)
luinied: Wakaba is doing science! (focused)
From: [personal profile] luinied
My theory: gay kids feeling inclined towards suicide seems like a problem that might be within people's means to solve - because of course you can prevent suicides by posting hopeful videos on the Internet - and the proposed solution lets them dwell on the uplifting narratives they've constructed about their lives getting better and how such things are bound to happen to everyone. Whereas trans people getting murdered is a big, scary problem for which no similar fix-it-quick gesture exists and which reminds people of how scary and cruel could be. The former is the sort of thing that spurs a lot of people to action, while the latter makes them briefly distraught until they can find something less scary to think about.

(This should go without saying, but I'm not trying to justify such behavior; it's just a sort of thing I've seen a lot, and I wish I knew how to snap people out of it. And of course I'm also not trying to claim that this is the only thing going on in this case.)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-10-11 12:41 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
I've seen variants of the "it gets better" idea being expressed by Lynn Conway and Calpernia Addams. I remember seeing on Lynn Conway's site a whole pageful of photos and biographies of happy, successful trans women, with pretty much the explicit stated purpose of getting people to see that it can be done and that the trans life is livable (there's also a page of warnings that this is not a route that everyone should go down, and that it would be - and has been - a big mistake for some). Likewise for Calpernia Addams: quoth wikipedia

Addams said, "I hope This Is Our Love Story will help young transgender people as they come out. By seeing the happy, confident woman I've become, I hope I can act as a role model for these young people at a critical moment in their development."

(no subject)

Date: 2010-10-15 04:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anemone.livejournal.com
Maybe this is obvious, maybe it's not, but part of the reason the "It Gets Better" project has gained so much traction is that it makes sense to cis, straight people (*).

Teenage despair is part of the cis&straight teenage experience. And I think many cis straight adults look back on the teenage years and think "Yeah, it totally got better" and think their teenage selves were very concerned with stuff that turned out not to matter much at all in the end. So because "It gets better" would have been a good message to send to their straight teenage self, they are happy to endorce "It gets better" for gay teenagers, too.

If I understand correctly, you're annoyed because the "It gets better" project ignores trans experience. What I'm saying is that, at least in most of the manifestations I've seen on facebook, it's also ignoring the gay and lesbian experience. (That cannot be said for Dan Savage himself.)

Is this better? I don't know. But I don't think you're seeing a denial of trans people as human so much as a selfish focus on oneself that makes people believe everyone is like them.

(*) I should perhaps add a "white" and a "middle-class" qualifier there too.

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Tim Chevalier

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