tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
So, I decided to sell my soul to the Department of Homeland Security and apply for a Nexus card. Both US and Canadian citizens can get one, and it makes it simpler to cross the US/Canada border either by air or land. I was also under the impression that having one is one of the ways to be considered a "trusted traveler" and thus use TSA PreCheck lines at some airports in the US, so it's useful even when traveling within the US. Also, some PreCheck lines are scanner-free and walk-through-metal-director-only, which means no scanning and no groping. Not all of them are, but I figured anything that helps, helps, under the principle that I want to choose who touches certain parts of my body (you wouldn't think that principle would be so radical, but hey).

I applied online back in August, and eventually (they don't send notifications so I had to do this by manually polling the web site online) was invited to appear in person to interview for the card. The only locations where you can do this are near the border, so for me, the closest location was Seattle. The soonest appointment was February 1, 2013; later I tried to see if I can change it as a different date might have been more convenient, but I was offered June as the next available appointment, so I decided to keep it February.

Lesson number 1: if you're applying for a card in Seattle, Sea-Tac is *not* the place to go! I read it quickly, thought "oh, the Seattle airport", booked a hotel near Sea-Tac for the night before, and... the night before, realized my appointment was actually at Boeing Field/King County International Airport (which is also, by the way, a 20-minute walk from the nearest public transit stop). This isn't an issue if (unlike me) you have reading comprehension skills, but don't go to SEA, go to Boeing Field.

I arrived 15 minutes early or so for my appointment, but basically as soon as I sat down in the waiting area, the DHS agent showed up and offered to take my passport and driver's license so she could pull up my file. After a few minutes she came back and brought me inside for the interview. She was very quick and efficient. I had worried about getting asked weird questions relating to the fact that I had two previous legal names, both of which connote a gender that I'm not, but she just asked me to verify that I'd used those names before and I said yes; no comments or weird looks or anything. So that was professional of her, and should hopefully reassure any of you who are trans if you were thinking about applying.

She asked me if I'd ever been arrested, ever been turned away from the border, ever had a DUI, or ever had to go before a judge. I said no to all of them, but more about that later. She explained very briefly how the Nexus and PreCheck programs worked and then took a digital scan of my fingerprints (all ten fingers! Serious business. No toes, though.)

I was told to bring a print-out of my "conditional approval" letter inviting me to apply, so I did, and was never asked for it. It turns out that I also didn't need my car registration, which I brought; being a US citizen, I also didn't need any proof that I live at the address that I claim. (My driver's license and passport were apparently sufficient.) I had been told I would need the car registration if I wanted to cross the border in my car, but the agent said that was outdated info, and I would now be able to cross the border in any car so long as every occupant of the car had a Nexus card.

Then she escorted me outside to wait for the Canadian border agent, who came out to greet me within a few minutes. The Canadian agent was much less friendly. He asked me where I work and for a business card (which I knew to bring, so I had one ready) -- so, if you have business cards, bring them! He asked me why I wanted a Nexus card in sort of a skeptical way -- I explained I was going to Vancouver for job training for about two and a half months, and he ended up asking me a lot of questions about that. So he said "but why do you want a card if you're just going once" and I said I might go to Seattle a few times for weekends to visit friends, which is true, and also that I wanted to use PreCheck lines within the US. He said "but you don't fly!" so I guess they know that? I didn't want to get into the whole "I'm trans and I don't like being groped" thing so I said that I'd been driving and taking the train more because of security lines, and if I was able to get through security quicker, I would fly more (which certainly wasn't a lie, just incomplete).

Then he asked me the same questions about arrests, courts, etc. that the US agent did, but when I said I hadn't been to court, he said, "are you sure?" I said, "Well, I had to go to court a month ago to sue my landlord," and he said, "is that all?" "Well I had a few traffic tickets around 2005, but they were dismissed." "Is that all?" "Well, I also had a misdemeanor around that same time where I had to appear before the judge, but the charges got dropped." "And what was it?" "Hitting a car in a parking lot and leaving the scene. The case got dismissed." "Anything else?" "Yeah, I changed my name, so I had to go to court for that." I said that was really all and he was more or less satisfied at that point. (I don't know what he was seeing in the records.) I'm pretty sure I wasn't forgetting anything! Anyway, the lesson learned here is to say everything in response to this question. I thought at first I didn't need to mention stuff that was dismissed, but I guess it doesn't hurt to say so.

He asked me if I had a letter explaining what the purpose of my training visit was, and I said yes, but only on my laptop (I hadn't thought to print it out since the copy that got shared with me was still a draft) and I tried to pull it up on the screen, but wasn't able to because it was in Google Docs and I didn't have a wifi connection. So, another lesson learned: I should have printed out the letter. I tried to avoid giving too many details about my work visit since the administrative people at my work are still dotting the t's and crossing the i's at this point -- basically just saying that I had been informed by the legal team at work that I wasn't going to need a work visa given the length and nature of the visit -- but he did ask a fair amount of questions about it.

Then he told me that based on the interview, I was eligible, and should be receiving the card in the mail within 5-8 days. The unfortunate part, which I didn't know, is that the US DHS offices don't have the machine to scan your irises; you have to go to Canada to do that. So I'll have to make *another* trip to Vancouver (or, I guess, just do it when I get there for work) to get my irises scanned, which I need to do if I want to use the card at airports (I won't need it if I'm crossing the border overland, but I'm not sure yet if I'm going to drive or fly there for my work visit).

I was not asked whether I'd ever used recreational drugs; based on googling other people's experiences, and also on the security clearance application that I once filled out (which never got processed since I quit the job that required it), I thought that might be a question that would come up. But it didn't -- the only legal things that got asked about were DUIs, arrests, court appearances, and being refused entry to a country.

I also think it was a good decision on my part that I decided to wear my "Stop AIDS Project / Department of Homoland Security" T-shirt yesterday and not today. (I wasn't sure what to wear, but ended up going with an incompetently-ironed (by me) button-down shirt and black khakis, no tie. That seemed to be okay.)

I guess it might seem funny that I was willing to put up with all sorts of indirect privacy invasion in order to buy myself a chance of getting out of the direct privacy invasion of having a government contractor feel up my crotchal area. I feel like it makes sense, though (as a compromise in the horrible society we live in) because I'm privileged enough to have very little to hide (from an illegal-activity point of view); on the other hand, having a cis stranger discover unexpectedly that I have a transsexual body puts me at risk. It's not the same kind of risk that a woman with a transsexual body would undergo in that situation, but it's a risk nonetheless, and one that I claim agency in doing what I can to avoid.

(And also, because I haven't mentioned this: yeah, I'm going to be in Vancouver for about 10 weeks, starting this March 11! I'll be working at the Mozilla Vancouver office and learning about linkers, profiling, build systems, debuggers, and other awesome topics from the one and only Graydon.)
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Tomorrow is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). I was debating whether I should write about TDOR, because erica, ascendant and Monica Maldonado have already spoken so much truth on the subject. If you haven't read what they wrote, you should go read it. I'll wait.

The only TDOR event I've attended was two years ago, at Portland State University. To the organizers' credit, Tobi Hill-Meyer was a featured speaker. But other than her speech and showing of her movie, there wasn't a whole lot in the program that was on-topic. What I remember most about the evening was the "genderqueer acrobatics" performance, featuring a number of mostly white youths in furry costumes, cavorting. It didn't seem appropriate for a memorial, any more than a dance party -- which is apparently happening tomorrow as part of more than one city's TDOR event -- is. Do white people jump for joy at the deaths of trans women of color? One might be left thinking so.

I think that part and parcel of this fundamental not getting it is the characterization of violence against trans women of color -- which makes up the overwhelming majority of reported violence against trans and gender-non-conforming people -- as "transphobic violence" or "violence against transgender people".

It's no such thing.

As people like Erica and Monica have already written about, violence against trans women of color is fundamentally violence against women -- specifically, those women who are most vulnerable due to the intersecting oppressions (such as race, poverty, and participation in sex work) they experience. Being trans makes a woman even more vulnerable to violence, because there is no place in the world where law enforcement has much, or any, motivation to investigate a violent crime against a trans woman, particularly a trans woman of color who's not wealthy. It's not that violence against trans women of color happens because of some special kind of violence that's different from run-of-the-mill violence against women because it's rooted in transphobia. It's more indirect: yes, trans women make easier targets, but to understand the real story you have to understand misogyny, racism, poverty -- in other words, the same issues that make cis women vulnerable to violence. Strangely enough, violence (to personify it) seems to be more respectful towards trans women's genders than are the trans men and cis women who often organize events like TDOR. While the latter group seems to need to construct a narrative of transphobia to explain violence against trans women -- so unable are they to see that men commit violence against trans women because they're women -- certain men show that they see trans women as women, by treating them in the same way they treat cis women: only more violent.

When trans men organizing TDOR celebrations talk about the suffering of "transgender people", when academics like Dean Spade make their entire careers off talking about the litany of ways in which "transgender people" are oppressed, they're being wildly misleading. Perhaps not intentionally, in most cases. But it still comes off as self-aggrandizing when college-educated white trans men (like myself!) talk about how they could be killed for being trans, when the worst thing they've ever experienced was someone looking at them funny in the men's room, once.

I don't mean to say that even the most privileged white trans men never face oppression for being trans. Health insurance companies are allowed to deny us needed medical care because we're trans, which affects all but the very richest of us. Many of us can't get government-issued identification that reflects our sexes correctly, which is humiliating if nothing else. I've personally known trans men who had trouble getting employment due to being perceived as trans men. I could go on, but I won't. There are issues that affect all, or almost all, trans people, regardless of their privilege along other axes. And no one should feel that those issues aren't important to work on just because someone, somewhere is suffering more.

So I am totally not opposed to someone working on health insurance discrimination in the US, for example, because that's the issue that moves them, even though having health insurance at all is a privilege many trans people lack. What's wrong, though, is erasing and distracting from the experiences of trans women facing intersecting oppressions by blurring the boundaries with the phrase "transgender people". That phrase groups together trans people who, in fact, profit from white supremacy and unequal distribution of incomes (hello, like me) with trans people who are being profited off, and implies a common set of interest where there is none. The same set of forces that means trans women of color often get the rawest deal even within a particular underclass is the set of forces that allows me to earn a very comfortable living by pressing buttons on a computer all day.

Therefore, for me -- or someone who resembles me -- to go on a stage tomorrow and talk about all the violence that "transgender people" suffer would be wrong. It would be self-aggrandizing. For me to pretend that there is something significant that makes me more similar to a trans woman of color doing sex work and living in poverty than I am to a white cis man running a well-funded Silicon Valley startup would be dishonest. And it would be hard not to see that as a cynical attempt for me to use dead women as instruments to advance a political agenda that -- because it serves the most privileged rather than the least -- isn't really about much other than a self-perpetuating machine of publicity and fundraising.

The rhetorical sleight of hand in grouping all trans people's experience together with the phrase "transgender people" is not just inaccurate and imprecise. It's actively harmful in a way that's very much like the use of "die cis scum" as a rallying cry for some white trans people. The ability to prioritize cis people's oppression of trans people as the most piercing injustice is a reflection of privilege: the privilege of being someone who expects to be in a position to dominate others, but is blocked from being in that position solely by being placed as transsexual and/or transgender. Just as seeing cis people as the only threat is a luxury for those who can rely on white trans people to have their back, garnering sympathy because one could be "killed for being trans" is a privilege reserved for those who can identify a unitary threat to their rightful place of privilege, a single reason why they can't live life at the very lowest difficulty setting.

Clearly, we white trans people (and the cis people who love us) need a common enemy to rally against. But because there's so little violence against us that could reasonably be called "transphobic" (there's a movie called "Boys Don't Cry" because it is indeed so rare for a white trans man to be attacked; if there was a movie about every trans woman of color who met a violent death, there could be an entire category for them on Netflix), it's hard for us to make our movement seem vivid enough to get people interested. Health insurance exclusion clauses, medical gatekeeping, and state bureaus of vital records that refuse to change gender markers on birth certificates are not exactly the stuff of which an attention-getting crusade for justice is made. But the answer isn't to steal stories from people whose lives have inherent value because they were, or are, who they are, as opposed to because a more socially privileged person can use them as an instrument.

What's the harm in all of this? Isn't it always good to raise awareness? But when a group like the Transgender Law Center gives an "Ambassador Award" to Chaz Bono, a man who told the New York Times that testosterone made him feel bored when women were talking, you have to wonder whether ameliorating misogyny matters to self-styled trans activists. (The same group saw it as a priority to help Bono file a legal name change, something that many trans people of more modest means do on their own, without help from a nonprofit.) I think there's a connection between how many groups that claim to be concerned with "LGBT rights", or even with "trans rights", serve mainly the most privileged, and the treatment of trans people's experience as unitary that's exemplified by TDOR and its accompanying rhetoric of "violence against transgender people". The result is a fundamental misdirection of resources. It's been pretty rigorously shown that trickle-down economics doesn't work, and I don't believe that trickle-down social justice works, either.

If it makes you feel good to watch candles being lit and listen to people who look like me mispronounce the last names of people who, well, don't, then it's possible that nothing I've just said will change that. I'm mainly writing this to sort out my thoughts. I've been wanting for a long time to do more than just write about trans activism, to get involved, but I've never been able to see a place to start that clearly does more good than harm. So maybe that's a sign that it would be more effective to work for health care and fair working conditions for everyone, cis people and trans people.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Y'alls, this is kind of big news. Photographic evidence first:

Read more... )

If you're confused, that's understandable. A long time ago, I lived in California and had a driver's license with my old name, and the sex I was coercively assigned at birth. Then I moved to Oregon, and legally changed my name to the name I use now. I got a driver's license in Oregon, which made my California driver's license invalid. Two years ago, I corrected my passport to have the correct gender marker, which I did immediately after the State Department reformed their guidelines for changing gender markers on passports. Previously, you had to submit evidence of having had surgery (the question of what kind of surgery was a bit fuzzy) in order to change your gender marker. Starting in mid-2010, all you needed was a letter from a doctor saying you were undergoing appropriate treatment for gender transition. There was no longer any requirement for surgery, hormones, or counseling.

When I moved back to California last year, I got a new driver's license. I presented my passport, myself, and my old Oregon driver's license as ID. Even though my Oregon driver's license said "F", presumably the correct gender marker on my passport -- as well as my appearance, which was close to what it is in the userpic attached to this post -- prevailed. I did say I'd had a CA driver's license before, but the DMV worker was unable to find any record of it. So, I had a CA driver's license with my correct gender on it.

California law says that to change the gender on your driver's license, you're supposed to submit a DL-329 form. I didn't want to do that, for reasons I'll get to. I figured that having been out of state would be sufficient to bootstrap a clean record instead.

And that worked, for about a year. A few months ago, I got a letter from the DMV saying that during a review of records, it had been discovered that there were two people with the same Social Security number who'd had a driver's license -- of course, those two people were my old name (listed as F) and my correct name (listed as M). In a phone call, I explained to the worker at the Records Security Division who'd written the letter that I did not intend to submit a DL-329 form, but that I would be happy to send her a copy of my legal name change decree, which I did. I also included a photocopy of my passport.

I didn't receive a response to this letter for several weeks, so I called back the person I had spoken to before. She said that I would still have to submit a DL-329 form, and that my license would be invalidated if I didn't. I asked what I was supposed to do for a driver's license if I didn't submit the form. She said they would reissue my license with an 'F' gender marker. I asked how I was expected to go to the DMV and prove I was an 'F' given that I had no current driver's license with that marker, no passport, and no other ID that has a gender marker. She said I should show my birth certificate. (Actually, for all she knew, I might already have corrected my birth certificate; I have everything I need in order to do so.) I asked when my license was going to be invalidated. She said "as soon as I send the letter saying so", but didn't say when she was going to send the letter.

Today, I got the letter shown above in the mail. Because I was able to (effectively) change my gender marker by submitting only a legal name change and copy of a corrected passport, I expect that the DMV will allow any other trans person to do the same -- otherwise, it would be unfair.

If you're familiar with the rules, you might be asking, "Tim, aren't the requirements for correcting a passport very similar to what's stated on the DL-329 form?" Yes, except for one thing: the DL-329 has separate sets of boxes for a doctor to check for "Demeanor" and "Gender identification". In both cases, the only options are "male" and "female". (There's a third set of boxes where the physician gets to choose whether your gender identification is "complete" or "transitional".) Here are some of the things that are insulting about this form:

  • The assumption that your demeanor can be different from your gender identification.
  • The assumption that your gendered "demeanor" is relevant to your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.
  • The assumption that everyone has a demeanor that is either male or female, not both, and that everyone has a gender identification that is either male or female, or not both.
  • The assumption that a medical doctor is automatically qualified to assess whether someone's "demeanor" is male or female.
  • The assumption that a department of motor vehicles should be in the business of assessing someone's "demeanor".

I see a trans-affirming primary care doctor who would have been willing and able to fill out this form correctly for me. That's not the point. What does it mean to have a "male" or "female" demeanor? Can you define that precisely? I don't think the DMV can. If I wear barrettes in my hair, does that make my demeanor "female"? If I take them out, does that change it to "male"? (Not a hypothetical question.)

Fortunately for trans Californians, you don't have to fill out this insulting form anymore; if you're required to, contact me and we'll make sure that the department is aware that you're aware that someone else was allowed a correction without filling it out, so why shouldn't you be granted the same right?

Caveats: I am not a lawyer. If you try this and your records get irreparably screwed up, it's not my fault. It's possible that the fact that I had a gap in between the period of validity of my old 'F' license, and my new 'M' license, affected things (although I don't think that should matter). With that said, I think that those who feel they are in a position to do so should start challenging the system -- this is the crack that we can pry open to break the whole oppressive system apart.

If you know anybody at a trans rights group that deals with California, you might want to let them know about this. (I've learned from experience that these groups only seem to talk to certain kinds of people, of which I am not one.) And please redistribute this post far and wide.

On Facebook, a friend noted: "a keystone of the enforcement of administrative law is not making exceptions. you know why i love exceptions? because they let you poke holes in bad policies and insulting procedures."
tim: protest sign: "Down With This Sort of Thing" (politics)
Today I stumbled upon "Categorical Exclusions: Exploring Legal Responses to Health Care Discrimination Against Transsexuals" [PDF], a 2002 article in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law by Kari E. Hong. In my opinion, the most interesting point Hong raises in her discussion of how American law enshrines anti-trans discrimination is about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Is being trans a disability? Arguably so, under the ADA's definition of "disability":

"(1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities . . .; (2) a record of such impairment; or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment."

Even from the perspective of trans activists who believe the only unpleasant thing about being trans is the marginalization that we experience by cisnormative society (a perspective I don't share), being trans qualifies under clause (3): even trans people who don't believe they have a medical condition, don't believe that "gender dysphoria" or "gender identity disorder" are real things, and don't feel they require medical intervention are regarded as "impaired" by others. Under one definition, being trans means to have one's gender and/or sex not universally recognized as valid. That means that you are regarded as impaired in an area of life that most people consider essential (having a gender and sex that are concordant and unambiguous). So at least by the ADA's standards, being trans is a disability. I don't have a problem with that, since I don't feel the need to perpetuate ableism by holding myself as superior to and apart from people who have disabilities.

Since the ADA makes it illegal for health insurance companies (as well as health care providers) to discriminate on the basis of disability, you might wonder why a significant majority of group health insurance plans in the US (and every individual health insurance plan that I know of) have specific trans exclusion clauses in their policies, which exclude coverage for what is usually -- crudely and non-clinically -- referred to as "sex transformation" or "sex changes". Actually, these clauses exclude coverage for a variety of reconstructive surgeries (mostly on the genitals, chest, or face) when trans people are having them. Often, the policy covers the very same reconstructive surgery for cis people that's excluded for trans people: for example, breast reconstruction for cis women who have had mastectomies due to breast cancer is covered (this is required by federal law), while breast reconstruction for trans women is not.

So according to the ADA, isn't this blatantly illegal discrimination? Well, no, and for that, you can thank Republican senators (at the time) William Armstrong, Orrin Hatch, and Jesse Helms, all of who were involved in introducing a heinous amendment to the ADA:

At the end of the bill, add the following:

Under this act the term `disability' does not include `homosexuality,' `bisexuality,' `transvestism,' `pedophilia,' `transsexualism,' `exhibitionism,' `voyeurism,' `compulsive gambling,' `kleptomania,' or `pyromania,' `gender identity disorders,' current `psychoactive substance use disorders,' current `'psychoactive substance-induced organic mental disorders,' as defined by DSM-III-R which are not the result of medical treatment, or other sexual behavior disorders.'

If you read Hong's article, you can find some of the despicable things that Armstrong and Helms said on the Senate floor that led to the introduction of this amendment. As Hong points out, Armstrong and Helms made no attempt to hide that their antipathy for trans people, pyromaniacs, drug users, and so on had nothing to do with evidence or medical science. I can't help thinking about much more recent controversies over Republicans like Todd Akin, who also made medical claims (that cis women who experience rape can't become pregnant) that are completely contradicted by fact. It's hard not to think that there not only hasn't been progress in the past quarter-century, but that we've gone backwards. While Armstrong's and Helms' ignorant statements could maybe, maybe be excused by the lack of widespread knowledge about and experience with trans people, Akin lacked that excuse for his asinine statements about pregnancy -- not a marginal condition, but one experienced by up to half the human population.

Because nobody in the Senate really gave a shit about trans people (not that I have any reason to think that's changed), the Armstrong-Hatch amendment passed, and continues to be law today. There are other legal bases on which somebody who was denied insurance coverage just for being trans could challenge that decision, but without some significant effort to show that the Armstrong-Hatch amendment violates the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution, the ADA won't be one of them. Then again, it does violate the Equal Protection clause, so you'd think someone would get on that.

Hong's article is ten years old; since then, I've seen very little other writing that explored a potential ADA-based challenge to trans exclusion. Recently, groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Transgender Law Center, as well as writers like Melissa Harris-Perry, have lauded how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) adds additional legal protections for trans people facing health care discrimination. However, I find these celebrations to be premature and totally misleading and harmful, since the ACA in no way addresses the core issue that trans people can be denied medical care that cis people get with no obstacles, simply because we belong to a socially stigmatized group. So long as social stigma affects the kind of health care I can access more than medical necessity does, I won't be celebrating.

Postscript: There's one thing I think Hong is totally off-base about: her assertion that trans kids shouldn't receive medical treatment. If her opinion were policy, at least one person I know probably wouldn't be alive today, and that would be bad, since I prefer her to be around. She seems to confuse reparative therapy for trans kids as practiced by Ken Zucker and supported by his pals entourage Ray Blanchard and J. Michael Bailey, cheerled by Anne Lawrence and Alice Domurat Dreger -- something that is absolutely harmful and unethical -- with treating trans kids by letting them be the gender they are. These two modalities are about as similar as antifreeze and ginger ale, but Hong seems to fall for the harmful misconception (allow me: cisconception?) that medical treatment for trans kids amounts to forcing gender roles on them. That couldn't be further from the truth, since denying medical treatment is an attempt to force a gender role on a trans child: the gender role the child was arbitrarily and coercively assigned at birth. When it comes to adults, though, I find Hong's arguments pretty sound (aside from some of the language -- like the self-contradictory phrase "biological gender" -- which reflects the standards of the time).
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I'm taking time off during a workday to write this, but damn it, if I don't, I'm just going to explode here.

About midway through 2011, when it looked like there was a good chance I was staying in California for a while, I went to get a California's driver's license. I had had a CA license before, using my former legal name. This time, I checked off male as my gender, since I had my passport with me (which I'd already had corrected) and nobody was likely to question that I was male. The worker at the DMV looked up my old records when I said I'd previously had a driver's license in CA (I didn't mention that my name was different, since he didn't ask) but he didn't find anything. A week later or so I got a new CA license in the mail.

An entire year later, I got a letter in the mail from the DMV asking me to submit a DL-329 form to change my gender, with a threat that my driver's license would be invalidated three weeks from the date of the letter if I didn't do this. (They took a year to figure out they'd made a mistake, but gave me three weeks to address the issue.) I called the number on the letter, and talked to a person who works for the Records and Security Division. She explained that because there were two entries for people with the same Social Security number but different names and genders (my old name and my new name), that looked as if there were two people using the same Social Security number. To prove that these were the same person, I sent them a copy of my legal name change decree from five years ago, as well as my passport. That was about a month ago.

Since I'm buying a car, I wanted to check that my license was still valid, so I called the person I talked to before again. She said that she had received the documents, but if I didn't submit a DL-329 form, the DMV would invalidate my current license and I would have to go get a new license with an 'F' gender marker. I asked her if it was correct that she was asking me to carry a driver's license that says I'm female, and a passport that says I'm male, and she said that was correct. I asked how she expected me to prove that I should have an 'F' gender marker, since when I went to the DMV the worker would clearly see that I present as male. She said I should bring a copy of my birth certificate. I asked if it's correct that California disregards federal law by requiring people to have a different gender on their ID than the gender on their federal government ID. She said yes.

I am not up for debating why I don't want to fill in the DL-329 form and I will delete any comments that try to argue with me about this. I don't agree with the idea that either the motor vehicle registry or a doctor is more qualified to assess whether my "demeanor" is "male" or "female" than I am. I also don't know what it means to have a "male" or "female" demeanor. If I put barrettes in my hair, does that make my demeanor "female"? I don't think the DMV or anyone who was involved in making the law that underlies this form knows what it means to have a "male" or "female" demeanor, either.

Besides that, it's sex discrimination to subject trans people to a process of having their "demeanor" assessed as male or female just to be able to drive a car (and what if your demeanor is neither male nor female?), when cis people aren't required to prove what their gender is or get a doctor's signature to prove their demeanor is male or female.

So, now I have the options of either not only not driving, but not having any government ID other than my passport; or turning in my current driver's license in exchange for one with the wrong gender on it. I honestly don't understand why California feels the need to have a definition of what gender I am that's different from the federal government's definition. (Yeah, I know legal gender doesn't actually exist and is just a name to cover up a process of institutionalized bullying -- that's sort of the point.)

I don't see why I can't just keep my driver's license the way it is, especially given that having the correct gender on my license for the past year hasn't harmed anyone.

I would like suggestions, but "ask _____", where the blank is filled in with any well-known trans rights organization, is not going to cut it. Sorry. All the organizations that I know of appear to think that the current process is just fine and there's nothing wrong with making trans people, but not cis people, fill out a DL-329 form to get correct ID. If you have actual evidence that this isn't so, please share, but otherwise, yes, it has already occurred to me to talk to whatever organization you're thinking of, and no, I don't think that's going to work. Many trans people are happy with the current system of gatekeeping and don't see a reason to change that. I just don't see why anyone should have to fill out a demeaning and dehumanizing form just to be able to drive a car or, less than that, write a check or buy liquor. And as I said, I'm not up for debating this, only for receiving practical suggestions about solving the problem at hand. As such, all comments are screened.

I'm also wondering what happens if I correct my birth certificate before going to the DMV, and thus have no documentation left to show that "proves" I'm female (let's not talk about the absurdity to have to prove something that's false in order to get a driver's license). Unfortunately, Massachusetts's requirements involve proof of what they erroneously call "sex reassignment surgery", and while I happen to have that, I don't want to tacitly approve of a system that says that having surgery changes people's sex or gender, which it doesn't do. Then again, is it a lesser evil to supply proof of surgery in order to get a correct birth certificate that I can then use to buffalo California and their unarguably more objectionable rules?
tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)
It's about 7:30 PM and I have another two or three hours to go before the northbound Coast Starlight train I'm on gets to San José. I've done all of the work, and working on the other (much huger) blog post in progress that I'm working on, that I can stand for today. You know what that means, right? It's Surgery TMI O'Clock!

Like with my first surgery post, some disclaimers apply:
  1. I like to be open even about things many people consider private, and that means I'm okay with writing about intimate details about my body and my sexuality in public. I'm okay with sharing these details with anyone who might stumble upon them. But you may not be comfortable with reading about them. I'm expecting this will mainly apply to people who know me in particular contexts.

  2. Besides the sexy stuff in here, there's also stuff that's kind of gross, so if you're made easily queasy by blood 'n gore, you might not want to read it either. Seriously, if you don't like reading about pain and some of the grosser things bodies do, don't read it.

  3. Just because I'm sharing these details doesn't mean it's okay to ask any other trans person about surgery they've had, surgery you think they may have had, surgery you think they should have, anything else about surgery, or any intimate details about their bodies that you wouldn't ask someone who wasn't trans who you knew only casually. So don't do that! We're not all alike, and I am not going to be the one who gives any cis people an excuse to ask other trans people invasive questions. In fact, there are a lot of situation in which I don't want to discuss the contents of this post, even with people who I'm comfortable having read it: in the office, in church, on VTA Light Rail, and so on. So use the same judgment you'd use when bringing up any other sensitive topic.

If this post doesn't provide TMI about how I relate to my body and about what makes me tick, sexually, then I'll have left something out that I meant to put in, and you'd better nag me about it. It's up to you whether you want to read or not, and so you can decide for yourself, here's a cut tag.

Read more... )
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
A couple weeks ago, Zoe Moyer, a student at Wellesley and writer for the Wellesley news, emailed me asking my opinion about a petition to make Wellesley admissions gender-neutral. I explained that in my opinion, Wellesley is already not a single-sex institution and the question is whether to admit people who were coercively assigned male at birth, not whether to admit men (since Wellesley already admits men, provided they were coercively assigned female at birth).

The article was published last week, but unfortunately, it appears I didn't make myself very clear in my comments, as the first part of the passage where my name is mentioned is accurate about my views, but the second part isn't. I wrote the following email to Zoe:
I'm afraid that something I wrote in my email may have
been unclear, because of this quote:

'Because transgender women are also allowed to apply to Wellesley,
Chevalier said that Wellesley "need[s] to be honest…and stop referring
to [itself] as a single-sex college.'"

The quote makes it look like I believe that trans women are not women,
and that's absolutely something I do not believe. Trans women don't
make Wellesley not-a-single-sex-college; trans *men* do. The quote
would reflect what I believe if "women" was changed to "men". Would
you mind printing a correction? I would hate for anyone to come away
from the article thinking that I said something that was so erasing of
trans women's personhood.

Anyway, I just thought I would post this here in case anyone came across the article and thought that my view is that admitting trans women (which Wellesley never does in practice, except for those women who have corrected their gender documentation and can avoid disclosing their trans status, as far as I know, so that's also a bit confusing) makes Wellesley not-single-sex.

If anyone is interested, my original reply from which the quotes from me are derived:
Read more... )
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I have an announcement to make that some people may consider TMI and which may be NSFW if text can be NS F your W. In 3 1/2 weeks, I'm having genital reconstructive surgery. I'm a person who doesn't mind sharing details about my body that many would consider rather personal. The concept of TMI has never rang very true for me (in general, I want to know everything about everybody, and it's hard to imagine being squicked by somebody else knowing something about me). However, I also believe in consent, and part of that means not foisting details about my sexuality on anybody before they have the chance to opt out. So if you are someone who plays a role in my life such that knowing very intimate details about me would make you uncomfortable -- or if you just don't care what's going on in and around my crotch -- here's your chance to opt out. Don't follow the link.
For the rest of you... )
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I cannot tell you how many times I have been told the following: “I have no problem with you people dressing however you want, and I’ll even call you ‘she’ if that’s what you want, but if you go around hitting on guys, don’t be surprised when you get what you deserve.” The threat of violence there is implied in only the loosest sense; no rational person in the threatened group would interpret that as anything but a threat. At the very least, it is condoning it as deserved.
-- Autumn Nicole Bradley, "Larry King is why L, G, B, and T are together"
Go ahead and call it abuse. Call it assault. Call it rape. If you've done a whole lot of waffling about your experience with not-very-niceness, it probably was whatever you don't want to call it. It'll give you a sense of legitimacy when you feel hurt or angry. It'll give you, and the people you disclose to, a cue to take your experiences and their impact on your life seriously. It doesn't "cheapen" anything--do you think it's wrong to call influenza "illness" because really ill people have cancer oh my god don't cheapen the I-word like that? And it'll stop you doubting or devaluing your own emotions. If you survived something painful, you're a survivor, and it's not drama but simple fact to say "I'm a survivor."
-- The Pervocracy, "Survivor"
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
It's been radio silence here for too long (there's a reason for that, which I may or may not ever get around to mentioning), but in the meantime: here, how about some comments about this article by Jennifer Boylan that I posted on a closed forum? I don't have permission to repost other people's comments, so this will look a little disjointed, but hopefully gets across some stuff I've been thinking about lately.

I'm kind of perplexed at why a trans woman (or trans man, for that matter) would use "transgender" as a noun or imply that trans people "change their gender". But I hope that was due to bad editing.
The problem is that in the NY Times article (I read _She's Not There_, it was a long time ago, so I don't remember much), she's *not* just making a statement about herself. She's saying that transsexuals are "(individuals who change, or wish to change, their gender via medical intervention" -- not *her*. *All* transsexuals. To me, that's profoundly offensive, because I'm transsexual (not transgender), but I have never changed my gender, nor could I if I wanted to; rather, what makes me transsexual in public -- or, what I actually prefer terminologically, a man with a transsexual body -- is that I'm someone whose sex and gender are not universally accepted as valid. And what makes me transsexual in private is that I have a morphological sex, and a neurological sex -- just like everyone else -- but unlike most people, these two sexes aren't on the same side; so, "trans" (across) and not "cis" (on the same side).

(For the "public" definition, I credit Queen Emily at Questioning Transphobia: http://www.questioningtran​sphobia.com/?p=3865 )
There is a new set of definitions going around that I like, but don't always use since it confuses people, that says that "transsexual" is more or less what I said above, but "transgender" refers to a person who has articulated more than one dialect of gender over the course of their life. So actually, what Boylan characterized as "transsexual" would then be "transgender"! Now, it's ok that she uses those definitions, but she should have been clear that definitions around trans terminology are controversial and in flux, and that she speaks for herself, not the entire community. It's unfortunate that every time a trans person opens their mouth, they have to prefix disclaimers like that, but it's reality, and what happens when they don't add disclaimers is that a very, very narrow sector of the trans community (trans women who are white and who at least pre-transition are socially and financially successful and who transition in their forties or later) ends up doing all the speaking for everyone.
Unfortunately, it's not obvious to everyone that everyone's lived experience is different -- somehow, it seems like the more marginalized you are, the more other people are willing to generalize about your experience. Nothing drives this point home like having one doctor ask you "How long have you felt like a man trapped in a woman's body?" (well, gee, I thought I was in my body -- if I'm in a woman's body, where is she and is she pissed off that I'm using it?) and another doctor ask you "Do you have sex like a boy or like a girl?" (the question-asker in the latter case was trans, and should have known better).

So it really can't hurt to say "but everyone's lived experience is different". Of course, what Boylan did with her questionable definitions was different than that -- she didn't just talk about herself while forgetting to say that she doesn't speak for everyone, she actually said something offensive and false about people who aren't her.

I also don't agree that "ever splintering identity politics" is limiting the civil rights advances that can be made. I get suspicious when people start using the phrase "identity politics", because mainstream politics is identity politics (the Tea Party is identity politics for white cis men who identity as heterosexual), but it normally doesn't get labelled that way. "Identity politics" really means "identity politics for people whose identities I think aren't too important", so it's kind of othering and it's term I tend not to use.

What I think is limiting the civil rights advances that can be made for trans people is that a lot of people hate and fear us and don't want us to have rights, because if trans people get rights, cis people lose the ability to feel better about themselves by virtue of being gender-normative.
I'm probably not communicating very well, because I've failed to communicate that my issues with Boylan's definitions aren't peripheral squabbles -- they are central to the trans liberation movement, and show how she's actually undermining it. I don't think her undermining is entirely unintentional, either. But I'll explain.

The fundamental struggle that people like me are fighting is against coercive assignment, for autonomous definition. (I'm borrowing that formulation from a friend, I didn't come up with it.) When Boylan says that people like me change our gender, she's saying that the genders we were coercively assigned at birth are real; that to be recognized for the genders we autonomously define ourselves as, we first have to submit to a process of "change". But I reject that -- the gender I was coercively assigned at birth was never real in the first place.

Every struggle in the trans liberation movement -- equal access to health care, employment rights, the deregulation of gender (i.e. getting that little 'M' or 'F' off your driver's license), and ending violence against us, to name a few -- relies on rejecting the cis world's attempts to coercively assign us. So we can never win by accepting terminology like that advanced by Boylan (and not only Boylan) -- if we accept that, we accept that we have no rights. We accept that what we were coercively assigned is what we *are*.

And if we accept that, we can't claim that we have the right to health care. How can we claim that if we're whimsical eccentrics trying to defy what we *truly* *are* (as opposed to people who have the right to live as who we are, like everyone else)? We can't claim that we have the right to employment, because if we're trying to "be a different gender", that's simply a whim that indicates our likely mental stability, and employers would be totally fair if they didn't employ us. We certainly can't claim that we have the right to have government-issued ID that reflects who we are, as then we're just talking about some fiction in our heads rather than the reality of what we were coercively assigned. Finally, we can't do anything to defend ourselves from violence because we can't say we're in a particularly oppressed class of people -- after all, under this regime, we're all free to stop trying to "change" reality (which is to say, the truths that were imposed on us by force) and be who we *really* are, which would free us from such violence.

So I don't take issue with Boylan over petty details. I take issue with her because she doesn't accept the same basic principles I do, and those basic principles are the foundation for any claim I have to civil rights. Unless this was all merely an editing error, she is not "my people", as people who make statements that deny that I am who I am are not "my people". And Ms. Boylan doesn't get to write off my struggles just because she's pretty, thin, transitioned after attaining financial and personal success while passing as her coercively assigned gender, and fits the standard narrative. That's why the NY Times picked her as a spokesperson for all of trans-kind, but it doesn't give her the authority to decide that everything that would actually make it possible for me to live my life is just a matter of petty "identity politics" (again, a silencing term).

If this isn't legible, I'm not sure what more I could say that would clear things up, but I do recommend the post I already linked to once (I think?) -- http://www.questioningtran​sphobia.com/?p=3865 -- as well as, for general background, all of the posts listed in the "Trans 101" sidebar on the main page at http://www.questioningtran​sphobia.com/

‎(Just one postscript -- I feel like it's misleading to characterize a disagreement between folks like Boylan who are happy with the existing definitions of sex and gender and simply want to modify them slightly to allow for a "change of gender", whatever that means, and folks like me who reject those definitions entirely as based on incoherent double standards, as "infighting". That implies that all parties in the debate have the same amount of power. But Boylan clearly has the upper hand here -- her views are much more satisfactory to the larger power structure, thus she's being published in the NY Times, where you aren't going to say the words of, say, Lisa Harney, Julia Serano, Talia Bettcher, or Viviane Namaste. So really, throwing around terms like "infighting" or "identity politics" is just another way of denying privilege.)
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
When I read essays like this one, it makes me want to give up on software, give up on academia, and spend the rest of my life communicating these concepts. And acting on them.

Just so you know.

Tobi Hill-Meyer has proposed what I think is the only really plausible and useful definition of transness which presumes that trans people are as real and authentic as cis, which is: a trans person is someone whose sex/gender is not universally recognised as valid. Other definitions premised on a transition “from” one sex to another unwittingly reify cis sexes as static and homogenous sets of physical and emotional characteristics and behaviours. This premise of binary sexes is both inaccurate – point to almost any characteristic and there’s exceptions which are not considered trans – and arbitrary, repressing the diversity of human sex and gender morphologies, histories and behaviours.


What we currently have is an intellectual failure, a failure to truly include the totality of human sex and gender expression in our cultural imaginary, a failure to truly consider trans men as men, trans women as women, and non-binaries as whatever particular sex-gender they live their lives as. There would be no need for “trans” to mark our invalidation then, because we would have already been included in the definitions of “real” from the start. Because we’re not copies.
-- Queen Emily, "When am I trans?


Jun. 9th, 2011 08:30 pm
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
"You built a relationship with an imaginary person, and it didn't go so well. You're sad because you're realizing your imaginary son was just that. Congratulations on developing a real relationship with a real person, that's really cool!"

-- Reddit user "windowful", challenging the "It was like my son died and I got a daughter instead / It was like my daughter died and was replaced with a son" trope that parents of trans kids sometimes call upon

This needs to be said more often. Like a lot more often.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I've been doing some eyerolling about news coverage of Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, the parents who chose not to disclose the geography of their infant's genitalia to the world at large. Starting, and largely ending, with the headlines: "Parents keep child's gender under wraps". They're not keeping their child's gender a secret. They don't know what their child's gender is yet, as the assumption that external genitals precisely determine neurological sex has been empirically proven false. They're doing the loving thing and doing what's best for the child whether or not their child is cissexual or transsexual -- rather than doing what most parents do (albeit because they may not know any better) and doing what's best for an idealized, cissexual version of their child rather than their actual child.

I've also been eyerolling a bit about the internets comments that insist that the child is missing something crucial by not having strangers know whether ze has a penis or a vagina. I mean, seriously? How is an 18-month-old affected by whether others know details about hir genitalia, exactly? By the time the child is old enough to be aware of what it means to be assumed to be a boy, or to be a girl, ze will be able to verbalize whether ze is a boy, a girl, or something else. And at that point, hir parents will respect and affirm hir choice, whether or not it coincides with hir assigned sex at birth -- a privilege that all children should have.

For the rest, I'll quote a comment that was posted on Reddit, since it says what I would say but more succinctly (emphasis original):
Everything about the middle boy's remarks — that is, Jazz's remarks — sounds of his own volition, his own determinism, and his own learning process. What he is learning empirically (indeed, a very early chance at learning what many cis people never do) is that it isn't his articulation of gender that is hegemonic; it's that of the world around him.
He is consciously learning bright and early that you can and will be punished by others for articulating oneself instinctively (i.e., "just being yourself") — just like the lyrics in songs you hear growing up (such as "Free to Be . . . You and Me", which itself even has hegemony unconsciously embedded in the lines "Every boy in this land grows to be his own man / In this land, every girl grows to be her own woman"; we obviously know now that this isn't universally true and never will be universally true; or more accurately, we know that every girl or boy, if making that determination by one's body only, does not universally grow up to be a woman or man, respectively). Just like Andy Samberg emphatically saying that his "dad is not a [cell] phone"," Jazz is learning that pink is not a gender: it is a colour. And he likes that colour on his person. Were this before World War II, no one would have batted an eyelash at him.
And Jazz is also learning that people are programmed by this hegemony that they enforce when they scold him for going with what works well for him, not with what works for them. People know what they're doing when they "police" the articulation of others and how to "police" others, but when you confront them on the question of why — and disallowing the lazy response "This is how it's meant to be" — you witness the breakdown of that hegemonic (il)logic.
Storm, meanwhile, is receiving the novel opportunity that every single trans person I have ever known would have wanted: the agency of self-consent (aka., the elective option to assert a non-elective part of oneself, or choice). That is, trans people have only wanted one thing early on: the autonomy and independent decision making to sort out whether one's neurological sex is on the same side as one's morphological (body) sex — and, by extension, whether the grammatical rules of gender ascribed to people's body morphologies (i.e., feminine for vaginas, masculine for penises) instinctively works for them or not. Those rules of gender exist wholly and independently of both biology and morphology (shape).
Trans people, as a consequence, are punished twice: first, for not being empowered with this autonomy of self-consent; and then punished even harder later for sorting it all out. Social "policing" is always gentle at first (e.g., enforcement through cues of colour and application of when and how to use gendered pronouns) and only gets tougher and more punitive as one's life progresses (e.g., severe beatings at McDonalds, fatal beatings in intimate settings, firings at workplaces, disenfranchisement of citizen rights while still being subject to citizen responsibilities (i.e., discrimination)).
These kids are learning invaluable lessons on life within a social context and putting together the riddle of gender (answer hint: "it's a language"). They are already light years ahead of most adults in understanding this stuff. Wisdom is powerful and, thus, wisdom is going to be threatening and scary to many others who don't understand it.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Here's a comment that was posted on Reddit in response to Jake Pecht's article "I Am Smith And I Am Male". I'm reposting it with permission, but the author would prefer to remain anonymous.

At Smith, my face and female body is invisible, transparent, complementary. My medical records say I have a transsexual body. And because of this, my voice is inaudible and irrelevant in Northampton, in Wellesley, in Oakland, and so on. And also because of this, my mind and presence are unwelcome and unheard.

Smith, et al., can "la la la la can't hear you la la la la you non-cis women don't exist" towards trans women all they want. They can assert that trans women are not women. This position, however, cannot be reified, and it cannot last ad infinitum without the internalized misogyny of this tack eventually, in absence of a defusing, blowing up in their face. I think the detonator at this point has to come from our trans brothers to mobilize, to man (or tran) up, and announce the (non-)policy on its face as a farce. Then walk out with their cohort allies and see what remains of their student body count left behind. That's a lot of tuition revenue they stand to lose. The provosts would have to capitulate or fold (from loss of revenue). I doubt the latter would be permitted by alumnae to actually happen.

This actually doesn't affect me directly. I earned a bachelor degree from another institution, where I was female when applied (with prior transcripts also listing female) and female when conferred cum laude. I attended one of the best schools in the world, despite plenty of barriers asserting that, as a trans woman, I would never get so far as university. My alma mater's gain was the Sisters' loss, because I had been looking at two of those schools carefully (Smith was not one of them) before I started to apply.

It was not a sex-segregated institution like Smith or the other Sister holdouts. The policies of these morphological/body sex-segregated colleges, however, are not gender-segregated — even if for now the notion of letting trans men hosting potential applicants gives them cold feet. These schools allow for the masculine articulation of gender (and the social identities affirmed therefrom) in their students; allow them to continue with and complete their studies; and allow them to exist in these spaces as active participants who constitute part of the college's student body.

These colleges allow for this articulation of masculine dialects because they, quite plainly, neither recognize nor respect that trans men are men, are male, and might also be masculine. These colleges regard (with a wink and nod) that these men are "still" women.

This cognitive dissonance may be the most insulting aspect to this blanket exclusion of (known)† trans women at these American women-only colleges: the continued inclusion of trans men in these self-governed, female-only-enforced campuses undermines their emergent manhood and invalidates their encephalic/neurological sex as male. The schools cannot have it both ways without that cognitive dissonance to erupt.

The eruption has to come from these guys and their female cohort allies, or we as trans people, writ large, are not going to make a lot of progress on being recognized at face value for who we are. Institutions and estates (like the media) have to be on-side by eradicating exceptions of treatment and distinction of trans people. Exception clauses undermine all of us — (trans) men and (trans) women alike.

[† Trans women certainly exist as students at these women's colleges (as in, I know actual trans women who are or have been enrolled — not by some hypothetical abstraction of "existing"). They are not known to the colleges as anything other than cisgender women with cissexual bodies, and for these institutions to try to "sniff out" these transsexual bodies would create the most bizarre paradox: a de facto witch hunt on a women's college campus.]
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
According to Chaz Bono, testosterone makes you more interested in gossip and less interested in listening to women talk:
“No, really. There is something in testosterone that makes talking and gossiping really grating. I’ve stopped talking as much. I’ve noticed that Jen can talk endlessly.” He shrugged. “I just kind of zone out.”

“You just don’t care!”

“I just don’t care!” He laughed. “
Now, maybe Chaz was misquoted. (Entirely possible, since the rest of the article is a catalog of almost every misconception about trans people, only some of which the author places in a position where they can even be questioned.) Or maybe he was only joking (and it's okay to say anything, no matter how retrogressive, as long as you call it a joke, right?)

A certain category of trans people, like Chaz Bono in the above quote, or a certain famous trans man author who titled his memoir after the hormone in question, like to grossly oversimplify complex socially and culturally mediated phenomena by attributing them to the action of a single hormone. The latter author even went so far as to claim that taking testosterone gave him an understanding of why cis men commit rape -- funny, I always thought that rape culture had something to do with that, and that that's something that anyone prepared to think critically about people and social structures of domination can understand, without any need for a shot in the ass. Likewise, a certain category of cis people -- those who are attached in a death-grip to that form of gender essentialism which simultaneously claims that gender is unimportant and that it's so incredibly important that you have to force yourself to be the gender you were assigned at birth -- like to claim that because sex hormones don't have any effects on people that can't be explained socially or culturally, that when trans people take hormones and subjectively experience psychological changes, this is solely explained by their expectations that hormones will change their subjective experiences. It's all in their heads, in other words.

It would be victim-blaming to claim a causal relationship between the actions of the first group and the reactions of the second group. It's wrong for any cis person to dismiss a trans person's lived experience because it's ideologically incorrect. When your ideology can't explain someone's reality, the answer isn't to tell the person their experiences aren't real, but rather to revise your ideology.

If a person not of trans experience hears what someone like Chaz Bono says, notices correctly that it's ridiculous, and concludes that it's just as ridiculous to think that trans people's quality of life improves when their brain gets the right mix of hormones, that would reflect on them. Even so, I still want him to stop saying ridiculous things -- because chalking up your character flaws to a hormone trivializes the very real and positive consequences of liberation from being poisoned by one's own body. And because when you claim that testosterone has anything to do with why men rape, or why they don't listen to women, you give men a license to be awful. What else are you going to do? Put anti-androgens in the water?

There's very little difference between the quotation that I started with and chromosomal essentialism. Both are misappropriations of scientific-sounding terminology to erase the social, cultural and political meaning of a given situation. Trans people, though, should know better; they should know that who you are doesn't reduce to a particular hormonal configuration (otherwise, there would be no trans people), and it's merely true that having the right hormonal configuration for your neurology allows you to be more fully who you are. So, trans men of the world, if you want to be a misogynist, can you do that on behalf of yourself and not on behalf of everyone with belly hair? "Lack of respect for women" does not belong next to "hair loss" and "sensitivity to sunlight" on the FDA warning label.
Postscript: Like seemingly every mainstream media article about trans men, or a trans man (there's a difference?) that I've ever read, this one repeats 1970s-era assertions about the quality of genital reconstruction surgery for trans men as if they're reality. There are some serious issues with access to surgery (circularly, rhetoric about how functional the results of genital reconstruction aren't makes it easier for insurers to write off said treatment as "cosmetic"), and some shortcomings, it's true. But I can't help thinking that there's something politically risky about actually admitting reality: that more and more trans men are able to get surgery that gives them adult-sized penises and the capability to get erections, have orgasms, and (not that that's the be-all and end-all) penetrate somebody during sex. It is, I think, scary for some people to throw away the cherished belief that if anyone could get a penis, then everyone would want one. Surprisingly, some people (women) are just happier the other way around. I don't get it either, but it doesn't scare me and I don't feel the need to deny reality as a result.

Post(postscript): Guys of trans history, can you also stop claiming you know what it's like to see the world from "both sides"? You don't know what it's like to be a woman -- you know what it's like to be a man with a testosterone deficiency. You might think the chicks will dig your sensitive shit, but it's really just embarrassing.
tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)
Hey, guys!

You know the popular figure of speech where you use "person with a Y chromosome" as a synonym for "man", and "person with two X chromosomes" as a synonym for "woman"? Examples of such sentences might include: "Even though I have a Y chromosome, you might be surprised to learn that I think rape is bad," or "As someone with two X chromosomes, I'm here to tell you that I like sex."

Such statements are generally not descriptive, since most people have not been karyotyped. (Though if you have been, then more power to you! At least your remarks are factual.) They are even less likely to be descriptive if you're talking about somebody else. Unless you are a doctor, you probably have not, personally, tested anyone's blood to determine whether they have a matched pair of Xes. Moreover, such figures of speech do not take into account people whose chromosomal types are XO, XXX, XXY, XXXY, or XYY, much less XXes and XYes whose karyotype does not match the anatomical sex that an observer would likely impute to them at birth. Yes, just for the record: people with a Y chromosome have been known to become pregnant and give birth, while (statistically) a few thousand Americans have male genitalia and two X chromosomes apiece.

So what you're really saying when you say "She has two X chromosomes..." is, "I have made the observation that I believe her presentation to be female, and from that -- based on received knowledge -- I've deduced that she has two X chromosomes." You might as well just say that she appears to be presenting as a woman, no?

No -- because the work that your remark is doing is not just to communicate that you believe the target of your attention to be a woman; it's also reinforcing the belief that for each person, there exists a single, objectively measurable sex, which is always male or female, and which may differ from that person's internal sense of who they are. In other words, it's reinforcing the believe that trans people have a "true sex" that's different from the sex they intrinsically know themselves to be, while cis people just are men or women; no need for auxiliary phrases like "identify as".

Ever since this particular ideology -- that of biological essentialism -- was established (which actually wasn't all that long ago -- modern medical technology caused more pressure to "correct" intersex people's bodies in order that they might not live to contradict the ideology of objectively measurable, binary sex), cis people have had a number of privileges. For one, a cis person has the privilege of killing their sexual partner if the partner is trans and the cis person claims their partner failed to reveal their "true sex", so-called. For another, people who run health insurance companies can save money by denying trans people health care and claiming that having developed with anatomy that doesn't match your internal mental map of your body is a lifestyle choice. There are a variety of other ways in which people whose lives conform to an essentialist worldview can dominate those who don't, as I've written about before.

It's not like people ever got together to invent essentialism and decided to promulgate it by, in a centralized, coordinated fashions, encouraging people to say things like "My ovaries hurt today! I wish I had a Y chromosome." Broad social patterns can arise from local phenomena, like one person finding a particular turn of phrase useful and repeating it. And every time someone says something like, "Of course I love porn -- I have a Y chromosome," that reproduces essentialism one more time and gives it additional power. Language matters; how people think affects what people do. From essentialism, violence against trans people follows. If not for the belief that there is some innate, measurable, immutable characteristic about each person -- instantly observable by everyone (if you're cis) and everyone but yourself (if you're trans) -- that determines their sex, the trans panic defense wouldn't exist. We would have to accept that it's coercive to tell your child that they're a boy or a girl before they're old enough to tell you. We might even have to start asking everyone we meet what their preferred pronoun is -- or start using gender-neutral pronouns. (I like "they"/"them"/"their".)

You might argue that the number of women who don't have two X chromosomes, and the number of men who don't have a Y chromosome, is small. So small that there's no need for you to revise your language on account of such a small group. In reality, the size of a given minority group in question is nearly irrelevant when we're talking about language that erases that group. You know how it was once acceptable to use "he" as a generic pronoun, because the argument went that it was understood that "he" referred to both men and women -- even though you'd never say "If a person is pregnant, then he should take folic acid?" Now, of course, such language is only acceptable if you're George F. Will: most of us understand that when you use "he" this way, you send a covert (or not-so-covert, anymore) message that the default sort of human is a man, and womanhood is defined as a variation on a basic, default, masculine template. Likewise, when you ignore trans and intersex "exceptions", you send a covert message that trans and intersex people aren't really people, that they're "mistakes" or "deviations" -- irregular goods by-products of the manufacture of normal (cissexual) humans.

Thus, casual throwing about, by non-life-scientists, of "chromosome" talk doesn't lend a scientific veneer to any conversation -- quite the opposite. It says that you're a person to whom personal opinions about how the world should be -- namely, the value judgment that non-binary-sexed humans are mistakes -- are more important than observing the world as it is. The belief that an intersex person is a mistake -- is less of a typical, exemplary human than a cis, non-intersex person is -- will eventually, no doubt, be seen the same way we now view the researcher who wrote a 1981 paper on the (quote) "Abnormal Sexual Behavior" of female long-eared hedgehogs. We now see that a scientist who classifies the behavior they observe (whether it's lesbian hedgehogs or Friday night in the Castro) as "abnormal" is one who cannot be objective, as they have allowed their particular culture's norms to blind them to universal truth. Someday, the day will come when we look at the sorting of cissexuals into the "normal" bin, and transsexuals and intersex people into the "deviations" bin, as just as ideologically driven as slut-shaming a hedgehog. And that day can't come soon enough. When that day comes, we will no longer identify ourselves and each other by a biological marker that means little more to most of us than a reification of purely social conventions. Just as those of us who think women get to be human too try to avoid addressing a group that isn't entirely male as "You guys!", those of us who think that we get to be human whether or not we were born cissexual try not to repurpose perfectly good scientific terms to do political work that we don't even endorse. No, I'm not reaching when I make this comparison. In both cases ("you guys!" and "has two X chromosomes"), the usage of language is predicated on the assumption that there's a particular subset of humans (women, in the first case; trans women and some intersex people, in the second) that just isn't worth mentioning.

If you find all of these sentiments to be politically correct fascism, then you're not in the audience for this essay; I'm only addressing people who want to be respectful, more than that, express what they mean without causing genuine harm (as opposed to offense). I'm not telling you what to say -- I'm only offering food for thought for those who do care about how what they say affects other people's lives. If you do feel like all of this is politically correct pedantry or like you're being told what to do, stop reading now!

The rest of us want to stop using language that erases people, language that renders groups of people invisible. We can disagree with each other, can fight for what we think is right, but outright denying that a person or a whole group doesn't exist is worse than meanness. Being oppressed is worse than having somebody be rude or mean to you. So I hope that when you learn that words you've been using, with no intent to offend, have the effect of reinforcing social structures that make people invisible, you'll stop.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Another Wellesley alum who came out as being a guy after graduation, Warren Kunce '08, posted a video reacting to the recent news. I particularly liked his comments from 3:44-5:58 in the video, as follows:

"The admissions office at Wellesley has decided that that is either too confusing for a prospective student, or somehow the interview would be made all about me and my transition. Which is really insulting, by the way, that, like, I am an intelligent human being. I do know what the purpose of the interview is. I do know how to make an interview not be about myself. It's just this whole idea that the interview would be more about me than about the student is frankly, just absurd. It's insulting as well.... It first of all assumes that, one, that I would be comfortable talking about being trans and my transition, which, depending on the situation, I probably won't be. I mean, the whole thing can be taken care of in two sentences, like: "Hello, yes, I'm transgender, I transitioned to male after I was at Wellesley College, but this interview is about you, not about me, so let's go ahead. You know? This is not difficult. I'm not going to sit with a prospective student, a stranger who's 17 years old, who I don't know, and talk to them about, like, my gender identity and my transition. That's so inappropriate, so inappropriate. Why would I do that?

The only reason I can think of for us to spend any time at all talking about my gender identity is if the student was trans and wanted to know: as a trans person, how will it be at Wellesley? Will it be okay for me to transition at Wellesley? In which case I think I would be the perfect alum to be having this interview with the student. This whole policy, not letting trans alumni do the prospective interviews, also assumes that the prospective student is not transgender, which is not cool."

Warren, if you're reading this, thanks for saying this! Someone had to call out just how ridiculous the idea that someone who was trans would automatically make the interview about himself, and to me it was so absurd that I couldn't even address it head-on. It bounced right off my absurdity filter.

In other news, here's a story about the Smith student I mentioned who's being denied the role of hosting prospective students. As well, notes from a Bryn Mawr alum who's trying to get them to state a clear policy on trans women as applicants, featuring this bureaucratic gem from their admissions office: "If it is not clear that an applicant to the College is female, we would approach the situation on an individual basis to gain a better understanding of the student's circumstances." (I assume this means panty-checks?)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
For the current or former students / faculty / staff out there, tomorrow (May 2) is your last chance to sign the petition being circulated by current students; if you agree with the text at that link, then email Sarah Ditmars - sditmars at wellesley -- with your name and status (e.g. class year for alums).

I don't have much else that's new except to express some puzzlement at the comments I've been reading in the blogosphere to the effect that "Wellesley is not a historically women's college" or "Wellesley should not become a historically women's college". Well, that bird has flown, as far as I can tell, unless it's possible to be a "women's college" and graduate men. I've said all this before, but: trans men don't "become" men by transitioning, they are born male and live as boys or men for their entire lives, even though their gendered presentation may vary during the course of their life (the same as for everyone else!) and their level of conscious awareness of that fact may vary.

So, the fact that Wellesley is not a women's college is not up for debate. The question is how the administration narrates the story that justifies an (unstated) policy of considering applications from some men, but not others. I don't have an opinion on whether Wellesley should admit cis men -- I just think that if they're going to admit trans men but not cis men, they have to know the reasons why. If the policy is "we admit all people who self-identify as women at the time of application, and graduate anyone who's accepted and who fulfills graduation requirements," great! And if that is their policy, then they ought to have no problem whatsoever explaining to the public that they have alums who are men. Other reasonable policies are imaginable. But continuing to insist on the "women's college" label disrespects the inalienable right to be the final arbiter of one's own identity, for those students and alums who are male -- and really, for everyone, since when you take away that right from one person, you're saying it's not a universal human right and thus calling it into question for everyone.

In re-reading the Admissions office's statement, and discussing it with others, I continue to reflect on how the author seems to be trying very hard -- without actually saying so -- to make it seem as if my desire (as stated in the previous two paragraphs) for a reality-based discussion is the reason why they did not wish for me to interview prospectives. But, of course, nothing of the sort is true, since they made that decision while having one (1) unit of information about me: my gender. My opinions never entered into it, since they didn't ask for my opinions, or indeed, anything else!
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Well, I'm on the front page of the Wellesley News this week -- here's the article (PDF). This is an ephemeral URL that will go away once the Wellesley News updates their site, so save a copy if you want to have one.

I thought that Lesley Thulin did a great job with the article. None of the Admissions Office staff were willing to comment on-the-record, but there was a fascinating comment from an anonymous Admissions Office staffer who said (column 4, page 2), among other things, that the admissions office had a climate of discouraging any mention of Wellesley's LGBTQ community to prospective students and their families.

To the extent that that anonymous source's perception is accurate, it's unfortunate that the administration doesn't align itself with Wellesley's student and faculty population in showing pride for the LGBTQ community at Wellesley, rather than distancing itself from it. And amusingly, by doing their best to try to make me shut up and go away, the admissions office has attracted way more negative publicity than they would have done by just letting me do an interview.

I love my alma mater, but the decisions made by the admissions office are cowardly.

If you would like to add your name to the petition being organized by current students, you can see the text of it at http://docs.com/BO71 and email Sarah Ditmars -- sditmars (domain name is what you'd expect) to add yourself. You should include your affiliation with the college (presumably for most people who haven't already signed on, that'll be "Class of [whatever]"). I didn't write the petition and if I had, I would have asked for something less strong (to wit, a statement of discrimination, with reasons why, or of non-discrimination), but I do support what it says.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
One of my informers kindly forwarded me the following statement, which was posted on Wellesley's internal Official Announcements bulletin board today:
I write to offer some clarification in response to the discussion regarding a decision by the Admission Office not to allow a transgendered male alum to serve as an interviewer. The decision in this case was influenced by our tradition of having women serve as alumnae interviewers. The question raised in this discussion is whether this decision was based on a policy of not permitting transgendered alums to interview prospective students. The answer is: no, because no such policy exists.

We have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, and the recent discussions have reemphasized the importance of ensuring that we welcome the participation of all alums in all volunteer activities and admission outreach programs, including the opportunity to interview prospective students. We do value the diversity of experiences that our volunteer interviewers bring to the interview.

An important component of the admission interview is that a prospective student leaves with a clear understanding of the value of attending a women’s college. One thing we do insist on is that the interviewer strongly support and articulate the College’s commitment to being a women’s college.

Beyond this specific point, our community would benefit from a broad discussion of various ways in which the inclusion of transgendered students—and alums—has an impact on our institutional identity as a women’s college and our current practices. President Bottomly, my Senior Staff colleagues, the Alumnae Association, and I look forward to these important discussions with the community.

Jennifer Desjarlais
Dean of Admission and Financial Aid
Wellesley College

I find this statement to be an example of the kind of communication that is intended to obfuscate rather than to clarify. I also find it to be a non-response to what students, alums and faculty are asking for, and to what happened. With the least important point first, "transgendered" is a word I have never used to describe myself, and is an objectionable word to apply to transgender and transsexual people. Joanne Herman, among others, has explained why. "Transgender" is an okay word, but I don't use it to describe myself; I'm transsexual. (That's an adjective, by the way; referring to someone in a way that turns an adjective into a noun is rarely respectful.)

The statement suggests, but does not say explicitly, that no alum who was trans would be allowed to serve as a volunteer interviewer. This suggests, contrary to what the statement does say explicitly, that there is a policy. Wellesley just doesn't want to take responsibility for that policy by stating it as such.

The decision to ask me not to serve as an interviewer could not possibly have been made on the basis of a belief that I would not "strongly support and articulate the College’s commitment to being a women’s college", as this statement insinuates but doesn't say outright, because no one bothered to find out whether I would "strongly support and articulate the College’s commitment to being a women’s college." As I've said in previous posts (which, of course, I published after the decision in dispute was made), to me, saying that Wellesley is a women's college is like saying that the sky is green. It's not something that should be controversial. Whether Wellesley graduates two men in each class or 200, it's not a women's college as long as the number is greater than zero.

On the whole, the administration's response is disappointing and I'll continue to be involved in whatever way is appropriate to ask them to be accountable for their decisions. It's what current students want, and it's what's morally right.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

December 2018

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