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.

JTR2

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!
JTR1
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.

YOU CAN BE A GENDER MINORITY AND A SEXUAL MINORITY! AT THE SAME TIME!!!!

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!

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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!

RainbowReading

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.

WeExist

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.

UnimpressedQueerBane

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.

OscarBait

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.

 

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

ComeOut1Today is the 25th annual National Coming Out Day, a day for every queer person to come out to somebody they care about (assuming they can safely do so).  As I’ve been out of my closet for at least half a decade now, the list of people I care about who don’t know I’m queer as a three dollar bill is fairly short, if not non-existent.  I guide and mentor queer youth for a living, and I’m training to be a counselor specifically for the queer community.  I’m out and loud and proud, baby!

I’m sure that plenty of you are the same in your lives.  Not just out of the closet but you burned the closet on your way out to make sure no one could force you back in.  So what do people like us do on National Coming Out Day?  Assuming we’re already out to the people we care about, I think the next step is to come out to the people who represent us.  I’m talking about our elected officials.  They need to be reminded that they represent all of their constituents, and many of those constituents are queer.  So I’ve included my letter to my elected officials below.  Feel free to copy, paste, and modify it as you see fit.  Below the letter you’ll find the means to finding out who represents you in congress so you can tell them you’re out, proud, and voting.

Dear [Elected Official],

My name is Dorian Mooneyham and I am a resident of [your district, city, state, etc.].  I am writing to your office today to wish you a Happy National Coming Out Day.  As you may know, this is a national holiday in which members of the LGBT community “come out” to people who are important in their lives.  As an elected official who represents me in political matters, you are one of those people important to my way of living.  So I would like to come out  to you now.

I’m Dorian Mooneyham, and I am a bisexual and transgender woman.

What does this mean to you, my elected official?

It means I expect my representative to be supportive of equality, something I expect for all demographics, not just LGBT.  I consider equality one of the lowest possible standards for humanity.  It’s a founding principle of our country, best summed up by the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Originally “all men” only applied to white, male, land-owners but we have thankfully expanded that to included men and women of all classes, all races, all creeds, and all religious affiliations.  No doubt each of the times we expanded that definition, there were those who cried that we were granting “special rights”, but the American people have always seen through that smoke screen eventually and wound up on the right side of history.  I’m asking you today to remember that many of your constituents do not have the same rights as others.

I myself am getting married to my fiancé in two years.  But because of my transgender status and the ambiguous nature of marriage equality in our country today, he and I are not even sure if it will be legally binding, despite the fact that we are a opposite sex couple.  Until sex discrimination is eliminated from marriage, we will be forced to take expensive, redundant, legal steps to make sure that we are each other’s medical proxy.  That we are the recipients of insurance and other financial matters if one of us should die.  That both of us will be considered legal guardians when we adopt children.

I also work with LGBT teenagers for a living as part of a large non-profit organization.  And I’m concerned about whether the bullying many of them face on a daily basis will be taken seriously in the legal sphere.  Whether transgender students will be able to use the bathroom that is safest for them.  Whether they will be able to secure a job or housing or education as they get older.  Whether they’ll be protected from harmful and ineffective “conversion therapy” that their parents might attempt to force them into.  Whether they will grow up in a country that accepts them as the productive, proud, outspoken, and passionate citizens they are destined to be, or if they will continue to live in this country as second class citizens.

LGBT citizens are productive and active members of American society.  We deserve the same respect and rights as all straight and cisgender citizens.  We are not asking to be treated any differently than anyone else, we only ask to be treated fairly.  Regardless of what your personal views of LGBT identities may be, the overriding theme of American history has been equality for all.  I only ask you to continue with that theme.

Sincerely,

Dorian Mooneyham

Click here to find out who your elected officials are.  Personally mine are Ted Cruz (Boo) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (Yay!).  Whoever you come out to today, I hope you have a wonderful and productive Coming Out Day.  Just in case you need some inspiration, I’ll let Harvey Milk take over from here:

 

Growing Up Queer in a Straight Market

Art by Paul Windle

Art by Paul Windle

It’s easy (and popular) to claim the media has no effect on who we are.  To claim we’re sophisticated enough to rise above influence and separate the truth from the hype.  But the truth is, whether we’re born trans or cis; gay, straight or bi; the world has a lot to say about gender and most of those messages either start with or are reflected by the media.

Don’t even get me started on “gender reveal” parties.

Don’t even get me started on “gender reveal” parties.

Before we’re even born, parents-to-be are asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?”  This seems like an innocent enough question, although the accurate answer would be, “Neither, it hasn’t told us yet.  But it’s physically male/female.”  But of course, that would not be a socially acceptable answer.  You must answer “boy” or “girl” or “we don’t know” and shut up about the difference between gender and sex.  Nurseries, toys, clothes and the babies themselves are already divided down the gender binary before they can even open their eyes properly.  And the media encourages this by dividing catalogs and nursery planning books along stereotypical gender lines.  The most popular “themes” on the Babies R Us website includes sports, racing, Winnie the Pooh, jungle and space for boys and pink, Disney, pink, princesses, and, what do you know, more pink for girls.  What a surprise!

Of course infants won’t be influenced by things they have no way of remembering later in life.  Case in point, I have no idea what my nursery looked like or if I even had one (being the first child to poor college students).  But what is important is the parents treating the child differently based on sex.  Studies have shown female babies are comforted more and are handled more gently and with a softer voice than with male babies.  While male babies are allowed to cry longer in order to “toughen them up”.  These differences are both accidental and actually encouraged by some parenting books that play on parents’ fears of raising a queer.  Perhaps this is the foundation for so many girls and later women being unable to make themselves heard or allow themselves to occupy space.  It could also be seen as the first instance of a boy being told to “suck it up and walk it off” and deny his emotions.

Azúcar, amigos!

Azúcar, amigos!

Let’s move on to childhood.  Kids can walk, talk and even think for themselves to some degree.  This is perhaps their most vulnerable time to internalize harmful messages and stereotypes.  Therefore, marketers target them with a vengeance in order to seal “cradle to grave” loyalty.  Until the age of about 8 or 9, children are unable to distinguish commercials from the actual program and marketers play on this shortcoming, having cartoon characters sell fast food, candy and toys to children who can’t tell they’re being emotionally manipulated.  Because television is such a popular babysitter, many parents are not there to help their child see marketing for what it is and to point out gender stereotypes.

Children also have a lot of uncertainty in their private lives.  For this reason, they can be seen clinging to gender stereotypes presented to them.  For their early school years, children are unsure why the gender binary exists, but fear crossing over to the other side.  This fear is reinforced and preyed upon by creating exaggeratedly gender-specific toys, advertising and programming.  At the same time children naturally divide themselves by gender during this “Cootie Phase”.  Marketers tell children they need to play with trucks if they’re a boy or dolls if they’re a girl.  The urge to strongly identify with their gender is played against them and they buy it hook, line and sinker.  Now they’ve been primed to respond to gender-specific marketing on through adulthood.  Cleaning and cooking commercials will feature women and car and beer commercials will feature men, even though men and women both use these products throughout their lives.  The transition is so subtle most don’t even realize it.  Now that I’ve pointed it out, try to find a gender-neutral advertisement next time you read a magazine or watch television.  It’s harder than you’d think.

Not as uncommon as you might think.

Not as uncommon as you might think.

So how do all these messages about gender affect queer children and later queer adults?  Whether you were confused about your gender or sexuality or both as a child, nearly every queer adult can remember feeling “different”.  That’s all most queer kids know at such an early stage.  They might not be able to articulate that they’re gay or trans, but they easily know they’re “different” from what they believe the rest of the world is like.  There is no advertisement or show that reflects their personal reality, so they internalize the message that they are “weird”, “different”, or a “freak”.  They play with the toys presented to them normally when adult eyes are watching, but as soon they’re alone Barbie becomes a lesbian.  Batman and Superman have a tea party and discuss their busy lives.  A stuffed toy becomes a baby doll.  But queer kids aren’t the only ones who “queer” their toys.  All three of the examples I just gave were shared with me by straight, cis friends.

If the idea that all boys play with trucks and all girls play with dolls is a lie, why does it keep being portrayed in the media?  Because everyone has insecurities about gender and sexuality.  And where there is insecurity there is a profit to be made.  From “cradle to grave”, women are shown images of young, skinny, white, straight, feminine and (usually) blond role models.  From the Disney princess to the supermodel in magazines, this same image over and over becomes seen as “normal” because it’s all that’s presented to us.  Despite the fact that this role model reflects a very small portion of the general population, if anyone, women are told we should all aspire to be her, which is an impossible goal, otherwise we’ll never get married.  This ensures we will buy into diets, makeup, beauty treatments, clothing and cosmetic surgery until we die.

GrowingQueer5From “cradle to grave”, men are shown images of tall, muscular, white, swarthy, heroic, masculine, misogynistic, violent, tough role models who don’t show their emotions.  From GI Joe to Rambo, men are sold a very narrow image of manhood that doesn’t include any real person.  (Except maybe Hemingway, but even he did “un-manly” things like write for a living.)  Men are told if they don’t fit this stereotype then they’ll never have sex and their lives will be meaningless.  This ensures they will buy into cars, cologne, alcohol, guns and sports paraphernalia until they die.

 

Boys do cry.  Girls are aggressive.  Everybody ages.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  We should embrace the truths of our world and base our reality on the people in our lives rather than the ones on the screen or page.  There’s no Photoshop in the real world and there’s much more variety than skinny, big-breasted women and tall, muscular men.  And when we interact with children we should encourage them to enjoy aspects of themselves that go against the norm.  Take your daughter to the science museum.  Teach your son how to cook.  The world will be a lot better for it.

I Can’t Believe We’re Still Fighting for this Shit

Yesterday a six-year-old girl won the right to pee in a girl’s bathroom.  ”WTF is this even news?” you might be asking.  Because apparently the fact that Coy Mathis is a trans girl changes things entirely.  The story was all over Facebook yesterday and the comments were filled with some indifference, some acceptance, and a lot of hatred.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

these children wouldn’t know what the hell any of this was if it were pushed and accepted in this perverted ass Amerikkkan society. you a boy and you like pink. you better go find something blue. Amerikkka is a pile of shit.

I have no idea why you insist on not only supporting but promoting sexual deviant behavior… surly your not angling to see a video of this! You sick sick puppy.

My 3 year old niece thought she was a kitten for about a year or so. Kids that young don’t know what gender is, let alone what gender they should be. No hate here, but my immediate impression is that the parents are either pushing this on the kid or indulging typical childish silliness in a way that can seriously damage him psychologically.

Who looks at this little girl and thinks, “Something sinister must be afoot”? Only assholes.

Who looks at this little girl and thinks, “Something sinister must be afoot”? Only assholes.

There is so much cissexual privilege here that I don’t know where to begin.  Why is it that every time a story about a trans kid comes out, it’s immediately followed by cries of denial.  As though this kid doesn’t have any means of expressing herself and is just being blindly tricked into being trans.  You don’t see insistence that other kids parents are just pushing a cissexual identity onto their kid (even though that’s exactly what these people are doing).  You don’t see claims that kids who identify as cis are sick in the head.  Nobody claims that cis identified kids are crazy, or duped, or delusional.  Why?  Because these people think cis is the default, natural god-given position rather than simply the most common.  Are you a man who’s happy with your penis? Congratulations!  This fucking conversation is not about you.  The fact that you believe your experience of gender is universal shows just how little you know about the world.

So easy a child can understand it.

So easy a child can understand it.

Gender identity cannot be changed or forced or twisted.  The fact that Coy identifies as a girl is static.  The fact that she wears dresses is a product of what our culture says people who identify as girls should wear.  They are not related.  And Coy dressing in a way that makes her comfortable has nothing to do with her sexuality.  Gender Identity is not Gender Expression is not Sexual Orientation.  These are not new concepts.  Whenever you see a masculine gay man or a feminine lesbian or a butch straight woman or a femme straight man, those are all examples of ways the three components of sexuality and gender do not “match”.  Nobody can force a child who identifies as a girl to identify as a boy.  But that’s exactly what these people want to do, simply because the parts between her legs at birth make them uncomfortable.  Coy’s parents are not scheduling her for SRS, they’re not putting her on hormones, they’re not doing anything permanent on the off chance that Coy might change her mind.  All she’s doing is presenting as a girl, using female pronouns, and doing all the same stuff that other girls her age do.  So just in case your dream comes true and Coy does identify as a boy later on, no harm has been done.  She’s got her whole damn life to figure that out, so why don’t you let her and her parents worry about what future steps they take?

For those who are concerned about what other kids will think, they probably won’t think much of anything unless you tell them to.  When I transitioned years ago I was working at a comic shop.  There were tons of kids I saw on a regular basis.  I became good friends with one couple and their kid in particular.  I watched their daughter grow from a baby to a kindergartner.  Hell, I even babysat her for them.  Do you want to know how she reacted to my transition?

Dori, why are you dressed like a girl?

Because I am one.

Oh.  Okay.  Can I play with these Legos?

It really is that simple.  Kids don’t give a shit about the ramifications of gender norms.  They don’t care about what you had between your legs when you were born.  They just want to play with Legos.

And speaking of discomfort, let’s go ahead and address the same stupid fear mongering I hear whenever we talk about trans people and bathrooms.

First, there’s the concern that trans women and girls, who are all imagined to be pre-op or non-op for some reason, will flash our genitals at cis women and girls.  But guess what?  Our reasons for using the bathroom are the same as cis women.  To relieve our bladders and bowels, to wash our hands, to check our hair and makeup in the mirror, to accompany friends, whatever.  We don’t go in there so we can show a part of our body that most are mortified about to strangers.  Sorry to burst your fantasy.

Now that’s a REAL bathroom predator!

Now that’s a REAL bathroom predator!

Second, there’s the concern that trans women will physically or sexually assault cis women.  Well, I have news for you.  Trans women don’t assault cis women in bathrooms, but there have been plenty ofcis people who’ve assaulted trans women.  Probably because of some sense of entitlement.  Hmm, what would that sort of mentality be called?  I feel like I already discussed it earlier.  It’s almost like a privileged majority are ganging up on an unrepresented minority.  Oh well, I’m sure I’ll think of the word for it later.  Did I mention that we have an entire day set aside to remember the hundreds of trans people killed by cis people?  And that we’re one of the biggest targets for hate crimes?  No?  I probably should have.

Third, there’s a myth that if trans people can pee in peace, it will somehow give predators an excuse to sneak into restrooms to assault without recourse.  Well, I don’t know if you realized this, but you can still press charges against someone for assault even if you give trans people basic human rights.  Because, you know, assault will still be illegal.  It seems kind of silly to restrict basic human rights for a whole group of people because you’re afraid of a hypothetical situation.  But what do I know?  I’m just an angry tranny.

And finally, you can’t force trans people to use gender-neutral bathrooms if they don’t want to.  Remember that whole separate-but-equal thing we struck down a long time ago?  Yeah, turns out that’s unconstitutional.  By all means, we should make gender-neutral bathrooms more common because a lot of people prefer gender-neutral bathrooms.  And not just trans people!  The “family” bathrooms in many malls and movie theaters are a lifesaver for parents who have kids of different genders.  Most of Europe has gender-neutral bathrooms and they don’t seem to be experiencing chaos about it.

Finally, I want to say something to the trans readers out there who may be concerned about all this.  Do not ask for permission to use a bathroom.  That’s weird.  Nobody else does it, so why should you?  Rights are not something you ask for, because that only gives someone an opportunity to say, “No.”  Rights are something you expect and, if necessary, take.  So don’t ask your boss or principal if you can use the appropriate bathroom.  Just do it.  I’ve been to the girls room with butch women, early transitioners, drag queens, whatever.  Confidence is key.  Just act like you belong there, because you do.

Discussing Queer Foreplay in Middle School and Other Activities to Piss Off the Religious Right

Effective at protecting your food *and* lady bits!

Effective at protecting your food *and* lady bits!

A friend forwarded the following article to me titled “Student Taught about Homosexual Foreplay Disguised as Tolerance“.  For those with no patience or stomach for uptight-sex-negative-Christian writing, I’ll briefly summarize.  A middle school in Maine had a Diversity Day presentation from PRYSM, the Proud Rainbow Youth of Southern Maine, to talk against bullying.  The presentation ended with a Q&A session where the students could ask anything they wanted.  And, surprise, the middle schoolers wanted to talk about sex.  And PRYSM answered those questions frankly and truthfully.  The response that seems to be causing a stir is letting students know that Saran Wrap can be used in a pinch as a barrier between a vagina and mouth for safe oral sex.  Thus, the uptight-sex-negative-Christian outrage.  The article has such witty responses as:

I don’t want my child taught heterosexual foreplay, let alone homosexual foreplay in school.

I’ve had to let him know that no matter what situation he gets in – my suggestion is not saran wrap.  My suggestion is to abstain altogether.

Either middle school starts at a much younger age than I remember, or “Heterosexual Awareness Month” is written by manipulative assholes.

Either middle school starts at a much younger age than I remember, or “Heterosexual Awareness Month” is written by manipulative assholes.

Not only that, but the article itself contains a picture of shocked kids who are obviously too young to be in middle school.  Were they simply hoping people would only read the headline and see the picture?  I’ve tried my best to find a non-biased report of this situation, but have come up empty.  So I’m going to defend PRYSM against a one-sided argument and discuss why safe sex discussion must be a part of middle school education.

I have a soft spot for PRYSM in this whole mess, because I work for an LGBTQ youth center very similar to PRYSM.  Like them, our organization has participated in diversity training with schools and other groups and inevitably, sex comes up in the discussion.  Why?  Maybe it’s because people still equate LGBT identities with sex rather than seeing sex as a small part of our lives as a whole.  Or maybe it’s because we queer folk are pretty upfront about sex out of necessity, and kids who can’t talk to their uptight-sex-negative-Christian parents respond to that.  Either way, PRYSM responded to the students questions about sex in an honest way and I applaud them for that.  It’s the outrage of homophobic parents pulling the “this is what happens when you let queers have rights” card that I find offensive, not middle schoolers being curious about sex.

Psst.  Uptight-sex-negative-Christian parents.  Come here.  I have a little secret for you.  Are you ready?  LGBT peeps are not corrupting your kids.  Middle schoolers are human beings who are on the cusp of puberty, which means it is incredibly likely they will explore S-E-X before they graduate high school.  And it is almost certain they will have sex before marriage.  In fact, most Americans, including grandmothers, have had or will have sex before they are married.  And considering that the numbers are as high as 91 percent, which far outnumbers the non-Christian population, Jesus does not seem to be very effective at keeping horny teenagers from having sex.  So maybe, just maybe, we should have a mature discussion with children about how to practice sex safely rather than attempting to avoid the inevitable and then dealing with the messy consequences.  If you want to reduce the number of abortions, unwanted pregnancies, and STIs in the world, than you should be screaming about condoms, dental dams, and Saran Wrap from the fucking mountain tops.  Not making your kids wear fake wedding rings and declare promises they can’t keep.

This is what my desk looks like at work. Free condoms, dental dams, and lube. No questions asked.  Just think of all the damage I’ve done to “innocent” teenagers.

This is what my desk looks like at work. Free condoms, dental dams, and lube. No questions asked.  Just think of all the damage I’ve done to “innocent” teenagers.

I talk to my “gaybies” about safe sex on a very regular basis.  If a kid wants to know how a female condom works, I take one out and show it to her.  If another kid wants to know what a flavored dental dam tastes like, I tell them to open one and lick it.  I also suggest a cut condom or, *gasp*, Saran Wrap if they don’t have a dental dam.  If they ask me about flavored lubes, I tell them to use them for outer sex only because the sugars can cause infections.  If they tell me they’re worried about having an STI, I make them an appointment at the gay clinic to get tested.  If they want to know what sexual activities come with the least amount of risk, I tell them about dry humping and mutual masturbation.  You name it, I will discuss it.  Right there, without judgement.  I don’t lecture them about morality.  I don’t judge them about their questions or choices.  I respect their intelligence enough to know they are aware of abstinence.  And because I build that trust, they know they can come to me with anything and I’ll offer them support and advice.  That trust has put me in the position to have meaningful discussions about relationships, coercive sex, non-monogamy, and so much more with youth who don’t have a mature outlet for these very normalquestions and concerns.  If they didn’t feel safe to come to me or another adult at our center, they might get some dubious or false information from their peers or online.

Your top concern as a parent, guardian, or caretaker of children should be their safety and happiness.  Discussing safe, positive, consensual sex and masturbation with kids in your care is an important part of helping them find that safety and happiness.  And doing so without judgement or fear lets them know your support is unconditional.  Your kids are going to have sex. Wouldn’t you rather they discuss it with you first and get the best information they can before they do?  It will be awkward at first, but it’s a lot less awkward than some of the side effects that can happen from unsafe sex.  So the only outrage you should feel about PRYSM answering your kid’s question is that your child didn’t feel like they could ask you, Mr. and Mrs. uptight-sex-negative-Christian Parent.