tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
This is a lightly edited version of some Facebook posts I wrote in July 2017.

In response to the current regime's attempts to purge trans people from the military, "I think everyone should be banned from serving in the military" is a terrible take. If you're cis, and you're saying this, your rhetoric is de-centering trans people and we're going to assume that's not an accident. If you want to criticize US imperialism and militarism, you can do that without hijacking discussion of how the current regime is purging trans people from the public sphere.

Don't be the kind of "ally" who is so uncomfortable centering the needs of the people you claim to support that you derail every trans-centered conversation with "okay, but what if we talked about something that also affects cis people"? This is very similar to when men say "but men get sexually assaulted too" to derail discussions about sexual assault against women. It's not that the statement is false. It's just that the context in which It's used does the word of silencing certain types of conversations.

I think it's fine to choose not to serve in the military because you are anti-imperialism. I have made the same choice for myself. When trans people are banned, we don't really get to make that choice the way cis people do. We deserve to be able to make genuine moral choices and face the consequences, as autonomous moral agents.

In American culture, military service confers a sense of belonging and social integration for many people and denying trans people access to that is an abusive isolation tactic. Again, it's not a form of belonging I choose to affiliate with, but that's because I have the privilege of formal education, a professional job, and other ways to show I'm part of society.

I don't have to support anything about the military to think it's unfair to ask trans people to go first when it comes to foreswearing it. Keeping out trans people does literally nothing to weaken the military-industrial complex: the military would be over if all cis people refused to serve. At the same time that it has no practical effect when it comes to stopping imperialism, it does have a genuine practical effect when it comes to denigrating trans people and encouraging abuse of trans people.

We don't get to choose whether the military exists, in the short term. We do get to choose between addressing the concrete negative effects that the military ban has on all trans people's lives, versus embracing purity and the symbolic value of disavowing involvement with the military.
It matters whether trans people are excluded from public life. When you say that the military ban is a "distraction" from some mythical "real issue", you tell us that you don't think our lives matter and that you think we're disposable. You can be an ally by saying, "I don't think this is a distraction. I think it matters that the regime is targeting an incredibly vulnerable group of people for more harm, which appears to be a first step towards exterminating that group. Trans people are important to me and I don't want to listen to you tell me that they don't matter."
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
"The Ridiculous Straight Panic Over Dating a Transgender Person", Samantha Allen for The Daily Beast (2017-11-04). What it says on the tin.

"How to Change Your Life in One Second Flat", Katherine Schafler for Thrive Global (2017-11-07). Some judgy "be in the present moment"-ism here, but I still like the formulation (from Maya Angelou) of the four questions we're all asking each other all the time.

"The Psychological Link Between Trauma And Work Addiction", Drake Baer for Thrive Global (2017-11-09). I don't see how "work addiction" can be anything but metaphorical, but it's a good article nonetheless:

Like any problematic repetitive behavior, being addicted to work, validation, or success is an issue with lots of factors and possible treatments. In Hungry Ghosts, Maté distinguishes between contingent and genuine self esteem. The bigger the void that people feel, the greater the urge to get themselves noticed, and the greater the compulsion to acquire status. Genuine self-esteem, on the other hand, “needs nothing from the outside”—it’s a sense of feeling worthwhile, regardless of your accomplishments.

A thread on the second adolescence of queer adulthood from [twitter.com profile] IamGMJohnson (2017-11-10):
Many of us who are LGBTQ go through a second adolescence because our first (5-18 yo) is about suppressing identity.

So when we do get into our 20's we make A LOT of mistakes that most attribute to younger people because we never got to be younger people in our true identity.

Suffice to say, If you are LGBTQ don't be so hard on yourself if your life doesn't mirror the heterosexual timeline of love, marriage, career, and kids because many of your years were stolen from you. So take time to live them.

"When Your Childhood Gender Transition Is in Google Searches Forever", Katelyn Burns for Splinter (2017-11-15). Also what it says on the tin.

"Hit by 'Trans-Friendly' Fire", gendermom (2017-11-21). Two journalists interviewed a mom of a trans kid, and you won't believe what happened next.
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)

  • I'm not transgender as in "we need cis allies", I'm transsexual as in "fuck you".
  • I'm not bisexual as in "here's my 5000-word thinkpiece on why that doesn't mean I'm not attracted to non-binary people", I'm pansexual as in "I don't eliminate potential partners based on their gender".
  • I'm not "gay" as in happy, I'm queer as in "fuck you".
  • I'm not liberal as in "universal acceptance and inclusion is possible while including fascists and white supremacists", but rather, anarcho-communist as in understanding what the Paradox of Tolerance means.
  • I'm not poly and kinky as in "understand my bizarre tendencies", I'm poly and kinky as in "almost everyone's conceptions of family and sexuality would benefit from radical change."
  • I'm not mentally ill as in "I need to be changed into a different person from who I am", I'm neuroatypical as in "other people need to accept the person who I am."

Go forward, do no harm, and take no shit.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
In light of the trans military ban, a lot of you have written things on social media along the lines of, "Trans people, I love and support you, you're not a burden, etc." That's nice, but it would be nicer if you told your fellow cis people that disrespecting trans people isn't behavior that you accept. Another thing you can do to show that your words aren't just words is to give a trans person money for necessary medical care that many trans people can't access (and accessing it will almost certainly become harder in the next year.)

Here's one opportunity to do just that. Rory is an acquaintance of mine and I can vouch for them being a legit person with a need.

edited to add, 2017-09-20: Rory's fundraiser was fully funded and their surgery went well! If you're only reading this now, find another trans person to donate to -- there are plenty. ;)
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)

Lots and lots of people are falling for the "trans people are destroying free speech and intellectual freedom!!11" articles that are going around. For context, a good one to start with is:
"Why Tuvel’s Article So Troubled Its Critics" by Shannon Winnubst:

As one of the many scholars involved in writing the open letter calling on Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy to retract the essay "In Defense of Transracialism," by Rebecca Tuvel, I am compelled to come forward and attempt to reclaim a narrative spinning increasingly out of control.
First, I want to clarify the anonymity of the authorship of the letter. The writing was a collective effort by a dozen or more scholars — the majority faculty members and all of us in philosophy — weighing in on drafts, contributing to and editing sections, requesting additions, and demanding deletions. Many of us became involved at the request of black and/or trans scholars who feel completely demoralized by Tuvel’s article and the failure of peer review that it represents. Speaking for myself, I signed and circulated the letter because I know, firsthand, of the damage this kind of scholarship does to marginalized groups, especially black and trans scholars, in philosophy.

The letter was addressed specifically to Hypatia’s editor and associate editors. All of those involved in the writing of the letter care deeply about the journal, and our effort is itself an expression of our commitment to it. Given our various roles as authors, readers, and longstanding reviewers for the journal, we were alarmed about the failure of the peer-review process that allowed the publication of Tuvel’s article. Some readers have stepped back and come to understand our dismay.
Tuvel received substantive critical feedback at conferences from scholars in critical race theory and trans studies. We do not understand how this failed to shape the review process and can only assume that such scholars were not selected as peer reviewers. We argue, then, that the peer-review process failed, in this instance, in at least two ways. First, it failed a junior scholar, Tuvel, by allowing subpar scholarship to be published in a flagship journal. Second, it failed the field of feminist philosophy as a subdiscipline that continues to struggle to break from the longstanding habits of the broader discipline of philosophy. More specifically, the article’s publication signals an arrogant disregard for the broad, well-established, interdisciplinary scholarly fields of both critical race theory and trans studies. For an article that is explicitly about the concepts of the transracial and transgender, that omission is egregious.

While feminist philosophy should imply a critique of the field of philosophy itself, the open letter to Hypatia wasn’t aimed at the discipline over all. None of us ever expected it to circulate so widely, to garner so many signatures, or to become the object of news stories. Yet, largely due to the fast response by Brian Leiter, the letter and the quickly issued apology by a majority of associate editors of Hypatia quickly became whipping girls, as it were, for the discipline as a whole. This has been, for me, the most astonishing part of the saga. Why would a discipline that has shown a systemic disregard for feminist scholarship suddenly care about this critical dialogue within it?

An article by Julia Serano
Regardless of what you think about the specifics of this case, what happened next is unconscionable: Jesse Singal of NY Mag (who has a penchant for writing high profile articles that depict transgender activists as out-of-control and anti-science, and with whom I've had previous run-ins) decided to write an alarmist article decrying the open letter to Hypatia as a "witch hunt." This helped to inspire a "pile on," as pundits far and wide who couldn't give two-shits about feminist philosophy weighed in on the matter, and attempted to portray this as yet another liberal-attack-on-free-speech (a position that I've previously critiqued as disingenuous and hypocritical).

Historically, "witch hunts" refer to when the masses, consumed by moral panic, attack people on the margins based on the assumption that these marginalized groups will infect or contaminate greater society with their wayward or evil beliefs and practices. So it seems extremely farcical (not to mention scaremongering) for people in the dominant majority to complain that one of their own kind is the victim of a "witch hunt" solely because a few people in the marginalized minority have challenged or critiqued their views.

A third article by Noah Berlatsky:

So, a scholar failed to follow best practices around the treatment of marginalized communities. Critics pointed out the problem. She acknowledged her error and the harm it caused, corrected it, and apologized. Truly, this is a crisis of totalitarianism in the academy.

You have the option of reading those articles, by authors who patiently explain the problems with the Tuvel article and the manufactured controversy about it, at length, or you can read tweet-length summaries. Your choice!

From TransTheory on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TransTheory/status/862046791444738048

"I want to consider (1) core commitments of Trans Studies/Philosophy in the context of Hypatia and (2) irresponsible contrapositives.

Trans Studies/Philosophy demands awareness of the ways academia exploits our bodies, which are highly politicized

In this vein, the “In Defense of Transracialism” article already fails by not addressing that it is wrapped up in this politicization.

In most Philosophy journals this may have flown, but Hypatia (a feminist journal) professes to do better. JS's article decontextualizes this"

From Sara Ahmed on Twitter:


"Baby tip: be very skeptical of articles using 'poisonous call out culture' and 'witch hunt' to describe critiques of transphobia & racism."


"The work of exposing how transphobia and anti-black racism is reproduced by how philosophy is reproduced is vital, brave and risky."


"I learnt from working on sexual harassment that 'witch hunt' tends to be used to describe what you are doing when you contest power."

More from @TransTheory:


"excited that Philosophy & the opinion magazine community expanded which groups have a sacred right to reduce others' lives to tenure fuel

this is a great step forward for professional feminist philosophy, which no longer has to worry about pesky things like feminist commitments" (read the twitter thread for more)

An excerpt from Julia Serano's book, Outspoken, about cis people claiming to be experts on trans issues: https://mobile.twitter.com/JuliaSerano/status/860672214324068353?s=08

In short:

  • If you're defending an article you haven't read while simultaneously refusing to even read what actual trans people are saying in response, consider whether maybe it isn't intellectual freedom that you're defending.
  • When you're used to controlling a conversation, you may feel upset when people you've traditionally been able to silence get to say anything at all. This doesn't mean their presence is stopping you from speaking. If you claim you want an intellectual debate, reacting to hearing the other side by throwing a tantrum about evil call-out culture is inadvisable.
  • The patterns of elevating an intra-community disagreement to a campaign by evil trans people to silence differing views, and of framing the presence of speech by marginalized people as somehow repressive of speech by privileged people, are familiar from GamerGate.
  • Try not to engage in cis fragility: the process of centering your own discomfort with being criticized by trans people to the point where you demand that trans people be silent in order to make you feel more comfortable. (By analogy with the concept of white fragility.)
  • Have some tissues for your cissues.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
[CW: suicide]

Elizabeth Waite was a trans woman who committed suicide last week. I did not know Elizabeth, but several of my friends did. In an article for the Daily Beast, Ben Collins described what happened after she died (CW if you follow the link to the article: it quotes extremely transmisogynistic and violent comments and images, including some that incite suicide.)

The night the article describes, I sat in my office after work with Elizabeth's profile open in a tab, watching the stream of hateful comments pour in almost faster than I could report them to Facebook. My friends had mentioned that members of an online forum known for terrorizing autistic trans women were flooding her profile (particularly her last post, in which she stated her intention to commit suicide) with hateful comments. Since I didn't know Elizabeth and wasn't emotionally affected by reading these comments in the same way that I would have been if I had known her, I felt that bearing witnesses and reporting the comments as abuse was work that I could usefully do. Since many of the comments were obviously from fake accounts, and Facebook is well-known for its desire for good data (read: monetizable data), specifically accounts attached to the names people use in everyday life, I reported those accounts as fake as well.

And later that night, I watched dozens and dozens of emails fill my inbox that were automated responses from Facebook's abuse reporting system. Most of the responses said this:

Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the comment you reported for displaying hate speech and found it doesn't violate our Community Standards.
Please let us know if you see anything else that concerns you. We want to keep Facebook safe and welcoming for everyone.

screenshot of the quoted text

Because the posts in question were eventually made private, I can't quote the comments about which a Facebook content reviewer said "it doesn't violate our Community Standards", and in fairness to the person or people reviewing the comments, some of the comments weren't obviously hate speech without the context that they were in a thread of people piling on a dead trans woman. Facebook lacks a way to report abuse that goes beyond "the text of this individual comment, in the absence of context, violates Facebook's Community Standards." That's part of the problem. If trans people were in positions of power at Facebook, you can bet that there would be a "report transmisogynist hate mob" button that would call attention to an entire thread in which an individual was being targeted by a coordinated harassment campaign.

Likewise, even though Facebook is notorious for harassing trans people for using the names we use in everyday life as our account names, when I reported an account with the name "Donny J. Trump" for impersonation, I got an email back saying that the account would not be suspended because it wasn't impersonating anybody:

screenshot of the aforementioned text

Facebook's tools don't address this problem. Imagine you're the family member of a trans woman who just died and whose profile is receiving a flood of hateful comments. Dozens of users are posting these comments -- too many to block, and anyway, what good would blocking do if you don't have access to the deceased person's account password? The comments would still be there, defacing that person's memory. Reporting individual comments has no effect if the harassment is conducted by posting a series of memes that aren't necessarily offensive on their own, but have the effect of demeaning and belittling a person's death when posted as comments in response to a suicide note. And getting an account converted to a "memorial account" -- which allows someone else to administer it -- can take days, which doesn't help when the harassment is happening right now. Again: you can look at Facebook and know that it's a company in which the voices of people who worry about questions like, "when I die, will people on an Internet forum organize a hate mob to post harmful comments all over my public posts?" are not represented.

But Facebook doesn't even do what they promise to do: delete individual comments that clearly violate their community standards:

Facebook removes hate speech, which includes content that directly attacks people based on their:

National origin,
Religious affiliation,
Sexual orientation,
Sex, gender, or gender identity, or
Serious disabilities or diseases.

Out of the many comments in the threads on Elizabeth Waite's profile that clearly attacked people based on their gender identity or disability, most were deemed by Facebook as "doesn't violate our Community Standards."

At this point, Facebook ought to just stop pretending to have an abuse reporting system, because what they promise to do has nothing to do with what they will actually do. Facebook's customers are advertisers -- people like you and me who produce content that helps Facebook deliver an audience for advertisers (you might think of us as "users") are the raw material, not the customers. Even so, it's strange that companies that pay for advertising on Facebook don't care that Facebook actively enables this kind of harassment.

If you read the Daily Beast article, you'll also notice that Facebook was completely unhelpful and unwilling to stop the abuse other than in a comment-by-comment way until one of the family members found a laptop that still had a login cookie for Elizabeth's account -- they wouldn't memorialize it or do anything else to stop the abuse wholesale in a timely fashion. What would have happened if the cookie had already expired?

Like anybody else, trans people die for all kinds of reasons. In an environment where hate speech is being encouraged from the highest levels of power, this is just going to keep happening more and more. Facebook will continue to refuse to do anything to stop it, because hate speech doesn't curtail their advertising revenue. In fact, as I wrote about in "The Democratization of Defamation", the economic incentives that exist encourage companies like Facebook to potentiate harassment, because more harassment means more impressions.

Although it's clearly crude economics that make Facebook unwilling to invest resources in abuse prevention, a public relations person at Facebook would probably tell you that they are reluctant to remove hate speech because of concern for free speech. Facebook is not a common carrier and has no legal (or moral) obligation to spend money to disseminate content that isn't consistent with its values as a business. Nevertheless, think about this for a moment: in your lifetime, you will probably have to see a loved one's profile get defaced like this and know that Facebook will do nothing about it. Imagine a graveyard that let people spray paint on tombstones and then stopped you from washing the paint off because of free speech.

What responsibilities do social media companies -- large ones like Facebook that operate as completely unregulated public utilities -- have to their users? If you'd like, you can call Facebook's billions of account holders "content creators"; what responsibilities do they have to those of us who create the content that Facebook uses for delivering an audience to advertisers?

Facebook would like you to think that they give us access to their site for free because they're nice people and like us, but corporations aren't nice people and don't like you. The other viewpoint you may have heard is: "If you're not paying for the product, then you are the product." Both of these stories are too simplistic. If you use Facebook, you do pay for it: with the labor you put into writing status updates and comments (without your labor, Facebook would have nothing to sell to advertisers) and with the attention you give to ads (even if you never click on an ad).

If you're using something that's being given away for free, then the person giving it away has no contractual obligations to you. Likewise, if you are raw material, than the people turning you into gold have no contractual obligations to you. But if you're paying to use Facebook -- and you are, with your attention -- that creates a buyer/seller relationship. Because this relationship is not formalized, you as the buyer assume all the risks in the transaction while the seller reaps all of the economic benefit.

Do you like this post? Support me on Patreon and help me write more like it. In December 2016, I'll be donating all of my Patreon earnings to the National Network of Abortion Funds, so if you'd like to show your support, you can also make a one-time or recurring donation to them directly.

tim: A warning sign with "Danger" in white, superimposed over a red oval on a black rectangle, above text  "MEN EXPLAINING" (mansplaining)
"Sex is just what cis people call 'gender' when they want to misgender you." I've said this many times and I'll keep saying it as many times as I need to. If people remember one thing I've said, I hope it's that.

Why do cis people need the concept of "biological sex" so much? Why do they have such a strong need to put trans people in their place by saying, "Sure, you identify as a woman. But your biological sex is male"?

At the root of cisnormativity, like all other harmful normativities, is a desire to control. To exercise power over somebody else. And telling somebody, "You aren't really who you say you are -- I can invoke some greater authority that says you're lying about who you are" is a way of controlling somebody else. It frames that person as an unreliable narrator of their own experience, and reinforces the cis person's greater power to name, to identify, to categorize.

It doesn't help that the watered-down liberal version of trans education that has been promoted for a long time emphasizes the difference between "sex" and "gender," making cis people feel like they can evade criticism as long as they memorize that talking point. It also doesn't help that anyone who challenges the simplistic sex/gender binary gets accused of wanting to alienate allies or wanting to make it harder for them to understand us.

That didn't cause the problem, though.

"Sure, you identify as a man, but you'll always be truly biologically female" ultimately means, "What you identify as doesn't matter. It's not real; it's all in your head. My objective observation of your body is that you are female, and that's scientific."

There is no rule of science that says we must use terms for other people that they wouldn't use for themselves. That's social and political.

So the attachment to "biological sex" is really about saying this: "There is something other than your own self-description that I can use to classify and categorize you without your consent. I can categorize and label you based on externally observing your body, without asking you what categories you belong in." The power to name is the power to control. And cis people react badly when we try to take this power from them by saying that "sex" is just another name for gender.

It's easy to see what purpose "biological sex" serves structurally: gender-based oppression would no longer be possible if gender categories were entered into consensually. To oppress somebody, you need the ability to place them in an oppressed class in a way that others will generally recognize as valid.

But on an individual, psychological level, I wonder what purpose it serves. Why is there such a strong need in so many cis people to tell somebody else they're wrong about their own sex?

One answer is that cis people don't like admitting mistakes, and that most cis people learned as children that boys have penises and girls have vaginas. When faced with a choice between recognizing trans people as fully human, or maintaining their own omniscience, they go for the narcissistic choice of refusing to admit that what they learned early on was incorrect.

But I don't think that's the whole story. People make all kinds of mistakes, but admitting that they were taught something incorrect about sex categories seems uniquely difficult.

So I'm leaving it here as a question. Why does any individual cis person feel such a strong need to tell a trans person, "You are truly biologically male," or, "You are truly biologically female" when that isn't how the trans person would describe themself? The answer isn't "science", since science doesn't require anybody to place others in particular political categories; as well, very few cis people saying this have any understanding of science. I don't know the answer to this question, but I think the only way to begin finding it is to reject the pseudo-scientific notion of biological sex as objective truth rather than socially and politically motivated narrative. We have to stop asking what biological sex is, and start asking what work the concept of "biological sex" does and what needs it satisfies.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Arguing over the terms of reform means trying to get people to understand complexity. It violates the old adage that in politics when you are explaining you are losing. Better to let the other side explain complex formulae while you line up behind an easily articulated view.
-- Michael J. Graetz and Ian Shapiro, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth
"Transphobia comes from ignorance. Cis people treat trans people badly because they just don't understand gender. If we take the time to educate them, it'll pay off in respect."

That's my impression of the premise behind most "trans 101" workshops, handouts, and books that I've seen. I think the premise is flawed, because asserting boundaries is incompatible with education. This is not to say that education is never necessary, just that exchange of ideas and boundary-setting shouldn't be intermingled freely, much as developing software and doing code review -- or writing a book and editing it -- are different activities. While I suspect what I'm about to say applies to other social power gradients besides just trans/cis, I'm going to focus here on "trans 101" education.

I believe education is extremely oversold as a means for effecting change. You cannot convince people that you are in possession of facts and truths (borrowing Rebecca Solnit's words) while you are educating them. And in the case of "trans 101" education, what we need to teach people is exactly that: that trans people are reliable narrators of our own life stories. But in order for us to teach people what they need to know, they have to believe it already! This is why the ubiquitous advice to "educate people before you get angry at them" is as ineffective as it is smarmy: you can't educate someone into treating you as a person.

"Trans 101" workshops, on the other hand, are situations where someone or a group of people (sometimes a trans person, sometimes a cis person, sometimes a mixed group) has volunteered to do the work of educating in a structured and planned way. This isn't like randomly telling people on the Internet that they should educate strangers for free -- there's a better return on investment, and it's not something people are coerced into doing.

In practice, though, most "trans 101" content I've seen, well-intentioned as it is, is fundamentally flawed. "Trans 101" materials often rely on infographics like various versions of the "Genderbread Person" diagram, and these pictures illustrate the fundamental flaws of the educational approach. Rather than embedding any version of that diagram in this post (bad publicity is still publicity, after all), I'll defer to an illustrated critique of the 'Genderbread Person' trope that articulates why all of the diagrams are reductive and misleading.

Rather than teaching cis people what sex is, or what gender is, or about the difference between gender identity, expression, and role (I can never remember what those all mean anyway), or what "performativity" means, you could save everybody a lot of time and set a boundary, specifically: "Everyone has the right to have their sex and gender, as self-defined at a given moment in time, recognized as valid. If you are a respectful person, you will respect that right and not cross a boundary by denying the validity of someone else's self-defined sex or gender." Here's how.

Tell, Don't Ask

A hidden assumption behind most "trans 101" content is that the educator's job is to persuade. It goes without saying in much trans 101 content that the speaker (if trans) is asking the audience for permission to be a person, or that the speaker (if cis) is trying to explain to the audience why they should treat trans people as people. No matter who's saying it, it's self-undermining. If you expect to be treated as a person, you don't ask for permission to be one.

"Meeting people where they are" is a commonly cited reason to tone down or simplify discussion of boundaries and self-determination in "trans 101" content. I think most people grasp the basic concept of boundaries, at least those who are old enough to have learned to not grab the other kids' toys and that you don't get to pull your mom's hair just because you want to. So if we "meet people where they are" on the common ground of boundaries, we'll share the understanding that boundaries are not negotiable and require no justification. Justifying a statement implies it's not a boundary -- it implies that you can negotiate or debate with me on whether or not I'm a person. Actually, I know more than you do about what my subjective experience is; your opinion isn't equally valid there.

I think the premise that "meeting people where they are" requires a great deal of explanation arises partially from the difficulty of functioning in a system where it's still not widely accepted that everyone gets to have bodily autonomy. Disability, children's rights, the right to an abortion, sexual assault, or consent to being assigned a sex/gender, are all examples where the conditional or contingent granting of bodily autonomy causes significant pain.

So stating boundaries isn't easy. But piling on the explanations and justifications doesn't help either. You don't take power by asking for permission. You don't demand respect by asking for permission. And there's no "please" in "I am a human being, and you had better treat me as one."

Eschew Obfuscation

You know those people who ask for a checklist, right? "Give me a list of words I should avoid using, so that I can be sure that no one will ever get mad at me again. If they get mad, I'll tell them you gave me the list and they should get mad at you instead." A lot of "trans 101" content panders to the desire to avoid doing hard interpersonal work yourself -- to formalize and automate empathy. Unfortunately, that is also self-defeating. Ideally, a "trans 101" talk should provide as few rules as possible, because checklists, flowcharts, and other rule-based approaches to respecting other people are just another site for people to exploit and search for loopholes.

The flowchart approach goes hand-in-hand with the peddling of various oversimplified models of sex and gender that have the supposed benefit from being different from the one that white American children were taught in elementary school in the fifties (that boys have a penis and grow up to be men, girls have a vagina and grow up to be women, and there's nobody else.) But trans people don't get oppressed because cis people don't sufficiently understand the nuances of sex and gender. Rather, cis people construct models of sex and gender that justify past oppression and make it easier for that oppression to continue. For example, teaching people that sex is "biological" and gender is in your mind doesn't make them any more likely to treat trans people as real people. We see this in the ongoing legislative attacks on trans people's right to use public accommodations: cis people who have learned that "gender identity" is self-determined while other people determine what your biological sex is have adapted to that knowledge by framing their hateful legislation in terms of "biological sex."

Remodeling sex and gender doesn't fix transphobia because a flawed model didn't cause it. You can't address fear with facts. Models are interesting and potentially useful to trans people, people who are questioning whether they're trans, and people who study science, culture, and the intersections between them. Everybody else really doesn't need to know.

Compare how pro-choice rhetoric fails when it revolves around enumerating reasons why someone should be allowed to have an abortion: what if you were a victim of rape or incest, or young, or sick, or you can't afford to raise a child, what if, indeed. What if nobody has the right to be in somebody else's body without that person's consent? You don't need a reason or an explanation for wanting to keep somebody else out of your body -- dwelling in your body is reason itself. Likewise, we don't need to furnish reasons or explanations for why you need to use the names and pronouns for someone that are theirs. We just need to say you must.

Know Your Audience

In "The Culture of Coercion", I drew a line between people who relate to others through coercion and those who build relationships based on trust:
  • A person operating on trust wants to be respectful, even if they don't always know how. These people are who "Trans 101" workshops try to reach. They are the majority. You don't need to give them reams of scientific evidence to convince them to be -- they decided to be respectful a long time ago. You don't have to bring reams of scientific evidence to convince them to respect. It muddies the waters when you do.
  • A person who operates on coercion isn't really sold on that whole "everyone is human" concept. Workshops cannot persuade these people. If someone doesn't accept the reality of others' personal boundaries, no amount of evidence or civil discussion will change that. Firmer enforcement of those boundaries will, and an educational workshop is not the tool for enforcing those boundaries.

Education requires being really, really clear on who you're trying to reach. And unfortunately, even trust-based people are likely to try to game the system when given a flowchart on how to be respectful -- well-intentioned people still look for ways to avoid feeling like they did something wrong, because because narcissistic injury is uncomfortable. The only circumstance under which you can teach is when your audience wants to know what your boundaries are, so they can respect them. So tell them!

Against Education?

I'm not really against education. Consciousness-raising, cognitive liberation, freeing your mind, getting woke, or whatever you want to call it is a prerequisite for organizing for change, especially when you're trans and are systematically denied language for describing who you are. But that is self-directed education, and I think that intentionally directing your education inwards -- in the company of like-minded people, with the goal of discovering the power you already have -- is the only way education changes the world.

In any case, education can't take place without boundaries -- classrooms have ground rules. Ask any teacher.

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tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Edited to add: The quote turns out to be from a fake news site, but calling the governor's office can't hurt!

At a press conference today, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory took further steps to ensure that his controversial bill, HB2, will be upheld when it comes to law enforcement. McCrory announced that his office has setup a 24-hour hotline for individuals to call if they witness someone not abiding by the new law.

“If you see a woman, who doesn’t look like a woman, using the woman’s restroom, be vigilant, call the hotline, and report that individual.” McCrory told reporters. “We need our state to unite as one if we’re going to keep our children safe from all the sexual predators and other aberrant behavior that is out there.”

Tom Downey, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office, explained the new hotline to reporters.

“Beginning today, individuals that notice any kind of gender-suspicious activity in the men’s or women’s restrooms are encouraged to call the new ‘HB2 Offender Hotline’,” Horner said. “We encourage North Carolina’s residents to take photographs and report as much detail as possible when calling. With the information gathered from this hotline, we’ll be working closely with local law enforcement agencies to make sure this law is enforced and those who break the law see jail bars. We are sending a clear message to all the transsexuals out there; their illegal actions and deviant behavior will no longer be tolerated in the state of North Carolina."

To report suspicious bathroom activity, North Carolina residents can call the ‘HB2 Offender Hotline’ at 1-800-662-7952. For individuals living outside of North Carolina, please call (919) 814-2000. To file a complaint after normal business hours, call (919) 814-2050 and press option 3.

-- ABC News report

(Note: I struck out the 919-814-2000 number. It doesn't accept voicemail and when I called during East Coast business hours, I got a recording saying to call back during business hours. The 800 number appears to reject calls from non-North-Carolina area codes.)

I encourage you to use your own words, but if you don't know what to say, here's a script you can use when leaving a message at the 919 number, or both numbers if you have a North Carolina phone number you can call from. I adapted this script from a post on Tumblr by [tumblr.com profile] lemonsharks.

I am calling to report suspicious activity.

It is very suspicious that the state of North Carolina is spending money enforcing a law whose sole purpose is to harass trans people and stop them from participating in public life. This would be suspicious even if North Carolina didn’t have a child poverty rate of over 25%. 

It’s suspicious that people who are not trans are enacting this kind of legislative violence against trans people. It’s suspicious that they have not reflected on their own fear, asked themselves what they are so afraid of, rather than projecting their unexamined fear outward onto vulnerable people.

I think you need to investigate this immediately. Thanks for your attention. Goodbye.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
[CW: discussion of rape, cissexism, transmisogynistic violence]

Disowning desire: how cis people use deception, contamination, and stigma to deny their attraction to trans people

The biggest threat to cisnormativity is the idea that a trans person, particularly a trans person who was coercively assigned male at birth, could be attractive.

The social stigmatization of trans people creates a positive feedback loop of attraction and desire in cis people's minds. A minor manifestation of that feedback loop is the OkCupid question that has ruined more of my potential relationships than I care to count: "When is it most appropriate for a transgender person to reveal their transgender status to a match?" [Screenshot of an OkCupid question; the text of the question and answers are in the body text.] The answer choices are, "It should be clearly stated in their profile," "During messaging prior to meeting in person," "Prior to having intimate contact or sex," and "Never." Absent is the answer I want to give: "Only if and when the particular trans person in question wants to and feels it is safe to do so."

Typically, cis people frame their answers to this question (if asked to justify their answers, which they seldom are) as being about "honesty." A cis person might say, "I have the right to know important parts of someone's history before I get into a relationship with them." Absent is an explanation of why it's only the parts of someone's history relating to the sex they were coercively assigned at birth that are relevant, and why no other aspect of someone's history requires this level of transparency.

Platitudes about "the right to know" or "honesty in relationship" are tidy disguises for a messy collection of fears, insecurities, and desires. I think they serve to conceal the work that the OkCupid question does: the work of shifting emotional labor off people in socially privileged classes, and onto people in socially disprivileged classes.

In a (current or nascent) relationship, who does the work? Who takes risks? Should a cis person risk embarrassing another cis person by asking, "Are you cis?" on a date or in a message thread on a dating site? Or should a trans person (in practice, usually a trans woman) take the initiative in disclosing that they are trans, thereby taking on the risk of being harmed or killed? How much bodily harm does a trans person need to be willing to risk in order to spare a cis person from embarrassment?

Read more... )

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tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
The question of whether "male" means something different from "man", and whether "female" means something different from "woman", has come up in two different situations for me in the past few weeks. I like being able to hand people a link rather than restating the same thing over and over, so here's a quick rundown of why I think it's best to treat "male" as the adjectival form of "man" and "female" as the adjectival form of "woman".

I prioritize bodily autonomy and self-definition. Bodily autonomy means people get to relate to their bodies in the way that they choose; if we're to take bodily autonomy seriously, respecting self-definition is imperative. If you use language for someone else's body or parts thereof that that person wouldn't use for themselves, you are saying that you know better than they do how they should relate to their body.

For example: I have a uterus, ovaries, and vagina, and they are male body parts, because I'm male. Having been coercively assigned female at birth doesn't change the fact that I've always been male. Having an XX karyotype doesn't make me female (I'm one of the minority of people that actually knows their karyotype, because I've had my DNA sequenced). Those are male chromosomes for me, because they're part of me and I'm male. If I ever get pregnant and give birth, I'll be doing that as a male gestator.

I don't know too many people who would want to be referred to as a male woman or a female man, so i'm personally going to stick to using language that doesn't define people by parts of their bodies that are private. And no, you can't claim parts of my body are "female" without claiming I am - if they're female, whose are they? Not mine.

If someone does identify as a male woman or as a female man, cool. The important thing is that we use those words to describe them because those are the words they use to describe themself rather than because of what sociopolitical categories we place them in based on their body parts.

For extra credit, explain why the widespread acceptance of the sex-vs.-gender binary is the worst thing that ever happened to transsexual people.

Further reading: [personal profile] kaberett, Terms you don't get to describe me in, #2: female-bodied.
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tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
This essay is an elaboration of a series of tweets I wrote. The original tweets were compiled by [twitter.com profile] listelian with added commentary that I recommend.

"Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed
Dignity never been photographed"

-- Bob Dylan

Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of today's "Vanity Fair". She was not the first trans woman to pose with less than street clothes on in a magazine -- Laverne Cox did that, earlier this year, and Cox deserves praise for that.

So does Jenner. I looked at that magazine cover and, well, as weird as it is to say, I recognized something. There are a lot of differences between Caitlyn Jenner and me. I'm not rich, famous, or Republican. I was coercively assigned female at birth. But I looked at that cover and I saw somebody who's spent decades of her life struggling with the distance between how she looks in the mirror and how she sees herself in her mind's eye, and who has finally been able to look like she needs to, or enough like it to appear confidently on a magazine cover.

Not everybody can afford to look like they need to look, but everybody should be, and when I look at the picture I think that everybody should have access to the same resources that Jenner had access to. I hope it's possible for me to acknowledge massive social inequality and the need to redress it, and, at the same time, find meaning in this photograph.

Finding meaning in things, especially finding reflections of myself in anything or anybody else in the world, can be hard for me. Just seeing my own reflection in the mirror can be hard for me.

For whatever reason, I can look at it right now, and think that I look okay. I didn't think that last year and I might not think it again next year, but it's okay for now.

Part of the reason for that is that I dyed my hair pink again. It's not that my internal image of my true self has pink hair... though maybe it does. To be honest, that image has never fully come into focus for me. It's more that having pink hair makes me like looking at myself, and then I can look at the rest of me, too, not just my hair.

Maybe it's not so important that I dyed my hair pink as it is that I made a choice to change how I look, and carried out that choice. It doesn't matter that I paid somebody else to dye my hair for me, which is what I did this time, it matters that I exercised agency.

To get to a point where what color my hair is could matter, though, I had to do some other things first.

Sculptures and Monsters

When I talk about being able to, or not being able to, look at myself, it's a way for me of talking about something harder to talk about, which is a feeling of not being fully present in or comfortable in my own body. These are different things but it's hard to separate them from each other.

I'm fat, which means that socially, I get discouraged from thinking I look attractive or even that I should be looked at at all. (Since I'm a guy, I experience this less harshly than fat women do, but I still experience it.)

I'm trans, which means that socially, I get discouraged from thinking I look attractive. Part of it is that I'm too short and fat to look like the gold standard for attractive male guys when I have my clothes on. Part of it is that when I have my clothes off, you can tell I'm hung like a hamster. Part of it is that at least these days, my gender presentation runs more femme than masc, and there is not much room for femme guys in what gets falsely reduced to a zero-sum game of who gets to be attractive. But also, internally, I have trouble occupying my own body. Sometimes, anyway; less than I used to have, partly because of the changes I've been able to make to my body and partly because of harder-to-describe changes.

I'm a survivor of complex trauma in childhood, and I wish I could explain to you more fully what that means but part of being a survivor of complex trauma is having difficulty explaining what it means. Imagine if somebody was running around pulling bricks out of your house while you were building it, and then imagine how much structural integrity your house might have left at the end. That's what trauma does to your ability to describe emotional experiences. The best I can do right now is that when I was growing up, I was not permitted to have the boundaries about what does and doesn't happen in and around my body that even very young children usually get permitted to have. On an emotional level, I never really formed the belief that my body is my own -- something that it seems a lot of people take for granted. So that also makes it hard for me to actually be in my own body, much beyond the baseline difficulty I'd already have with it if I was trans and not a survivor.

It's easy for me to focus on how I look and harder to think about my subjective experience, for reasons that are probably familiar to other survivors. But I think that also reflects widespread confusion about trans experience. Most narratives about trans people tell us that we transition in order to look different to other people. Most of those narratives are written by cis people. The real reasons why we transition, which are different for every person who transition, have more to do (in my opinion) with looking right to ourselves, and also with feeling right to ourselves. Because it's hard to describe subjective experiences, I'm writing about looking at yourself in a mirror as a stand-in for that.

This is the minimal backstory I feel I need to lay down to say this: When you don't feel comfortable with yourself, it is hard to figure out what would make you feel comfortable and harder still to show that to other people. What if they laugh? What if they accuse you of not being really yourself when you actually feel like yourself for the first time ever? Those are things that really happen, especially to trans people, but not just to trans people. Caitlyn Jenner, at 65 years of age, figured it out anyway and showed herself anyway. She didn't, at least in the end, let anybody tell her that it was too late and she should just live out what years she had pretending to be somebody else.

I transitioned when I was 26, which was eight years after I learned that transitioning was possible. It was a long eight years. I can't imagine how long 45 to 65 years is when you know you need to transition but you can't, or don't feel it's possible, or feel that the loss of your dignity and pride will outweigh the benefits of seeing yourself as you are, or have the expectations of family, friends, or even the general public weighing on you, or or or. While recognizing that few people have the privilege to do what she did in the precise way she did it, I still feel glad for Jenner that she was able to do it, because everybody should be able to. Also, because having models helps us figure out our lives even if necessarily, models are often public figures and public figures are almost by definition privileged in some or many ways. (This is not to discount the real danger in visibility and fame for all women, particularly women experiencing one or more types of intersectional oppression, either.)

So the thoughts and feelings I had when I looked at that magazine cover were about my own experiences and about the partial but still real way in which they relate to Caitlyn Jenner's experiences.

The thoughts that some cis people had, though, were more along the lines of: "Wow, she looks good. Her surgeons did a good job."

Let me interject with a couple things here: First, it's okay to say that somebody looks good. You would say that to a friend, so I don't see why you shouldn't say it about someone who chose to appear on a magazine cover. At least it seems fine to me.

Second, I didn't read the article inside the magazine (yet), so I don't know what Jenner has said publicly about what surgeries she has or hasn't had. From the picture alone, I am not going to assume anything about what surgeries she has or hasn't had. It's certainly not uncommon for people who appear on magazine covers, whether or not they're trans, to have surgery. But I do want to call out the assumption that she must have had surgery in order to look as she does. Trans people do a variety of things in order to make our bodies externally look and internally feel different. Surgery is only one of them. The details of any of these things are none of your goddamned business unless you are a trans person, an intimate friend of a trans person, someone who thinks you may be trans (and if you think you may be, I would encourage you not to run from those thoughts), or a medical professional who helps trans people with our body issues.

With those disclaimers in mind, I want to talk about how it felt to me to read the words "Her surgeons did a good job." (I am paraphrasing; those may not have been the exact words.)

There is this thing that can happen when you exercise agency over your own body to reshape it in some way, and that thing is getting demoted from the status of "person" to the status of "sculpture".

Suddenly, you are no longer a human being struggling to make your own body a place you can feel at home in, but rather -- and this is at best (I'll get to what the worst of it can look like) -- a work of art that a cis person made. You are no longer self-made.

"Isn't it a nice thing to say that somebody looks good?" Well, yes. But it's not a nice thing to go from there to congratulating the surgeons. Where does it stop? If I look good, are you going to tell me that my dentist or my hairdresser or the people running the machines that sewed my clothes deserve praise? Well, you might, but not if your conversational objective is to connect with me. Complimenting haircuts is, indeed, within social norms, complimenting surgery isn't... except when the object is trans, or disabled, or fat, or -- you guessed it -- in those social categories whose residents' humanity is contingent.

Do you know what the mirror image of "sculpture" is? It's "monster". When you talk about a trans person as an object of aesthetic appreciation in an immediate context of talking about what surgical interventions that trans person has had, you are steps away from treating that person like Frankenstein's monster. The subtext that's obvious to many of us is how amazing it is that any surgeon could have the technique necessary to make somebody who looks male -- in your eyes -- look female -- in your eyes. (Or vice versa, and it doesn't happen as much in the other direction but I've experienced it firsthand.) The subtext is that we're freaks of science, that we're freaks of nature, that we're objects of curiosity. When trans women talk about how they're made to feel like monsters, or like artificial creations (see Talia Mae Bettcher's "Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers: On Transphobic Violence and the Politics of Illusion"), I listen. I can relate, but there is a limit to how far my ability to relate goes, because as a trans man I do not experience the same degree of othering, of socially enforced disgust, of structural violence that trans people who were coercively assigned male at birth do.

But I know this much: you cannot talk about a trans woman like she was a sculpture, or an object of art, or a constructed thing without implicitly designating her a monster, a cold creation of technology, not human. Stop it.

Surgery and Dignity

In order to look like myself, or to start to look like myself, I've had five surgeries. The details of four are only relevant to myself, people who see me naked, and a number of people who work for insurance companies.

In 2009 I had radical breast reduction surgery. The result is that my body from neck to waist looks mostly right to me, aside from the scars that still look fresh because I develop hypertrophic scar tissue and aside from how my nipples are a little bit bigger than guys' nipples outside of the Folsom Street Fair are supposed to be. These are details that, on a good day, I can integrate.

What's harder to integrate is the memory of reading the surgeon's post-op report and noticing that in his narrative of performing the surgery, he used the pronouns "she" and "her" to refer to me, despite having correctly gendered me to my face. Dr. Paul Steinwald, if you're reading this, I hope you're not doing that to people anymore. I'm sure that he thought I was never going to read the report, but due to his own unwillingness to bill my insurance, I had to request a copy from the hospital. (And by the way, Aetna Student Health reimbursed me for 80% of my out-of-pocket.)

One of the things you might have to do if you are trans is to trust someone enough to literally cut into your body, knowing that your trust in them may not be justified. In most cases, if you need surgery, you have to trust somebody that much without knowing whether you can trust them to acknowledge your gender, a form of respect that all cis people can take for granted.

When people reduce you to the work that your surgeon did, therefore, they may be reducing you to the work of somebody who cannot even recognize who you are even as they are doing work that helps you recognize yourself as who you are. That's not hurtful because it's going to hurt Caitlyn Jenner, who we know is strong enough because she was strong enough to be on that cover. It's hurtful because it reminds some of us of traumatic experiences. It's also hurtful because it reminds other trans people -- ones who are in a state of knowing they need to transition, but not being sure whether it's safe to -- of why it's not safe.

In case I haven't made myself clear: getting surgery as a trans person is a terrifying, humiliating process. Maybe that's beginning to change somewhat. In 2009 and 2012, it was still terrifying and humiliating, and I say that as a trans person who was coercively assigned female at birth. That is, I say that as someone who is playing "be a trans person" on the easiest setting. When you look at a trans person who has had surgery and you see an object that a surgeon made, rather than another human being, you are making that process more terrifying and humiliating, most of all for people who sense that they may need to go through that same process but are justifiably afraid to. Many of the reasons for this fear -- for the fear that I experienced myself when I was deciding whether to get surgery, in 2007-2009 and again in 2011 -- are internal. But "ooh, nice results" comments and the objectification they stand for don't make it any easier.

The point, the only point, of transitioning for me was so I could be a real person. So I could feel like a real person. The terror of it was the risk I sensed, which is a real risk, that it would make me a less real person in other people's eyes. The reward is the knowledge that I can see myself as real even while other people do not. I'm trying to use my best prose here, but that inevitably simplifies a long, hard, scary, uncomfortable period of emotional labor. If you are not trans, you have the option to make that work harder for other people, or to not make it harder. Try to use your power responsibly.

Trans Empathy and the Cis Gaze

To look at Caitlyn Jenner on the Vanity Fair cover and say "ooh, nice results" is to make her an object rather than a subject. To be a surgeon who operates on a trans man and writes "She tolerated the anesthesia well" in a post-op report is to make him an object rather than a subject.

"But Tim," you might ask, "Isn't the reason why people appear scantily clad on magazine covers is that they want to be objectified?"

Well... no? I mean, no one has ever offered to let me pose for Vanity Fair, so I haven't had to think about whether I would want to and if so, why. But as far as I can tell, what celebrities do is satisfy their own need for attention while also making other people feel good. Attention is something that everybody needs and there's nothing wrong with being very good at getting it. There's nothing in there about being objectified. Being paid attention to doesn't mean being objectified. Being appreciated as a person whose body is attractive isn't the same thing as being objectified. If you can't separate those things, or can't separate them specifically for women whose bodies you find attractive, maybe take a gender studies class.

When you have a pleasant feeling of aesthetic appreciation about somebody else's body, that's a thing to cherish. It is, however, your feeling. Whether you're having a good feeling about somebody else or a bad one, whether it's about how they look or what they do or what they say, your feeling doesn't create an exception to the imperative to respect others and see them as humans like yourself.

My feeling, when I look at the cover, is to appreciate another trans person's struggle -- despite the gulf between what her life is like and what my life is like -- and, by virtue of how the appreciation survives the distance, feel a little less alone. I can't say I know what it's like to channel dysphoria into being an Olympic athlete rather than being a computer programmer, or what it's like to keep your own gender to yourself for more than 50 years, but I do know when to say, "Wow, that woman must be so happy to look in the mirror and see a reflection that finally makes sense." I know that because I've known, at times, what it's like to look in the mirror and see a reflection that makes sense.

I guess you are entitled to feel however you want, but feeling something is different from choosing to say it in public, and when you do choose to say in public that what you feel when you look at the cover is artistic appreciation of surgeons' work, rather than empathy, that harshes my buzz a bit.

Autonomy and Terror

What every person who transitions does, whether or not they are a public figure, is lose autonomy. That's in the short term. The hope is that in the long term we will achieve greater autonomy and a stronger sense of self. But in the short term, there's constant misgendering, there's getting called "it", there's struggling with dehumanizing administrative processes in order to have a valid driver's license and hold a job, there's being rejected for jobs out of hand, there's doctors, there's therapists, some of whom help and some of whom can't see beyond their own fears. I promise you that while this process is easier the more social privilege you have, no trans person has enough privilege to escape it.

Cis people, it's your job to create a world where we as trans people don't have to be afraid of you. We have many reasons to be afraid of you. A relatively minor but important one is this: you have the power to drown out an inner voice inside us that says, "Hey, maybe I could look like me, too!" with your own voice saying "We're always just going to see you as raw material." You have the power to make somebody just that much more afraid to take the steps needed to look like their own self. You can do better: when a famous person or maybe just a person important in your life comes out as trans, ask yourself: "Does the world really need to hear my hot take?" Please try not to drown out trans people's recognition of self with your ogling of the other.

Fellow trans people, it's a valid choice to transition in order to reclaim some dignity, and it is a valid choice to not transition -- to not transition at all or to transition in a way that doesn't follow the coming-out-to-everybody-you-know narrative -- in order to preserve your dignity. It's a valid choice to decide that one of the two binary genders fits you better than the one you were assigned at birth and to let people know that. It's also a valid choice to decide that because your gender matches neither binary option, there is no broadly legible end point for you to transition to.

I want to say that I love you no matter how you choose to navigate and manage being trans, even if I don't even know you're the gender that you are because of how you navigate your experience of gender. I wish it was easier to manage one's own experience of one's body and self without the crushing weight of very justified fears. But I know the way for me to deal with that wish isn't to expect individuals to be more public and be more out. That's just what the oppressor wants me to think. Reading things that cis people say about Caitlyn Jenner, as with the things they've said about every trans public figure who has come out as trans in this century so far, is nothing if not a reminder to myself to treat every other trans person as if they are at least as complex as I am and at least as deserving of space in which to apprehend their own complexity.

"They won't see you
Not until you want them to"

-- the Mountain Goats
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
I linked to some of these posts in 2013 and in 2012. It bears repeating.

Alyssa Caparas (2011):

I hate what TDoR has come to represent: a queer ‘holiday’ for embracing the narrative of fear; fear of violence, fear of death, self-stigmatization. The co-opting of POC trans women of a very-particular-background’s experiences as those of the ENTIRE trans community, regardless of race, class, or whatever. It’s a day to remind us all why we need to be afraid all the time and I think it’s a bunch of bullshit.

The large majority of people on the lists of the dead are NOT middle class white transwomen or men. They’re lower class PoC & PoC sex workers. I find it incredibly dissrespectful when white, middle, & upper middle class transpeople claim the narratives of transwomen of color & sex workers experiencess as their own. I’m sick of seeing Transbros at TDoR co-opting the narrative of transwomen’s experiences, internalizing them, and feeding those narratives back to everyone, then high-fiving each over how radical & edgey they are. I’m sick of being a Transwoman at TDoR and feeling marginalized by all the gender hipsters who’re there to bump up their scene cred.
(emphasis author's)

erica, ascendant (2012):

because trans identity is so caught up in Caucasianness, a new problem emerges with both the claiming of dead trans people of color altogether: if we weren’t “trans enough” in life, why are we suddenly being counted by the same people who wouldn’t have us once we’re dead? it’s because the idea that it’s dangerous to be trans has to be sold somehow, given that cis people generally ignore violence against trans people regardless of what color we are, and i do have no doubt that it seems like a good idea to use all these names. the trouble is that when this happens without any discussion of race, class, and how violence is often linked to certain types of work, reading our names uncritically is appropriative and using the deaths of people you didn’t care about in life as a vehicle for activism in death. i get that this has to be sold as a concept because cis people are often willfully ignorant that we’re getting killed out here. thing is, there are ways to sell this concept and be conscious of the racial/class/social politics involved herein. i see what the point of TDoR is in terms of public relations, but it isn’t so invaluable that the problematic things about it should go unchecked.
(emphasis author's)

Monica Maldonado, 2012

The truth is, the Trans Day of Remembrance is a day of political grand standing, using the deaths of trans women of colour as a numbers game to buy someone else’s pet project sympathy for votes, dollars, or attention. It’s a day where trans women of colour have greater value dead than we do alive.

We all too often hear that this day is a day where we must not let the deaths of these women be in vain, but this just underscores the transactional nature of these women’s deaths, most of whom fought no war. They lost their lives not in valour, but only as a result of being women in a world filled with gendered violence. They lost their lives because — all too often — our society casts out the disenfranchised and marginalized, no longer calling the huddled masses and tempest-tossed to our communities with heartfelt calls of liberty and virtue.

We should gather to mourn the dead, not conscript them into a battle they never had the privilege to fight while living. It pains me to stand here and remind you that these deaths, of our brothers and sisters and wives and husbands and daughters and sons, that these deaths are senseless tragedies that remain a black mark on society. These deaths are signs of a systemic, institutional, social, economic, and political failure to care for our most vulnerable and marginalized populations. But what may be worse, is the crude politicising of these deaths serves no cause more than that of the same vanity we decry.

Edited to add: Monika Mhz, 2013 (video):

The reading of each mispronounced name that usually happens, mostly from extracontinental locations, acts as a drop of emotional currency for the pimps feeding the masses hungry for misery pornography and serves validation upon their fears. I want to be clear that all fear is real, and I sympathize deeply with the way that events like this -- the general climate of fear, nonlethal violence, and broader aspects of discrimination felt by our community can impact our lives in real ways, regardless of whether or not our risks truly match. But if we are to move forward in creating the change, if we are to move forward in ending the lethal, nonlethal, discursive, institutional and cultural violence that plagues our society, if we're to forge a future where trans women of color's lives are cherished and we don't find reason to feel that we must need to look over our shoulders every waking moment, then we have to be willing to have a real discussion about the violence that faces our community.

fake cis girl, 2013

The dead are us. They’re trans women of color trying to live their damn lives. They’re killed by partners, by clients, by random encounters on the street. I mean, seriously, the silence of white trans people when Islan Nettles was beaten to death walking down the damn street, and even worse the attempts at victim-blaming, were truly horrific…including some invective hurdled about how walking around in the hood comes with such risks. There is such a severe disconnect that part of what would help is that if white trans people in general listened to us this one day a year it could be a catalyst, or so I try to believe. Our realities include much more than how we’re seen in the TDoR list-of-names format: dead people. We are so much more than that, and our realities might be uncomfortable to the “trans community” or maybe, just maybe, the “trans community” will see us as something more than just a list of names of dead people and a bunch of inconvenient bodies and realities to dismiss in life.

Morgan Collado, 2014:

Trans Day of Remembrance is filled to the brim with the names of murdered Black and brown trans women, but is a single evening of remembering enough? And what does it mean that TDoR doesn’t explicitly talk about race and is often dominated by white people? Here in Austin there’s this tradition of calling the names of the dead and then having an audience member sit in a chair that represents where the dead trans woman would sit. The seats are always filled with white people and non-trans women. What do our deaths mean when our bodies, our lives, the physical space we take up, is appropriated by white folks? How can I mourn for my sisters when the space set up for that mourning is so thoroughly colonized? And how can I even see hope of living a full life when I don’t see myself reflected in what is supposed to be my community?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to honor those women who came before us, those women murdered by colonial patriarchy. But it seems like more often than not, the queer community at large is content with just remembering. We only hear about trans women after their deaths. And even our deaths are not our own. A week doesn’t go by without a white queer citing the deaths of trans women of color as the evidence of how oppressed they are. These stats are often used in service of their own assimilation; meanwhile, they’re happy to leave us out in the cold. We don’t even have dignity in death, nor the ability to decide what it will mean for us.

fake cis girl (2014):

TDoR generally sees trans women of color as acceptable losses as a central part of the minstrel show that it is. You can’t have a list of dead trans people without it mostly being dead trans women of color with a significant scattering of disabled trans women, too. This common thread between trans suicide and homicides of trans people is no accident, because the violence of rejection may not be the same force of violence that comes from a killer’s blade, but it’s violence nevertheless, and that violence drives some people to suicide. That violence, unlike the violence of a killer, is tolerated and even encouraged in our community. From Ryan Blackhawke’s since-deleted libelous comments complaining about last year’s version of this article to Andrea James’ harassment to the exclusionary nature of the only spaces trans women have (spaces like Ingersoll) comes this violence, and it needs to stop.

TDoR is still broken and still fails trans women of color. Gwen Smith still keeps the list manicured and controlled for whatever political purpose she’s aiming for, refusing to discuss race on the official site of TDoR itself, a day Ms. Smith continues to claim to “own”, and she hasn’t shown any willingness to change the reprehensible fact that deaths in custody don’t count when trans women are frequently targets of police harassment which disproportionately affects trans women of color, which leads to the logical conclusion that we’re more likely to be victims of police and governmental violence.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
I read this article summarizing a study (paywalled, unfortunately) on trans men who become pregnant with interest, since (if all goes well) I'll be getting pregnant sometime in the next year. Interest and, also, nausea (and I'm not even pregnant yet).

Because any day is a good day for pointing out why cis people are wrong:

  • Automatically labeling men who have uteruses as "transgender" = ugh. For the record, if you want a ticket out of my life, one of the fastest ways is to call me "transgender". I still don't know what that word communicates other than "I am trying to perform my well-intentioned, liberal attitude." (I'm transsexual, but then, if you're about to describe me that way, consider whether it's any more relevant than the fact that I'm right-handed is. You didn't know whether I was right-handed or not? Exactly.)
  • "When Dad is the one who gets pregnant, the whole process of pregnancy and childbirth gets a lot more complicated." I guess so, but ONLY BECAUSE GOD DAMN CIS PEOPLE MAKE IT COMPLICATED WITH THEIR INABILITY TO UNDERSTAND ANYTHING MORE NUANCED THAN GO DOG GO.
  • "someone who has transitioned from a female identity to a male or masculine identity" - I can't even begin to explain all of the fail in this sentence other than by headdesking repeatedly. I'd like to propose a licensing system where cis people get to use the word "identity" only a limited number of times and only when referring to their own identities, as opposed to using it for invalidating trans people, which is what they always use it for.
  • "Pregnancy as a transgender man is unlike any other kind" - well, I haven't been pregnant (yet), so I don't know (and when I am pregnant, it won't be "as a transgender man", because again, wtf does "transgender" mean), but again, IF IT'S DIFFERENT, THAT'S BECAUSE CIS PEOPLE FORCE IT TO BE DIFFERENT.
  • "Some transgender men use testosterone to look and sound more masculine." This is like saying that some cancer patients use chemotherapy to look more bald.
  • "gender dysphoria, the feeling that one's psychological gender identity is different from one's biological sex" FUCCCCK it's almost 2015 and we're still repeating this nonsense about "gender identity" and "biological sex"? Reminder: humans do not have a "biological sex" that is different from their "gender identity". They have a collection of physical characteristics, some of which differ in ways that are sometimes categorized using a social model that some people ignorantly call "biological sex". But the only thing "biological sex" means is that a cis person is trying to misgender you because they feel that science is -- rather than a tool for understanding the world -- a good way for them to assert their power over you using the epistemic superiority that was granted to them the day they were born cis.
  • "The author of the new graphic memoir Pregnant Butch, a masculine-looking woman named by A.K. Summers, said one of the worst parts of her pregnancy was that it exaggerated the most female aspects of her body" -- I'll take their word for it (which maybe I shouldn't) that A.K. Summers' pronouns are "she/her", but why couldn't they find an actual man who'd been pregnant to quote in an article about, y'know, men being pregnant?
  • "In some of the transgender men in the study, gender dysphoria actually declined with pregnancy. These people said they were, for the first time in their lives, pleased with their bodies, which were finally helping them do something they valued that a typical male body could not do." WTF does "typical" mean? Why is a cis man's body any more "typically male" than mine?
  • "gender identity is a spectrum" - no. Fuck you. (That's my "gender identity.")
  • And finally, wtf is up with the headless-trans-man (though who knows what gender either the adult or the baby in the picture is... which is kind of the point, though it's probably lost on anyone working for NPR) photo illustrating the article? Given that the article strips away our autonomy and dignity, can we at least be afforded the luxury of having faces?

I should note that probably the study being discussed in the article is perfectly OK (though who knows? Since it's paywalled, I can't read it), with the exception of an author's use of "gender identity as a spectrum" (again, the term "spectrum" needs to be taken out and shot unless you're referring to a brand of organic all-vegetable shortening). I'm just objecting to NPR's coverage of it.
tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)
I find myself looking for this collection of links so often (and I just assembled it for a comment elsewhere) that I'm going to put it here in one place:

Insistence on the objective truth of the culturally mediated ideological construct called "biological sex" is anti-trans, anti-intellectual, and anti-science. It is indistinguishable from misgendering -- in fact, it's a form of misgendering clothed in ersatz scientific terminology -- and as such, it's violence against trans and gender-non-conforming people, but especially against trans women and other people who were coercively assigned male at birth but reject that designation.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Tonight, I'm remembering a horribly inappropriate TDOR celebration at Portland State University that I attended in 2010 (genderqueer acrobatics? Really?)

I'm remembering how my income has more than doubled since I transitioned.

I'm remembering the time, not very long ago, when I thought that I was at risk of violence for being trans. I genuinely thought that if I walked into a public men's restroom and somebody glanced at me and thought they weren't seeing a man, that there was a real chance I could be assaulted or worse. I didn't realize that the overwhelming majority of trans people who get murdered are women, specifically are women of color, that many are sex workers who don't have other economic alternatives, that many have been homeless, and none of that is a coincidence.

I'm a man. I'm white. I've never had trouble finding a job, and when I've considered doing sex work it would have been for fun or politics and not because nobody would hire me to do work that isn't against the law. I've never been homeless. All of this means I'm very likely to continue not being the target against what sometimes gets called transphobic violence, but is really the intersection of several systems of oppression.

I now know that it would be ludicrous for me to claim to be at that intersection. I realize that as an affluent white tech worker in Silicon Valley, I have far more in common with people who benefit from the continuing war on all women -- a war that targets intersectionally marginalized trans women with special violence -- than with the people who suffer from that war. I realize that I am one of the people who benefits from that war. I realize that it would be obscene for me to stand someplace and light a candle mourning those who died so that I can live the comfortable life that I live, regardless of whether those people are trans or cis. I owe a large part of my current comfortable status to the advantages that I enjoy as a man working in technology. And the high status of the specific kind of work that I do has a lot to do with the gendered nature of that work. Even within technology, work is divided along gendered lines, and the line of work that I'm in (requiring specialized knowledge that women are largely prevented from acquiring) is both particularly male-dominated and particularly remunerative. That's not a coincidence.

The high cultural valuation of masculinity owes itself to the devaluation of femininity, which is not an abstraction. For me, the decision to affirm my male identity to the world and not just privately was a decision that has resulted in greater happiness for me and more money in my bank account. Contrast that with how every person who was coercively assigned male at birth and rejects that assignment has to choose between private suffering, and the very real threat of public violence.

It would be wrong for me to utter the phrase "transgender people" and imply that I have more in common with CeCe MacDonald than I do with Mark Zuckerberg. It would be wrong for me to cry false tears about the deaths of women who I did not stand in solidarity with when they were alive. It would also be wrong for me to abuse the name of Brandon Teena, a working-class rural trans man who affirmed his gender as a teenager and died because of gendered violence (it just happened to be violence that didn't target his actual gender) to clumsily equate my own situation -- playing life as a person who was assigned the wrong sex at birth on the easiest possible level -- with that of every or any trans woman and/or genderqueer CAMAB person.

I've already said too much. You should read what these people have to say instead:

erica, inchoate: nihil de nobis, sine nobis: trans women of color and Remembering Your Dead

Alyssa Caparas: Why I Didn't Attend TDoR 2011

CeCe MacDonald: On Trans Day of Remembrance: A Proposal

[edited to add:] fakecisgirl: TDoR For, By, and About Trans Women Of Color Now
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Close readers of this journal know that after I had genital reconstruction surgery in February 2012, I experienced complications that required an emergency room visit. Everything was fine in the end with regard to my health and body, but with regard to my finances, not so much.

As far as background, from January-March 2012, I was employed by Mozilla as a seasonal employee (nope, I didn't know software engineers could be seasonal employees either) which meant I wasn't eligible for any benefits, including health insurance. To be a responsible adult, I purchased an individual health insurance plan from HCC, which I found through ehealthinsurance.com. HCC was one of the few individual short-term plans that offered instant approval, which means not asking the detailed health questions that most short-term insurance companies asked. I know from experience that I would be denied insurance by any company that asks detailed health questions, so I had to go with one that offered instant approval. I was hired by Mozilla at the end of that period as a full-time employee with benefits, so I have group health insurance now, but of course it doesn't apply retroactively.

While I was interning at Mozilla but before I decided to (/was forced to) leave grad school, I made plans to have surgery in Feb. 2012. Of course, I didn't think that any individual health insurance plan that I would have would cover the costs, so I intended to pay for the surgery via credit cards, and that's what I did. And if not for what happened after my first surgery, I'd have paid off those credit cards by now.

Infections can happen with any surgery, and I got to be one of the unlucky ones; after returning from Arizona to Oakland, about ten days after having surgery, I got a high fever and other flu-like symptoms. I wrote it off as probably a cold or flu at first, but it didn't get better as quickly as flu would have, and a few days later I made an appointment with my primary care doctor for advice. Just before I left for the doctor's appointment, I felt something wet and noticed that one of my incisions had burst open and was bleeding. I shoved some gauze in my pants and headed to the doctor; she advised me to go to the ER, since I needed a plastic surgeon and that would be the only way to get in to see one on short notice. I ended up staying at UCSF for that night and the next night, and had emergency surgery to stop the bleeding, which was due to a buildup of fluid from the infection. Again, after that, I got better and everything was fine... except for the bills.

When I went to the ER, I provided my health insurance information, knowing my insurance probably wouldn't pay, but I figured it couldn't hurt. And in fact, I was reluctant to go to the ER in the first place, even after the uncontrollable bleeding started. Think about that for a minute. How fucked up is it that I thought about treating unstoppable bleeding at home just because going to the hospital would accrue bills I wouldn't be able to pay?

Well, a few months later the unsurprising thing happened and I got a letter from HCC denying all my claims -- for a total of around $35,000 of costs that were my responsibility (between the hospital bills, anesthesiologist bills, and physician bills). They cited a clause in their policy that states that "Treatment required as a result of complications or consequences of a treatment or condition not covered under this certificate" is excluded under the policy. Moreover, there's another clause, that, similar to many other insurers' trans exclusion clauses, states that "Modifications of the physical body in order to improve the psychological, mental or emotional well-being of the Covered Person, such as sex-change surgery" are excluded. (As an exercise for the reader, you can think of all the things that are wrong or misleading about this sentence.)

In my opinion, HCC's denial of coverage was based on a correct application of the policy, but I believed that the policy itself was discriminatory. It singles out people in a protected class (trans people, as per California's Unruh Civil Rights Act) for poor treatment, as evinced by the use of the non-clinical term "sex-change surgery" to refer to genital reconstruction surgery and other procedures. The medical community agrees that for trans people who require surgery and/or hormones, those transition-related procedures are medically necessary -- not just desirable to improve "psychological, mental, or emotional well-being" (though, like almost any surgery, transition-related surgeries could certainly do that as a side effect -- not being in pain is more fun than being in pain, as a general rule). There is no controversy about that. So the only reason to single out trans people for denial of health care is to take advantage of public animus towards trans people; I'm not saying that executives at HCC necessarily hate trans people, but they know we're politically unpopular and that there will be no broad outcry against denying us care. A health insurance company's job is to stop people from getting health care, so the more unpopular groups they can identify and deny care to, the better they're doing their job.

I wrote a 4-page appeal letter elaborating on this point (and on other issues) and sent it to HCC in September of last year. After about a dozen phone calls and a few more letters sent to HCC, spread out over a few months (every time I called, I was told that the call center employee "didn't have permission to view [my] file"), I filed a complaint with the California Department of Insurance. Miraculously, within a week, I received a UPS next-day-air letter from HCC affirming the denial of my claim. The majority of the letter doesn't deserve the dignity of a response, but the key point is at the end: because HCC is licensed in Missouri, the letter states, they are not subject to California civil rights law -- even though they took advantage of the benefits of doing business in California by selling policies to me and other California residents.

I couldn't believe that this could be true, and I called back the person I'd interacted with at the Department of Insurance. She affirmed that this was true -- saying that in almost all cases, any health insurance company that is regulated in California and allowed to sell policies in California would be subject to California civil rights law, HCC fell into an exception for "health and life insurance companies". Because HCC sells both health and life insurance policies, they are allowed to sell insurance in California but don't have to comply with California law. Rather, they're subject to the laws of Missouri, which has no civil rights protection for trans people.

Something still didn't sit right with me about this answer, so I thought about finding a lawyer to get advice. But, I had already tried to do that:

  • I talked to a friend who works at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and he talked to a colleague of his who works at the Transgender Law Center. It appeared that the policy of both groups is not to sue health insurance companies for anti-trans discrimination, because challenging trans exclusion under civil rights law is something that has never been successful.
  • I talked to somebody at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, and while he spoke with me at length, in the end he said that they weren't willing to take the case because they don't handle cases where a company has an explicit trans exclusion clause; they would only challenge it if an insurer was denying coverage for transition-related care but didn't have a trans exclusion clause in their policy.
  • I spoke directly with an advocate at the Transgender Law Center and sent him a copy of my appeal letter before sending it to HCC, but never received a follow-up response.
  • I called the offices of Christopher Dolan, a lawyer who has done some LGBT civil rights cases, but after receiving an intake interview from a staff member, was told that they would not take my case.
  • Another friend of mine who's a lawyer recommended a lawyer known as the best client-side health insurance lawyer in California, and I called his office, but he never returned my call.
  • I called the San Francisco Bar Association referral service; they took my information over the phone, then called back a few days later and told me they weren't going to refer me to anybody.
  • I called my work's employee assistance program; they referred me to a lawyer who talked to me for 15 or 20 minutes, told me the case was really interesting and that if he had to file a brief on a related topic he would call me for advice (not what I want to hear from a lawyer, honestly), and to call him back once I received a response to my appeal. A few months later when I got the denial, I did call his office back, and they never returned my call.
  • I called the office of Kari Hong, who wrote the excellent paper "Categorical Exclusions", but she never returned my call (and seems to have moved on to other areas of law anyway).
  • I posted a query on LegalMatch, and got some views but no replies.
  • I called BALIF, the LGBT law association, to ask if they did referrals, and they never called me back.
I think that's everything. The only thing left to do that I can see is to go through BALIF's member directory, which they do have on their web site, and just start calling every lawyer on it. I intended to do this for a while, but I kept putting it off because I just couldn't face the thought of being told by cis people things like "why do you want health insurance to cover your cosmetic surgery?" and of wasting a lot of time on something not likely to produce results. So at this point, I'm admitting defeat. I have about $11,000 left to pay off to UCSF that I'm paying at an installment rate of $1000 a month; between that, student loans, paying off my credit card debt that's mostly from the original surgery and the revisions that I needed (though that's almost all paid off now), and the high cost of rent in the Bay Area, it'll still be at least a year before I get to see much of my paycheck. It'll be more than a year before I get to start saving for retirement. When all this is over, I'll have spent my first three years out of grad school -- after already getting a late start and leaving without a degree -- completely unable to save any money, almost entirely because of medical costs that would have been covered by insurance if I wasn't part of a socially stigmatized group. I could have saved that money for retirement, put it towards a down payment for a house, saved it towards being able to have a family one day, any number of things... but other people got to take it from me simply because I'm trans.

My understanding is that trans civil rights groups (and there are very few civil rights groups to begin with that defend trans people's rights) prefer not to pursue cases like mine because they think it's a better strategy to work with employers to lift clauses in their policies, on a company-by-company basis. I see this as a trickle-down approach to social justice, and like most trickle-down approaches, it benefits those people who are already the most privileged. The solution proposed is for everyone to just get a job at Google so they can have trans-inclusive insurance... but what if you're in a class of people who can't just get a job at Google? Oh, well. I'm personally in that category of the lucky few who have job options that come with trans-inclusive group health insurance, but my company still has trans-exclusive insurance (and, of course, due to the specifics of how I was hired, I wasn't even covered by their insurance when my emergency happened). And I like working at my company, and don't want to take a different job just for the health insurance.

Before all this happened, I thought that all it would take to challenge trans exclusion clauses would be for someone to be willing to be a test case, so long as they lived in a state that had trans civil rights protections. Well, now I see that I was wrong. I would have been happy to be a test case, since I don't particularly care about getting negative publicity (being a trans man, I would be unlikely to face the same kinds of negative consquences as a trans woman who outed herself publicly as being trans), but that didn't matter, since no one was interested in representing me.

And, of course, it's possible that even the world's best lawyer couldn't have won my case because of the health-and-life-insurance company loophole. I don't know enough about insurance law to know. That's why I wanted to hire an insurance lawyer. The individual health care policy industry seems to be a particularly unethical and exploitive corner of a morally bankrupt industry. And this is a good time for me to acknowledge that the basic issue here is the US's for-profit health care system, something found almost no where else in the developed world. If our failure to take care of each other -- even people different from ourselves -- hadn't created an industry whose purpose is to take people's money in order to stop them from getting health care, there would be no incentive for insurance companies to deny care to people in marginalized groups. That said, I think it's possible for different groups of activists to address different problems; we have to fight for a better system at the same time as we work to make the current system less blatantly unfair.

I feel like what I've achieved in my life so far is pretty close to the maximum for what trans people are allowed to accomplish. My lifelong depression has always stopped just short of being suicidal; I have a graduate degree, have never been homeless, and have a stable professional job and a high income. I'm pretty close to the trans ceiling, then -- and a whole lot of that is because I'm a trans person who was coercively assigned female at birth and who presents in a way that people recognize as falling within what men are allowed to do most of the time. I don't want to downplay any of my privilege here. Still, if the best that any trans person can hope to accomplish involves being in major long-term debt, there's a problem, because in that case why should anybody try hard when they're designated as subordinate from the start? Looking at the CNN.com story that featured me along with five trans women, a few months ago, is one way to find further context.

I'm okay with giving up this fight, but I'm not okay with not leaving a public record of what happened, so for posterity, here's my appeal letter in PDF form and here's the response from HCC denying my claim; also, here's the response from the CA Department of Insurance declaring that California has no authority to regulate HCC, also in PDF. For context, you also might want to read all of my previous surgery posts (but, warning: all of them contain explicit body and/or sexuality details about me): first, second, and third.

If you're wondering what you can do:
  • When you get an unsolicited email from a recruiter, ask them if their company has trans-inclusive health insurance, and then post the results here.
  • Find out whether your employer has trans-inclusive health insurance. If not, find out why not and pressure them to change. It's especially important than people who are not trans do this, both because they can do so with less personal risk and because their requests will be taken more seriously.
  • Donate to the TGI Justice Project, which doesn't focus on health insurance but does advocate for the most vulnerable trans people.
(I'll add more ideas if I think of them.)

Edited July 11, 2013 to add letter from CA Department of Insurance
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
A few weeks ago, I agreed to be interviewed by a reporter for CNN Money (online only, there's no TV version of this as far as I know) about my financial situation -- the Transgender Law Center put me in touch with her. Of course, I would rather make the news for something other than being in massive debt, but I'm hoping this will help raise awareness of something like that. Here's the article, which goes with a slide show of me and five trans women, with each of our stories in our own words. I can't speak for any of the other five participants, but I was pleased with the level of accuracy with which Blake Ellis, the author, transcribed my words as you see them on the page.

Despite my net worth being in the negative five figures, I still try to donate to organizations I support, and (while doing my taxes for 2012) I had occasion to make a list of them. These are not the only organizations I've supported, but they are my favorites. Here they are, in case you have more money than you know what to do with and want suggestions.


I wish I'd had access to this site when I was 12 or 13. (I still thought that "oral sex" referred to kissing at that point.) In a country where whether teenagers should get accurate information about sex in school is a controversial subject, sites like this are sorely needed. Scarleteen is a labor of love by Heather Corinna, whose online presence I've been following for a while now, and her commitment and dedication to maintaining the site for minimal reward is inspiring.

The Ada Initiative

Open-source and free software communities, as well as free culture projects like Wikipedia, continue to be hostile environments for women, people in gender, sexual and romantic minorities, and lots of other people who are from groups that have outsider status. It doesn't have to be that way, and it would be better for everyone if everyone who had desire and energy to contribute was able to participate in building the future without fear of humiliation. The Ada Initiative is the only group I know of that is specifically working to make that vision a reality. I have had the pleasure of meeting and interacting online with both of the founders, Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora, so I have particular confidence in TAI's effectiveness.

National Network of Abortion Funds

Incredibly, getting an abortion in the US in 2013 is still highly dependent on one's income, and we still are a nation where being forced to give birth to a baby because of inability to pay around $500 (or in many locations, thousands of dollars when travel costs are factored in) is far from unheard of. The National Network of Abortion Funds focuses specifically on funding abortions for people who can't afford them, as well as changing unjust laws like the Hyde Amendment. They are sometimes good (not perfect!) at using language in their publicity that acknowledges that people who get pregnant and need abortions aren't always women. Stacey Burns, the online communications manager for NNAF, friended me on Facebook after I did a Causes.com birthday wish for NNAF a few years back, and through reading her posts, I've gotten a good sense for the kind of activism that NNAF represents, and that it's something I want to support.

All Hands Volunteers

In the summer of 2010, I went to Léogâne, Haiti for six weeks to help with earthquake relief. All Hands Volunteers was the group I volunteered with. I ended up leaving Haiti after four weeks instead of six -- turns out heavy labor in extreme heat wasn't the thing I was best at (and after years and years of sitting at a desk 40+ hours a week -- who'd have guessed?) While I was there, though, I saw firsthand that All Hands is a group that's very effective at getting a lot of work done with a small group of very committed volunteers. Since then, they've initiated disaster relief projects in the Philippines as well as post-Sandy relief in Staten Island and Long Island. Some of the volunteers I met while working with All Hands were among the most inspiring people I've ever met.

Lyon-Martin Health Services

I'm biased -- Lyon-Martin, in San Francisco, is where I get my primary health care. It's a place where I can feel confident that I won't be treated awkwardly or be forced to educate about being a man with a transsexual body, and it's also a place where trans women, queer cis women, and genderqueer people can feel confident of the same. They operate on a shoestring and were close to shutting down not long ago. You should give not just if you want to support respectful health care in the Bay Area, but also if you want to make sure that the informed-consent model for trans health care spreads further.

Partners in Health

Years ago, I read _Mountains Beyond Mountains_ by Tracy Kidder (on the recommendation of a LiveJournal friend!), a biography of Paul Farmer -- who, along with Ophelia Dahl, founded Partners in Health -- and it has affected my thoughts, if not yet my actions, ever since. Paul Farmer's belief in and work towards providing the same health care to poor people that (say) a Silicon Valley software engineer like me would expect for themself or for their friends and family is challenging and is a source of hope. I also appreciate that while PIH is non-sectarian, it's inspired by liberation theology; _Mountains Beyond Mountains_ quotes Farmer as saying that he knew there had to be something to religion, because rich people hated it and poor people derived strength from it. I like that. And PIH gets stuff done (plus, Ophelia Dahl graduated from my alma mater, Wellesley, reminding me that not everyone from my school becomes an investment banker).

Transgender, Gender-Variant and Intersex Justice Project

There are big-name organizations that call themselves "LGBT" when the "T" really stands for transmisogyny and the B is silent, but the TGI Justice Project is the real thing. Just as PIH focuses on providing health care where it's needed the most, TGIJP focuses on the needs of that subset of the "LGBTIQ" cohort who need justice the most: trans women of color who are or have been incarcerated or who are targeted by the criminal justice system.

Having written this list, now I'm looking forward to having my debts paid off so I can support all of these organizations more thoroughly! If you particularly want to support organizations whose work is of a global nature, Partners in Health and All Hands Volunteers are your best bets on this list. Most of my favorites are US-centric, though, since I believe in helping with the needs that I'm most familiar with (since who else is going to but the people who are affected?)

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Well, maybe this meme is dying down, but I happened to re-read Emily's Trans 101, Upgoer Five Style and while it's good, I also couldn't resist writing my own version. Strangely enough, I felt like the limited vocabulary here helped me be clear, whereas when I was writing about my job, I felt too constrained by it in places (possibly because of having to circumlocute for technical terms, which was less of an issue here.)

Most people think that when a baby is very little, they can tell whether the baby is a boy or a girl. Also, they think that every baby is either a boy or a girl, never both.

They think this because they think that what a baby's between-the-legs looks like tells you whether the baby is a boy or a girl. But that's not true. Both boys and girls can have one kind of between-the-legs. And both boys and girls can have the other kind of between-the-legs. It's how you feel that makes you a boy or a girl, and babies can't talk to let other people know how they feel.

Also, there are more ways to feel than just boy or girl, and you can also feel any or all of those ways no matter what you have between your legs.

Some people think that everyone has a mark inside their cells that says they're a boy or that they're a girl. This, too, is wrong. These marks are real, but it's people who decided that one mark makes you a boy and the other mark makes you a girl. People are wrong sometimes.

Most people who get called a boy when they're a baby are boys, and most people who get called a girl when they're a baby are girls. It's harder for girls who got called boys, and boys who got called girls, and people who aren't boys or girls. There are two different ways in which it's harder.

First, some people have a picture of their body inside their brain that's of a body that looks and feels different than how the rest of their body is. You can't change that picture even by thinking very hard or getting help from another person. If you are this way, you have to change your body instead to make it match the picture in your brain.

Second, whether a person needs to change their body and does, or they need to change it but they can't, or they don't need to change it, many people aren't very nice to boys who don't look like they think a boy should look, or to girls who don't look like they think a girl should look, or when they can't decide if another person is a girl or a boy.

I'm in both the first and the second group. People thought I was a girl when I was a baby, but I was a boy. I didn't know this could even be true until I was much older. As soon as I found out that just because people thought I was a girl didn't mean I was one, I knew I wasn't a girl. After a while, I realized that I was a boy, and not someone who wasn't a girl or a boy. I was able to change my body to make it more like the picture that's built into my brain, so I'm much happier having a body now. And most people who see me realize I'm a boy without me having to tell them, which also makes me happy, because it was hard to explain to people who thought I was a girl that I was actually a boy.

It's harder for people who got called a boy when they were a baby but aren't boys, because lots of people are very afraid of people who they think have said no to being a boy. They think that someone else not wanting to look like a boy means being a boy won't be as fun for them. To deal with their fears about themselves, those people hurt other people. This gets in the way of the people who got called boys and aren't, who are just trying to live their lives.

You can make it better by believing people when they say that they're a girl, or that they're a boy, or that they're something else and not a girl or a boy. You can also make it better by telling people they are wrong when they make fun of others who they think are being boys wrong or being girls wrong.

Check it!
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Over on Twitter, I wrote: 'Cis people have sexes, trans people have "gender identities"! Men are from Mars, women are from Venus!'

And a friend who is cis asked, in response, 'Suggestions for (gently?) correcting cis people who're under the impression that "gender identity" is what trans people prefer?'

One thing that I, and many other trans people say, is that if you're cis, and care about trans people, you should call out cissexism when you hear it: for example, if someone in your presence uses the t----- word (and is not a CAMAB trans person), or makes a joke whose humor is contingent on it being ridiculous or pathetic for CAMAB people to wear or do anything coded as feminine, you should inform them of your displeasure. There is no need to do so diplomatically or politely unless you think that is the most effective way to send a message to the offender, and anyone else present, that this behavior isn't acceptable. Rules don't have to be polite -- stop signs don't say "stop, please". As an ally to trans people, you assert a boundary when you say "it's not okay for you to use slurs around me." And there is no need to be particularly nice in stating that boundary.

To me, though, use of the term "gender identity" -- which is, in my opinion, almost always part of a stealth tactic to invalidate trans people's self-affirmed sexes and elevate cis people's identities to the status of "biological" -- falls into a different category from slurs and hateful jokes. First and foremost, some trans people do prefer the "gender identity" terminology; some trans people do say things like "my biological sex is female, but my gender identity is male". It makes me cringe to hear that, and when I feel like I can, I'll try to let people know that there are other ways of talking about our lives that are more honest and accurate.

But it's not a cis person's place to have that conversation with a trans person, and likewise, it's also not a cis person's place to claim they know what set of terminology is right for all trans people.

Here's what I suggest you do instead if you want to call out terms like "gender identity", and you're either cis, or being seen as cis: shift the focus to cisness, instead of transness. For example, you could ask: "Do you have a gender? Or do you have a gender identity? Do you feel you know what your sex is? If so, how would you feel if someone else told you they know what your sex is, and the sex you know you are is just a 'gender identity'?"

Even using the terms "cis" or "cissexual" bothers some people because they would just rather be called "normal"; if "cis" and trans" are adjectives of equal status, neither one marked as the "default" state, then it's almost as if being cis isn't any better than being trans. By getting cis people to understand that they are cis, that the way they relate to their body and to the labels they were coercively assigned at birth are not universal but are simply their subjective experiences (no better or more real than anyone else's subjective experiences), you can encourage other people cis people to step off the pedestal, and relate to trans people as equals rather than superiors. If you can name yourself as "cis", that's one step towards realizing that trans people are not flawed versions of yourself, but rather, people who are different from yourself, just as you are different from us.

In my opinion, "gender identity" serves a similar function to language that marks "trans" but leaves cisness unmarked. The language of "biological sex", being "born a man" or "born a woman" (which sounds painful for the individual giving birth), "chromosomes", and so on, all sound scientific, but in this case they're serving a decidedly political function: to lend legitimacy to the idea that people whose sex is different from the sex they were coercively assigned at birth do not exist. "Gender identity" makes us second-class and tells us we have to be second-class for science (and few things are considered more shameful among the middle class than rejecting science, or rejecting anything that can be framed as "science").

But not all trans people agree with me. So rather than trying to summarize what all trans people prefer (an exercise that's likely not to end well, any more than you could summarize what all cis people prefer), maybe focus on questions, instead of answers. "What do you mean by that?" can take you a long way. I think that's especially true when unpacking much of the language used to describe sex and gender, whose function is to subordinate some people politically and raise the status of others, rather than to describe reality.


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

December 2018

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