Love That Does Not Accept Me

Things to *not* say to a newly out trans woman.

Alex and Ania Splain You a Thing

Let’s get one thing clear

When someone you know tells you something big, like say, “I’m trans,” these are some appropriate responses:

“Wow, congrats on figuring yourself out!”

“Should I start using new pronouns?”

“Wow, um, it’ll take me a bit to process this, but I’ll try.”

“Cool! I’ve never known a trans person before and I have loads of questions. Let me know if they’re getting too personal, okay? I know this is probably the single most intense conversation you’ve ever had. including that time you were threatened by a vagrant wielding a Bible and a pacemaker scar in the trash room of your building, so I don’t want to make this even scarier for you.”

“You know, I/someone I know is getting rid of some old clothes and cheap jewelry. I can let them know you’re interested and see if they’ll let you pick through them first.”

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Let’s Talk About Postoperative Depression

[TW: Depression, Pain]

The final weeks leading up to my surgery date in May and June were filled with anxiety. Crippling anxiety that made me want to shut down and retreat from the world at the exact time when I needed to go out and kick some ass in order to get my passport and last remaining funds in the short amount of time I had. Obviously, you already know I managed to scrape everything together at the last minute thanks to donations, support, and especially help and hand-holding from Dirty Nerdy. While I waited to board my plane to Thailand with my money secured, my passport in hand, my medical papers squared away, and all the other extremely exhausting hurdles cleared, I sat in my terminal watching planes land and take off and cried. Uncontrollably. Probably for at least half an hour.

I had just finished about an hour long conversation with my paternal grandma, who I haven’t had the best contact with. And it’s probably the most “normal” conversation I’ve had with her for at least a decade. I wished her a happy birthday, I told her I would keep her and everyone else updated during my trip so they would know I was safe, I talked about the Chinese dancers that were putting on a show at the airport, and plenty of other mundane pleasantries. Neither of us said anything about it, but I’m fairly certain we both thought about my dad, whose funeral I attended only a few weeks ago.

I thought about how amazing it was to crowdsource my vagina, and all the awesome people who donated to make this trip happen. Many of whom I had never known or met. I thought about my fiance, my sister, and Dirty Nerdy, without whom I would have just shut down. I thought a lot about relationships. I thought a lot about how, in less than a few days, my body would finally be whole for the first time in my life. I thought about how this goal has been something I’ve wanted for as long as I’ve known it’s possible, and how bewildering it was to finally accomplish. I wondered about what my life’s next chapter would be like now that this one was finally coming to a close. I thought of all this and more while listening to “Let it Go” on my headphones, and I wept.

As for my month in Thailand, well you can find all about that on These Three Episodes of Shethinkers. But one detail that bears mentioning is how homesick I felt. At least, I assumed that’s what it was. The first week in my hotel after surgery was the hardest. I was in pain, got dizzy from the short trip between my bed and the bathroom, could only eat crackers and Sprite without having severe stomach problems, and I was alone. I clung to my Harry Potter fandom to keep me going, as I have in other difficult times of my life. The audiobooks reminded me of so many memories with my mom and sister, and searching for fan theories and other little details to consider reminded me of Dirty Nerdy. I called my fiance and Dirty Nerdy almost every day until I ran out of minutes. I slept all day and stayed up all night so I could stay on social media with all my friends.

My few moments of human interaction were the once-a-day ten-minute visits from the nurses, and my physically exhausting trips around the corner for food. I’m still extremely thankful for my favorite nurse, Noi, who held my hand, gave me messages, and rubbed my back and legs. I think she understood that skin-to-skin contact was something patients needed, especially in a strange place and a strange situation. Between Noi and my fellow vagina sister/neighbor, who I met my last week in Thailand, I was able to weather the storm of loneliness. As I packed my bags and prepared for the long, long (and painful) trip home, I thought my mood would finally be back to what I was used to.

But even though I was home with my loved ones, in my own country, with my native food, in my own house, with my fur babies and everything else I had missed I still felt…off. I still cried a lot, but couldn’t figure out why. Nothing really held my interest. Even during my happier moments, like snuggling with my puppy, or cooking tacos for the first time in like six weeks, or seeing everyone I had missed, my emotions felt muted. Subdued. I just chalked this up to being off hormones for so long (close to two months by this point) and just the general “well your life has changed a lot at a quick pace, give it time” that people mentioned when I would express concerns.

Now, without getting into details, my personal life as well as many of my friends’ personal lives, has kind of been thrown up in the air. Finances have been extremely tight because we still have to pay off the loans for this surgery. I fluctuate between dull, chronic pain that’s easy to ignore if I’m distracted, and very high levels of pain that make me want to scream (though thankfully these are becoming less common). And to top it all off, I still have a hard time accomplishing even fairly simple tasks like going to the grocery store, riding in a car for a couple hours, or going for a hair cut without becoming exhausted, irritable, and in pain. Even writing this, which we can all agree doesn’t require much physically, is probably going to exhaust me mentally for the rest of the day. I know I’m not a fun person to be around right now, but I don’t really have anything to do about it other than just shut down and keep my interactions to a minimum. I’ve been seeing my therapist again for the first time in years, and she informed me of postoperative depression. And I don’t mean “post-SRS depression because I regret having SRS” (I don’t), I mean all surgeries/operations have a risk of depression.

Some theorize it’s the anesthesia causing a chemical reaction in the brain. Some theorize it’s the sudden limited ability during recovery. Some theorize it’s the confrontation with death and mortality. The point is, whenever I saw the statistics for “post-SRS regret” that TERFs and other haters like to throw around, I just shrugged them off as being bad statisticians and faulty premises. But now I see that they’re just dishonest representations of depression all people have a chance of experiencing after any surgery. And that pisses me the fuck off. Which is great, because anger is one of the most clear emotions I can feel right now while I’m trying to sort my life out and get a handle on my mental and physical health again.

I mention all of this not so I can gain sympathy, but because I’m sure fans of Shethinkers and people in my life have noticed that there’s something “off” about me lately. And I want you to know that I’m getting professional help as well as loving care for this, but it might take me longer than I hoped to get back to the “real me” again. But again, I and others in my life are doing everything to make that happen. I also mention it because I want others to be aware that this is a “risk” of surgery that I was never made aware of. Probably because it’s always seen as a unique-to-SRS issue rather than a “hey, all people who have surgery have this risk” issue. I think this needs to be part of the conversation about transitioning. It should be part of post-operative care. It’s something to prepare for if and when you ever go under the knife for whatever reason. Take care of yourself, and allow the people in your life to take care of you too.

I’m going to do my best to follow my own advice.

How to Organize!

So you want to join in this awesome movement, but don’t know what to do? Cool! All organizers start somewhere. You don’t have to be big, or loud, or extra powerful to be part of what we’re doing. Every little bit matters. So if you are so mad you’re ready to “can even” just pick an action and get on it!


Going out in a group:


1.) Find everyone you know who would be interested in the cause. A good way to do this is social media, but you can also network with your local Planned Parenthood, local chapters of the Democratic Party, other local activist groups to get people on-board. Organizing is pretty much just networking. Talk to people, let them know what you’re up to, and there will always be people willing to support the cause.


2.) Pick a good date, and before that date, scope out the nearest adjacent public sidewalk to your location. Different municipalities will have different protest permit laws, but generally, as long as your sidewalk is facing a street, and so long as you aren’t blocking or impeding foot traffic, you will be well within your constitutional rights. More information on what does/doesn’t fly as far as ordinances go can be found at the ACLU website. Check with your local city hall for additional information.

ACLU website:


3.) Get out there and be strong. You may see counter-protesters. You may see rain. You may get tired. That’s okay. Just know that you’ve done your part by taking a stand against an injustice for a couple of hours.


Things you may not want to forget:




Comfy Shoes


Trashbags/Ponchos (if over 30% chance of rain)


Any necessary permits



Individual Activities:


But what if I am really, really, really the only one?  Well, that’s cool too. There are ways you can express your displeasure all on your own–even if they may not seem as powerful as they might in a group. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1.) Mail it in:

Write your local/state/federal government representatives and let them know what you stand for. They can’t necessarily overturn this ruling, but they can create and maintain local policies that support your reproductive rights. Bitch magazine has some awesome ideas on how to make a vintage postcard to let your representatives and senators know you won’t let them take you back to 1959.


2.) Shop and Drop:

If you really can’t find anyone in your vicinity who wants to stage a protest, or are blocked from doing so, you can always enter your local Hobby Lobby and pick out several things you would buy if the Green family weren’t out to take your rights. Walk it up to a register. Flash enough cash to show you’d buy the stuff, and say “This is what I would have bought today if you weren’t after my/my uterus having friend’s reproductive rights.” Then walk off.


3.) Shop everywhere else:

Buy an awesome craft haul! Take a picture of it and your receipt, and tweet that at Hobby Lobby.


And it doesn’t end there. There are so many things you can do. Just scope out the resource links below to get more ideas on how to make your protest an effective one.




How to Protest


40 Best Protest Signs


How to Organize a Protest – Occupy Together


How to Publicize an Event


How to make a Press Kit

Reproductive Justice Fight!


Are you so mad at the recent SCOTUS rulings that you literally can’t even?
Are you filled with rage and don’t know what to do with it?
Well start to Can Even!
Join us, as we Lobby Hobby against Hobby Lobby!



Through out the month of July, we are organizing local protests across the United States outside Hobby Lobby Stores.
We will pass out pamphlets explaining why we’re there. These pamphlets will also have a listing of other crafting stores
in the area, as well as information about activities in August.



In August we are planning “shop-ins”. We will go to Joanne’s, Michael’s and other crafting stores and buy crafting supplies
for the September activities. We will have new pamphlets made for August to hand out to customers and employees explaining
our August activities and upcoming September activities, and also inviting them to join us in D.C. in October!



September is the month we get our craft on!
Glue, knit and decoupage your rage into a package/letter to send to your congressperson and Supreme Court justices!
Let them know we’ll be in D.C. in October, we’re pissed and WE VOTE!


This is the day all of our work comes to a head. We will rally together in D.C. outside the Supreme Court and our voices
will be heard! Speakers and events for the day are in the works right now. Drive, ride, walk, or bike to D.C. and have the
chance to have your voice heard!

If you want to be involved or volunteer, join the facebook event at:

Plan local protests for July and post them to the page. Then plan local shop-ins and post those as well. Get together with
friends for crafting in September. Share ideas and stories and give support. Invite friends to the event!

We need your voice! We want your voice!

Spread the word, use: #JoinTheDissent #ChallengeScotus #BeTheBuffer #LobbyHobby

JTR: You “Engage The T” and I’ll Show You the Horns

Editor’s Note: While Dirty Nerdy is well known for her Justified Ginger Rage, Dori has been observed occasionally flying into a Justified Tranny Rage. Especially when some asshole tries to cis-splain down to her about how to be an activist for her own rights. May we present a JTR of  “Engaging the T” by Andrew Sullivan

There are few topics I feel nervous to write about on this blog, as you might have surmised over the years. But one of them is the question of transgender people. It’s a fascinating topic, but remains so completely fraught and riddled with p.c. neurosis that no writer wants to unleash the hounds of furious, touchy trans activism.

Translation: “I’m a fearless man who is unafraid to offer my manly opinions. But those damn trans activists are scary. Good thing I’m in a position of privilege where I can speculate about their movement and motivations without actually engaging with any of them personally. After all, it’s not like I’m at risk of being a victim of cissexism or misogyny. So of course I’m in a position to tell trans people how to progress their own movement.”

And that’s the first thing to note here, I’d say. Any minority – especially a tiny one like gays or transgender people – has, at some point, to explain itself to the big, wide world. That’s not entirely fair but it’s unavoidable if you want a change in attitudes or an increase in understanding. And my view is that there is no need to be defensive about it.

You want to be educated? Lucky for you we live in the internet age and you literally have answers right at your fingertips. Here, let me help you with that. We’re past the point of educating, we’re taking a more active roll. And some cis people find that frightening. Criticism of cissexism and transantagonism from the trans community is not “being defensive”, that’s just calling out oppression and trying to make it stop.

Most people are just completely ignorant, and have never met or engaged a trans person, and so their misconceptions and misunderstandings are inevitable and not self-evidently a matter of bigotry or prejudice. I think we should be understanding of this, as open as we can be, and answer the kinds of questions some might feel inappropriate or offensive. That’s the basis for dialogue, empathy and progress.

How are cis people ever going to unlearn cissexist bullshit unless trans people call it out? Intent might be a factor in how I address something problematic, but it will not magically make transantagonist language and attitudes acceptable.

But this has not, alas, been the way in which the transgender movement has largely sought to engage the wider world (with some exceptions). Kevin Williamson notes how Laverne Cox, appearing as a trans person on the cover of Time, nonetheless refused to answer a question about whether she had had her genitals reassigned as too “invasive.” Sorry, Laverne. But if you’re out there explaining yourself, you’ve gotta explain all of it.

No. No. No. NO. NO! A trans woman merely existing does not justify your invasive questions about her body. By this logic, Katie Couric should be able to question every cis male actor about his dick size. After all, why be open about any aspect of your identity unless you’re willing to explain every objectifying and invasive detail about your body? If you really want to fucking know how transitioning works, I can remind you about the internet again.

And the elaborate and neurotic fixation on language – will writing “transgender” rather than “transgendered” reveal my inner bigot? – is now so neurotic even RuPaul has been cast aside as politically incorrect.

Yes, writing transgendered rather than transgender, when it is clear you have been informed as to why that’s problematic, does reveal your inner bigot. Also, RuPaul is a gay cis man. Why on earth should he be immune from being called a cissexist asshole by trans women? Oh, or are you about to continue revealing your ignorance?

The insistence that the question of transgender people is essentially the same as that of gay people – when they are quite clearly distinct populations with very different challenges – is also why we have the umbrella term “LGBT”.

Goddamn, that is a poorly constructed sentence. But I guess your readers might mistake your inability to clearly express an idea with “good writing”. Luckily, Dirty Nerdy tried to translate it for me. Basically you’re making the common GGGG argument that trans people are “too different” to warrant inclusion in the queer community. Perhaps even implying that our inclusion does more harm than good for the GGGG movement.


Except, you know, we kind of kick-started the modern queer rights movement. You see, even back then we were not in the same position to assimilate into “straight culture” in the way white affluent cis gay men can. So we started a fucking riot. A riot that went on to benefit the queer community at large. Tell me again how trans women being too radical hurts a movement?

And so Kevin Williamson is not wrong, I think, to note the way in which politics has eclipsed the English language here and that language itself has become enmeshed in a rigid ideology:

“The obsession with policing language on the theory that language mystically shapes reality is itself ancient — see the Old Testament — and sympathetic magic proceeds along similar lines, using imitation and related techniques as a means of controlling reality.”

Yo, imma quote a known cissexist to support my claim. But I’m totes not a transphobe.

But Williamson is just as wrong in his brutal, even callous, denunciation of transgender people as acting out “delusions”. And he’s wrong not because he politically incorrect, but because he’s empirically off-base. He too is creating his own reality.

See, totes not a transphobe! Even though I’m saying trans activists are equally terrible to someone who engages in the type of dehumanization that results in the murder of trans people every year.

For Williamson, it seems, you can only have one sex and it is dictated by your genitals. End of story. Naturally, he doesn’t address the question of what biological sex is when you are born with indeterminate genitals that are not self-evidently male or female. The intersex are a small minority – from 0.1 to 1.7 percent, depending on your definition – but in a country of 300 million, that adds up. And the experience of those people – especially those have been genitally mutilated to appear as one sex, while feeling themselves to be the other – is a vital part of understanding what gender and sex are.

Kevin may not like this – but it’s complicated.

Not only have I produced a straw transphobe for me to fight in order to illustrate my totally-not-transantagonist attitudes, but I’m going to disprove his reliance on biological determinism by…relying on biological determinism. And implying that the trans community and the intersex community are interchangeable. See, I’m you’re ally!
We can see crucial differences between male and female brains, for example, and they do not always correspond to male and female genitals. Since by far the most important sexual organ is the brain, the possibilities of ambiguity are legion. And this is not a matter of pomo language games.
Wow, you found a way to endorse biological determinism as a justification for trans identities (Pro tip: We don’t need your justifications. We already exist.), but you also managed to be racist with maybe a hint of classism (since you’re implying that language can only be changed by some members of society and not others). I’m just gonna let you keep digging this hole you seem so intent on.
The experience of a conflict between self-understood gender and assigned gender is real, and a source of great anguish. That human anguish is what we should seek to mitigate, it seems to me, rather than compound as Williamson does.

Oh yes, please cisplain to me what it’s like to experience gender dysphoria. And how language that reduces me and my trans sisters into a punchline is by no means harmful.

And as J. Brian Lowder notes, the insistence of many transgendered people on the need to permanently reconcile their physical bodies with their mental states is in some ways a rather conservative impulse. There’s a reason that Iran’s theocrats allow for sex-change operations but not gay relationships.

Oh look, quoting more cis men instead of the actual intended targets of trans slurs: trans women. I guess it was too hard to find out what our opinions are about it, even though we’re somehow hurting the movement by being too vocal.

The transgender desire not to be trans-gender but to be one gender physically and mentally is actually quite an affront to queer theorists for whom all gender and sex are social constructions. Many of these people want testosterone and estrogen and surgery to end their divided selves. And it doesn’t get more crudely biological and not-social than that.

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. Come closer. Cloooooser.


I know that might shock you, but trust me, I’m a trans, poly, bi woman. You’d probably say that’s too confusing for the straight mainstream. Good thing I don’t really give a fuck about the straight mainstream. Which is strange, because I’m a trans woman who is perceived by everyone as a cis woman, which according to you means I shouldn’t even be concerned about the queer community.

Which means that there are also divisions within the trans world between those who might be able to pass completely as another gender, after reassignment surgery, and those whose visual ambiguity or androgyny will remain. Lowder quotes a trans artist thus:

If you don’t wish to own [tranny] or any other word used to describe you other than “male” or “female” then I hope you are privileged enough to have been born with an appearance that will allow you to disappear into the passing world or that you or your generous, supportive family are able to afford the procedures which will make it possible for you to pass within the gender binary system you are catering your demands to. If you’re capable of doing that then GO ON AND DISAPPEAR INTO THE PASSING WORLD!

Oh good, you have at least listened to trans people enough to know that this is a complicated issue within our own community. Just like other slurs that hurt members of oppressed minorities, variations of “Reclaim” vs. “Abolish” attitudes toward the word tranny can be found all throughout our community. And that’s okay because IT’S OUR FUCKING COMMUNITY! Tranny is a slur targeted toward trans people. Even though I was called a faggot growing up, that slur is targeted toward gay men, neither of which describe me. So the slur doesn’t hurt me the same way that it hurts a gay man. Which is why I don’t go around calling people a faggot and then telling gay men to “get over it”.

This is the perennial question of a minority’s anxiety about sell-outs – whether it be expressed in the fights over how light-skinned some African-Americans are or how “masculine” gay men are or how feminine lesbians appear. In other words, this is a very complicated and sensitive area. But if we are to make progress in understanding  – and Williamson’s piece shows how far we have yet to go – we have to let go of these insecurities and defensiveness and accept that no question about the transgendered is too dumb or too bigoted to answer.

Is the transgender movement mature enough to accept this and move forward? I guess we’ll soon find out.

JTR3I’m mature enough to tell you to go fuck yourself, because nobody invited you to this discussion. If tranny is “just a word”, then why are you and other gay men putting up such a fight over it? I don’t think it has anything to do with your freeze peach or teaching trans people to have a “thicker skin”. No, I think why so many cis gay men are so committed to being able to use a transphobic slur is because they’re upset that trans people are no longer happy sitting on the sidelines and waiting for the rest of the queer community to fight for our rights. Yes, we are your siblings in this queer family but for too long we have been treated like the un-wanted step-child and we’re tired of it. So get over it and deal with it.

Counter Protest: Activate! Form of: Queer Rights

Dirty Nerdy here to tell you about an exciting opportunity to tell Texas politicians to respect Queer Rights!

As many of you know, Federal District Court Judge Orlando Garcia recently ruled the Texas Marriage Amendment, which banned anything other than straight marriage in the state of Texas, to be unconstitutional!


Don’t get too excited yet, because politicians are seeking to reverse the decision.

June, 5th, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. there is going to be a “Defense of Texas Marriage Amendment Rally” held at the Omni Hotel, Fort Worth Ballroom. There will be speakers from Republican politicians to talk, presumably, about how the gays are out to destroy the American way of life.

Queer Texans will not stand for this. We are gathering outside the Omni Hotel tomorrow to protest this bigoted “rally”, and we’re inviting all other Texans to stand with us for equality.  Follow the link to join the counter protest!

Go here to click on map for directions

Go here to click on map for directions

Rainbow Reading – 10 Great LGBT Kids’ Books

While LGBT media representation is improving every day, it’s still pretty hard to find anything in children’s media that actually discusses LGBT kids, not LGBT parents. (Most likely because society sexualizes LGBT identities more than cis/het identities. ) But one area where parents can find good representation is in print. In no particular order, here’s some awesome LGBT kids books I recommend.

RainbowReading11. Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away With Another Spoon

Not only is the artwork in this coloring book lively and fun, but it’s inclusive of all LGBT identities as well as people with disabilities, race, and other intersectionalities. And unlike other similar LGBT coloring books, this one is obviously made with children, not adults, as the target audience.

2. Be Who You Are

This is the story of a young trans girl transitioning and what social complications she and her family navigate during that time. This includes helping her little brother understand and arranging things with her school. But it has a happy ending and is great for trans kids or just explaining what being trans is like to kids.

3. And Tango Makes Three

This book is just adorable, because it’s about two boy penguins getting a chance to adopt an egg and become a family. How can you not love that?

4. It’s Okay to be Different

Pretty much all of Todd Parr’s books are colorful and inclusive of all types of families and identities. But It’s Okay to Be Different has an especially important message for LGBT kids. I would also recommend his Families Series of books.

5. Backwards Day

A book about a young trans boy who eagerly looks forward to Backwards Day because he gets to live as a boy without any questions asked. Until one day he doesn’t turn into a boy on Backwards Day, which makes him depressed. Until the next day, when he wakes up as a boy and stays that way. Pretty cute and colorful too.

RainbowReading26. William’s Doll

Not LGBT-specific, per se, but certainly relevant. William wants a doll, and everyone gives him everything except a doll. It’s William’s grandma who gives him what he actually wants, and scolds the others for being negative toward him. It’s a cute story and a good message for all boys, not just queer ones.

7. King & King

A fairy tale about a gay king who doesn’t want to marry a princess. This one is really adorable with interesting artwork and a happy ending. There’s even a sequel where the two kings try to have a baby. One of the better books for boys who like boys.

8. Goblinheart

Goblinheart is a great metaphor for trans identities, as one goblin wishes to be a fairy instead and goes on a quest to make it happen.

9. The Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans

Multiple fairy tales that have incidental characters. The most notable is a story of a Duke who tries to saw families must have a man and a woman in them, and the children who mock his laws until he repeals them.

10. It’s Perfectly Normal Series

Again, this is a book series that all kids should have. There are three different ones for different ages and all discuss sex, pregnancy, sexuality, and other factors in a non-judgmental, informative way. The illustrations are also very inclusive of ability, sex, gender, race, size, and other identities.

I hope this list was helpful for you. I’ll try to remember to add a few more later. Hopefully with the increased LGBT kids books we’ll see LGBT characters in children’s media too. Until then, read away!


Let Trans Artists Tell Trans Tales

(Originally published on Skepchick!)

In the past year or two, society has seen a big shift in how trans people, and trans women specifically, are portrayed in the media. Where it was once mildly permissible to have cis actors tell trans stories because, at least we were getting something, now a cis actor playing a trans character is becoming more and more controversial. Because no matter how dedicated the portrayal is, how sincere the actor is in wanting to “get it right”, how genuinely the creators want to help the transgender community, or how much it moves their primarily cis audience, they will always get something wrong, and often they’ll get a lot of things wrong. It’s almost a running gag in the trans community at this point. I’ve had many a “trashy trans movie night” where we get together to watch Transamerica or Boys Don’t Cry and tear it to shreds over popcorn and alcohol. Where we were once happy with whatever table scraps we could get, over the last decade we’ve been creating our own art that accurately depicts our lives. We now have a slew of well known, outspoken trans activists and artists like Janet Mock, Fallon Fox, Laura Jane Grace, Carmen Carrera, Lana Wachowski, Jenna Talackova, Candis Cayne, and (my personal hero) Laverne Cox.

Which means we are no longer satisfied letting cis people tell our stories for us.


The most common “defense” of a cis actor playing a trans character goes something like this, “So what are you saying, they shouldn’t cast an actor as an inmate unless they’ve been to prison? They shouldn’t cast an out gay actor to play a straight character?”

The problem with the first example is confusing identity with attribute. Being trans (or gay or bisexual or any other invisible minority) is a core identity. Identity is an essential part of the character that cannot be changed by the plot, rather than something the character acquires over time through circumstances. Attribute is a detail about a character that has been accumulated over their lives through circumstance or consequence, attributes can be altered as a result of the plot. To continue with our poor example, an inmate released from prison ceases to be an inmate. Now they have a new attribute, ex-con, and learning to navigate this new attribute could be the start of their character arc. A trans woman, on the other hand, cannot cease to be a trans woman through any plot device. She could de-transition and go back in the closet, she could start out in the closet and transition in the story, but she always has been and always will be a trans woman. This is a distinction that is often lost on creators who do not have that same core identity as their character, which is why people who actually have that identity need to be involved in the creative process. Otherwise, you will inevitably resort to stereotypes which will misinform your well-meaning audience.

And it’s that well-meaning audience that makes this so problematic. The majority of cis people who watch these movies are not terrible people. They are not transphobes. They want to be educated about trans people so they don’t do shitty things to trans people. They probably care about queer rights, but might not know any trans people. So they reach out to the media to inform them. And it sucks when they’ve been genuinely moved by something, only to find out that the trans community is not happy with it. So often, rather than acknowledge the problems trans people are pointing out with the film, they get defensive. Because they don’t want to be embarrassed, which is a typical response all of us engage in, but something that ultimately causes more harm to the community you were trying to help with your portrayal. They’ve gone from being curious and well-meaning to viewing the trans community as hostile and ungrateful (which is a product of privilege but that’s a rant for another day). It’s how I initially felt about movies with mentally ill or disabled characters I enjoyed, until my education and interactions with disabled people corrected my misconceptions. Owning my mistakes is embarrassing, but it has hopefully made me a better person.

So what about the second bad example of a gay actor playing a straight character? Well the problem with this comparison is that invisible majority identities (straight, cis, able, etc.) are almost never essential to the plot of those characters. When is the last time you saw a movie where a character came out as straight? Or even mentioned they were straight except as a heterosexist response to a non-straight character? (“Whoa, bro, I’m straight!”) And I’ve never even seen a movie that used the term cis to describe anyone. Instead, we are intended to resort to heteronormativity and cisnormativity about those characters unless they specifically identify as not-hetero or not-cis. There is also bisexual erasure to consider. Most assume a character is either gay or straight, depending on their gender and the gender of who they are currently attracted to in the story. So most people see Barney Stinson (the disgusting womanizer from How I Met Your Mother) as a straight character played by an out gay actor, Neil Patrick Harris, because the character’s sexual orientation and gender history are never explicitly discussed (as far as I know, I can’t stand this show). In reality, Barney could just as easily be bisexual, pansexual, and/or a trans man and it would not change his character or the plot.


Even without the problematic assumptions that all characters are het and cis unless specified, complaining about an actor of an invisible outgroup portraying a character of an assumed (but for the sake of argument, also explicitly stated) ingroup, misses an important aspect of being a member of an outgroup. The culture, media, education system, and everything else expect you to be knowledgeable about ingroups, regardless of whether you are a member of that group or not. However, members of ingroups are not expected, or maybe even given the opportunity, to be knowledgeable about outgroups. In other words, queer children grow up learning nearly exclusively about straight culture. They are expected to be straight and cis, and often become victims if they do not sufficiently learn how to “act” straight and cis. And this is a skill they will continue to use in certain situations regardless of whether they’re “out” or not. It’s a survival technique that all members of outgroups are pressured to learn. Women learn how to “act” masculine to succeed in the male-dominated business world. People of Color learn to “act” white in order to be respected by white people. We have spent a significant amount of time and resources in our lives learning how to “blend in” or at least navigate around the ingroups we do not belong to, because we must do so in order to function. Which is why a cis actor cannot even hope to know as much about trans people as trans actors already know about cis people, no matter how “method” they are or how much research they do. We’ve been studying you guys practically since birth.


The next objection is the easiest to cast aside. “But how are they supposed to find a trans actress who can play the role?! It’s not like they’re as easy to find as a cis actor.” First of all, not my problem. If you want to tell our stories, then you need to involve us. End of discussion. Second of all, it’s the goddamn internet age. Even if we’re ignoring the increasing number of trans actors and actresses who are having a huge influence right now, you’re seriously telling me that major Hollywood studios don’t have the resources to put out a fucking Craigslist ad or find a casting agent in L.A. or N.Y.C. who specialize in queer clients? No, what typically happens is they do less than the bare minimum so they can cover their asses by claiming they tried, then they cast a big-name cis actor so the movie gets publicity and the actor can gets some Oscar Bait.


Media and Culture are mirrors of one another. If you want to change the culture, you change the media’s portrayal of it. If you want to change the media, you change the culture it exists in. The reason why so many trans activists are investing in how we are portrayed in the media all goes back to that well-meaning cis audience. We acknowledge more and more cis people are trying their best to be good allies, and we want to have a say in what media tells them about who we are and what we need, so we can change the transphobic culture we are currently living in. So we’re speaking up, coming out, and no longer allowing others to silence us. We are entering a new era in trans visibility in our society where trans women are putting a stop to harmful tropes and narratives on daytime television, holding journalists accountable for sensationalizing our love life, and not allowing gay celebrities to use trans slurs without consequence. We are gaining more power, more rights, and more allies, consequently we are losing our patience when issues are continually addressed by us but continually ignored by mainstream media.

But most importantly, we want to change the media because we want to see ourselves in it, just like everyone else wants to see their own lives reflected. Although I had seen documentaries and movies about trans women, like many people I had never seen a trans actress playing a trans character until I watched Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black. The story was so authentic, so real, and so engaging that it now makes attempts from cis actors look embarrassing in comparison. And listening to Against Me’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues is one of the most moving experiences I’ve had with music. Seeing our own lives reflected in the work of artists who have similar identities of our own lets us know we aren’t alone in the world. So even a baby trans girl living in the rural South surrounded by cissexist churches can visualize her future out, public, successful life respected by society. And that is something no cis artist, no matter their intention or talent, can provide as authentically as a trans artist.


Trigger Warnings Are Not New

Can we all just stop acting like trigger warnings are outrageously complicated? I keep seeing scare-tactic articles from main-stream and feminist blogs trying to have a Very Serious Discussion about whether trigger warnings are warranted or have “gone too far”. And you know what? I’m not even going to dignify this “debate” by pointing out why trigger warnings are simply a reasonable accommodation for people who have been through traumatic events. There are already shit-tons of articles about it. Instead, I want to talk about how trigger warnings have already existed long before the terminology, they just went unnoticed by people who didn’t need them.


We’ve all watched a TV show that began with a “Viewer Discretion is Advised” disclaimer. And while I personally might think a warning about something like The Simpsons is a little goofy, it doesn’t harm me at all for them to give other viewers a heads up. I haven’t been inconvenienced by it, and by the time the episode is over, chances are good I’ll have forgotten all about it. And that’s my point. Trigger warnings (or advisory warnings or content notes or whatever you want to call them) don’t exist for the people who don’t need them. They exist  for the people who do need them.

Most forms of media have an industry-enforced and regulated rating system of some kind firmly established. Movies, television, comic books, and video games all have some kind of rating that can be found before viewing or purchasing, and most even have little details about what warrants that particular rating (although some would argue they need to be more specific, which I think is valid). So it’s no surprise that blogs developed their own form of ratings system. Most blog providers like WordPress or Blogger allow you to mark your content as “mature”, but the feminist blogosphere went one step further and began giving specific heads up when the content being discussed was something that might trigger traumatic experiences of their readers. But unlike the industry ratings mentioned, which have historically been imposed by only one organization founded by big-name publishers  and thus, carry some valid concerns about when ratings are a form of censorship to punish indie publishers, trigger warnings are voluntarily given by the creators of their blogs.

I've never seen a Very Serious Discussion about whether ESRB ratings have "gone too far".

I’ve never seen a Very Serious Discussion about whether ESRB ratings have “gone too far”.

And hey, confession time, I don’t always include a trigger warning on my blog posts. If I think my title sufficiently explains the topic at hand, I figure that’s a good enough heads up for my readers. But if one of my readers or friends says, “Hey, I think this needs a trigger warning,” then I apologize and put up a fucking trigger warning. It takes like two seconds for me to edit a post and add one. So why would I waste more time complaining and debating about it when it shouldn’t even bother me in the first place?

So now let’s talk about the latest scare going around, that trigger warnings are moving into the classroom. This is another one of those issues that mainstream media is making out to be new even though it’s been going on for quite some time. Every class I’ve ever taken, both at my feminist university and at my previous community college, has issued a trigger warning whenever an upcoming lecture was going to discuss abuse or rape. Because sadly, a significant proportion of women (who make up a slight majority of college students right now) have experienced abuse and/or rape first-hand and therefore, probably would appreciate a heads up about it.

I’ve been triggered before, and it is embarrassing and extremely vulnerable and not something I would ever want to happen in public if I could avoid it. And thankfully it has never happened from participating in a class with a trigger warning. Why? Because the fucking trigger warning gave me a heads-up so I wasn’t blind-sided!

“Oh, we’re going to discuss abuse next week? Alright, well I better build up my emotional constitution that day so I can handle it, because I want to be able to help others in that situation in the future.”

“Oh, we’re going to discuss rape tomorrow? I don’t think I can deal with that right now, so I’ll ask my friend ahead of time if I can copy her notes. Thank glob I don’t have to divulge personal information to my professor in order to not be viewed as an irresponsible student.”

One line in the syllabus, one nod from the professor before the next lecture. Not. Fucking. Difficult.

The only trigger warnings I notice are abuse, rape, and sometimes dieting/weight/body issues because those are relevant to me, but over time I have learned to include other common triggers through my interactions with others, such as suicide/depression, slurs/hate speech, pregnancy/birth, and drug use. And I think this is the root of what makes people get butthurt about trigger warnings they don’t need. In order to include trigger warnings that are not relevant to me, I have to think about how something I’m writing might affect someone negatively. And that involves checking my own privileges, which we all know makes people defensive and uncomfortable. But my discomfort from being wrong is minor compared to someone else being triggered. So I pull up my big girl panties and correct myself. Because that’s how we improve the world for everyone: admit when you’re wrong and correct your behavior.

Honestly to me, complaining about trigger warnings in classrooms or anywhere else is like complaining about wheelchair ramps or signs written in braille. It’s mean-spirited and a waste of time complaining about something that, obviously, does not concern you. So move on with your life and find something that’s actually worth debating and fighting over.

What, she gets her own interpreter? This is PC gone too far. I can hear the professor just fine!

What, she gets her own interpreter?! That’s outrageous! I can hear him just fine!

Shethinkers 39 – Safe Words

Secret Word



OKCupid Has Some Transphobic Issues

Bonus Troll!

MichFest Sucks Ass


Summer camps for trans/gender-variant kids!

Campu Aranu’tiq and You Are You Camp

Safe Words

Expressing Consent

Checking In

Verbal and Nonverbal

Upcoming Show: The Safe Word

Everyone’s a Critic

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is awesome from a fangirl perspective…but terrible from a feminist perspective.

Stupid Sexist Song

“One Way Or Another” by Blondie