Cisnormativity Constructed as Respectability Politics

2012/10/17

This is the big post that I’ve been taking forever to work on. It’s been consuming most of the executive function that I would be spending on writing more frequent updates. Now that it’s done let’s see if I can get into that habit.

Cisnormativity and heteronormativity were made into separate structures by cis GLB people as a strategic decision. The cis norm, as its own structure, is very much a product of the Gay Rights Movement. Prior to this separation, non-cis and non-het people (together, Gender and Sexuality Minorities, or GSM) were essentially viewed as the same bunch of sexual and gender deviants by the EuroAmerican white hegemonic culture.

The motive for this separation is fairly simple. Cis gay men, lesbians, and bisexual people created the division in order to narrow the group of people they were advocating for, and to present a more “acceptable” face to heteropatriarchy. This “acceptable” face could only be taken by the most “presentable” GSM people. Because presentability means being gender-conforming, class privileged, and white, and the split was created at a time (soon after the Stonewall Riot) when poor and working-class trans women of color such as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson were extremely prominent, separating off trans people was an obvious path to take at the time the tactic was employed.

Further, being able to position themselves as enforcers of cisnormativity gave cis sexual minority people further upward mobility. This position as enforcers is taken when a gay Congressman removes trans protections from a rights bill, on the grounds that trans women must not have a legally acknowledged right to use the appropriate restroom. This position is taken when a lesbian “radical feminist” demands that trans women not exist, or that trans men not transition. This position gives cis sexual minority people advantages because it allows them to shift “unacceptability” off onto trans people. It allows them, specifically, to point to transitioning/ed CAMAB people (especially People of Color) and say “we’re not like them“, playing off society’s pre-existing transmisogyny and racism.

It is important, in any examination of these structures, to point out that cisnormativity and heteronormativity are not and never were freestanding social institutions, not only entwined together (which, to some extent they still are), but also that they are aspects of patriarchy. The oppression of GSM people sits on a foundation of gender-coercion and misogyny. Any analysis of this oppression, and of tactics to fight it, that neglects to consider patriarchy fails. Because of this, the anti-trans prejudices that are being played on here are often specifically against trans women. Further, this creation of a category of “fake” women is part of misogyny, as it creates a way to deny the womanhood of “unacceptable” women, an attack which is made primarily against Black women (one example is here) Read the rest of this entry »


A Rant

2012/07/31

As of this writing, my Trans Health as it Should Be post on tumblr has 279 notes. Most of them have been positive, but one point from it has been, shall I say, rather controversial.

This point has been that women’s primary care clinics, when welcoming trans people, should welcome trans women before welcoming trans men. That when only able to add one group of trans people’s hormone replacements to the services the clinic offers, that estrogen-based HRT be prioritized above testosterone-based.

I am angered. I am irate. I am filled with righteous fury.

Because, not only are trans men (these criticisms generally come from trans men, with one cis man pulling the standard cis bullshit. They’re also pretty much always from people as white as I am. This is white men’s bullshit) continuing to demand that women’s space be open to them, in a way that all too often lets it claim to be trans-inclusive (or worse, “Women and Trans”) while actively excluding trans women and other non-cis DMAB people who need those services, they are also, again, demanding that trans women be last in line for any practical resource. Even places set to provide medical care to women are being asked to provide medical care no woman needs before they provide medical care to trans women.

Of course the idea that it is unjust to put trans women and others with our same needs last in line for every single thing in existence becomes controversial when we point out that we’re behind people who don’t even belong in that line.

Of course trans men think they deserve more access to primary care services directed to women than we do. Because those services are awesome.

It’s these clinics that are often leaders in adopting informed consent standards for providing hormone treatments, after all. And the post never even said that trans men, as men, should be excluded. It said that trans women, as women, should have priority access to resources set aside for women over trans men. The kind of respectful care that these clinics provide should be standard for everyone, especially for trans people, with our unique medical needs and relationship to the medical establishment. Right now, though, the access standard is that women’s resources are bending over backwards to include trans men, often to the exclusion of trans women.

The status quo is that, when these great resources exist, they are granted to men before women even when their mission was to serve women at their creation.

When I personally reread that post, I felt I fell into the Appeaser mode too much in it. But even that is not enough. Because no amount of stating that trans men deserve to have access to respectful care for all of their medical needs, both those they share with others of their anatomy and transition-related things, will appease them from saying that anywhere should put women first.

I could wear the letters off the keys on my keyboard (the E has already gone before I started writing this. It can be done!) advocating for trans men’s access to hormones on informed consent. I even derailed this rant to put a paragraph in stating that. But it will not be enough. It will never be enough. Nothing will ever be enough, because I am directly saying that trans women should ever not be last in line for any. single. thing.

Because trans women are always last in line.


Trans Health, Women’s Health, and Inclusion

2012/06/30

Considering the recent discussion prompted by FWHC’s Trans Health Initiative (this article gives a good summary of the issues and historical context), how “trans inclusive” at a women’s health center means inclusion for trans men, means the provision of care no woman needs for trans men, and does not mean that trans women are welcome (usually we are not), it is necessary to examine how things should be.

In our cisnormative society, certain body parts are associated with women, and others with men. In our patriarchal society, men dominate spaces where they are welcomed at the expense of women’s comfort and, at times, safety. In our patriarchal society, health care for men is prioritized and normalized over health care for women. The feminist response to this has involved the creation of women’s clinics and health centers, which provide medical care specifically for women in an anti-misogynist safe space.

Because of cisnormativity and the history of feminism actively creating cis-only women’s spaces (whether by the creation of new spaces or the expulsion of trans women from existing inclusive spaces), these clinics are created to only serve cis women. Because of feminism’s cissexism, and history of turning a blind eye to the male privilege possessed by trans men, such spaces have not only welcomed trans men, but changed themselves to accommodate trans men (de-gendering themselves while still excluding trans women and training people in providing care for trans men, including care no woman needs).

Including trans men in a women’s space, of any kind, while excluding trans women, is an act of transmisogyny. De-gendering a women’s space while keeping it DFAB-only, is an act of transmisogyny. Claiming a women’s space is “trans-inclusive”, as these places do, while excluding women who are known to be trans, is an act of transmisogyny.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Lie the Patriarchy Told

2012/05/24

Patriarchy lies.

Patriarchy lies about the means by which it operates.

This seems obvious enough. No system of oppression is ever fully truthful about its means. Patriarchy in particular lies to claim that it values women, it lies when it claims that things coded as “women’s work” are not degraded, it lies as it feeds women myths about rape. Among many other things.

One particular patriarchal lie is hyper-relevant to trans people. This is the lie that “woman” and “man”, “female” and “male”, the oppressed and oppressor classes for sexism, are defined by . . . well, whatever is convenient for those in power to claim they are defined by at the moment, but in a way that consistently denies that trans people are who and what we say we are. Having a penis or having a vagina is a popular one. So are assumed chromosomes based on a person’s birth designation. I say “assumed” because most invocations of this to insist that someone is or is not a man or woman do not involve anyone calling for a karyotype. I’ve never been karyotyped but people are happy to insist I am XY.

This is a lie, though. Patriarchy is fully happy dishing up anything it means to serve to women to me, and to other trans women, regardless of our genital status. When I spend half of my train ride home from a protest worried if the man who has struck up an unwanted conversation is going to touch me (especially in a way that reveals that I am trans), I am oppressed by sexism. When men think they can speak over me on topics I am an expert on (like, ironically, my relation to Feminist theory as a trans woman), I face sexism. Patriarchy sees me as a woman because Patriarchy sees me through the eyes of everyone around me who carries it. Others can tell their own stories of facing sexism, which we all have.

As a woman, my inability to bear children does not define me; to phrase this differently, my inability to bear children has not spared me the ravages of patriarchy. Cis men treat me as a woman, with all the negativity that implies. My lack of a uterus does not insulate me from that. The meaning of “woman” in our society is not synonymous with the meaning of “womb.”

– Quinnae Moongazer

Bolding added

So the cissexist straight cis guys in my life who “still see me as a guy” (based on their own words to others or me)…

  • Interrupt me constantly
  • Degrade me with misogynist jokes
  • Ignore my opinions
  • Shame every sexual thing I do
  • Treat me as though I’m less capable of anything
  • Steal my ideas
  • Act condescending as shit
  • Victim blame me
  • Objectify me
  • Sometimes even sexually assault me

They just don’t want to have consensual sex with or date me while they’re willing to with cis girls, nor do they wanna use my name or use the correct pronouns.

– Kinsey Hope

This goes even further. While we are (sometimes and sometimes not) shielded from many aspects of sexism by disguising ourselves as men or boys, or by convincing ourselves that we are, even then we are only shielded from some aspects. As women and girls who are disguising ourselves, every little bit of an ambient atmosphere of misogyny is as much an attack against us as it is against every other woman. Even before I recognized myself, I still felt (although I didn’t know why) misogyny as an attack on me. And, again, I am not alone or even unusual in this.

Returning to the original point, trans women are viewed as women by the Patriarchy, and oppressed by sexism as women, even as it lies and claims we are men. That claim is, indeed, part of oppression of trans people. As part of the complex of ideas that makes up the ideology of Patriarchy is the belief that our genders can be defined for us, that they can be reduced to our “biological sex” (remind me to rewrite the post I wrote on the construction of that last year because that post is fucking awful), itself a part of this oppression.

That claim, that genitals or the chromosomes one is assumed to have had based on their designation at birth determine one’s status as a man or a woman (and that those are the only two options), or the kind of fertility someone has (or would be speculated to have based on their birth designation), is oppressive to trans people. It is made to deny our reality. It is made to push us back into a box where we do not exist. It is made to deny that we suffer the oppression we do.

It is a lie that justifies violence done to us (the brunt of which is borne by Black and Latina trans women). It is a lie that calls us deceptive, and so it is a lie that projects itself onto us, a lie that tears us down for our honesty. It is a lie that needs to be destroyed. It is a lie that has been bought hook, line, and sinker by certain schools of feminism.

It is a lie that Patriarchy told, and so it is a lie that to believe it is to subscribe to Patriarchy.


Burnout

2012/05/01

[Trigger Warning: Suicidal Ideation]

(Original Publication: April 27, 2012 on tumblr)

I burn out on things in a very, very obviously autistic way.

And, to be honest, this has been probably the dominant feature in my life for almost the past two years.

As background, I pass for allistic very well. It’s not obvious, and I’ve gotten by without formal accommodation and, in the past, preferred that people I knew professionally (from class or work) not know that about me. I am, or was, one of those autistics people might claim can’t really be autistic.

Two years ago, I was an undergraduate, on track (ish) for a double major in the physical science discipline that I just dropped out of graduate school for with a “second” language degree (depending on how you count, it’s anywhere from second to fifth. But I’ve forgotten everything I learned about all the in-between ones, and two of them I didn’t get very far in ever). People who know me will have a good guess as to which language.

Sometime, I think over the summer, I burned out, at least on studying that language. I don’t actually know. I pulled energy from elsewhere and forced myself to work through everything, passed my classes, started up fall classes right when I got back to the states, and pressed on. I don’t think anyone around me noticed. In retrospect, this kinda foreshadowed some later stuff.

A month later, in mid-September, my burnout caught up to me, or maybe I finished burning out. I hit a homework assignment in my language class, and hated it to the point of refusing to do it. So I cut class rather than have to make excuses for not having it. And I started building a class-cutting habit. Only for that one class, though.

I’ve always been good at keeping up the facade. Even when I have nothing else, I have the facade, where I at least can look normal, even if on the inside nothing is working and I’m not accomplishing anything and just spinning my wheels in place.

So I dropped out of the program and withdrew from my class.

It wasn’t for another month that I started to figure out that I was trans. In retrospect, this was entirely obvious. I think it was more realizing that the stuff I’d read about trans people on the internet actually applied to me, and actually applied in more places than the internet. And, with that burnout fresh in my memory, my dominant thought was that, if I was trans, I would have to deal with it. Burning out on being a non-transitioned trans woman, on having people think me male and encouraging them to do so, would probably kill me. So I read, and I read, and I read. And the trans stuff I read resonated with me. And it also kept me safe, gave me an outlet. And, eventually, once I was (for a time) out of my parents’ financial reach, I began to physically transition.

Now, again, I burn out. I want to say this happened a month ago. It started a little longer.

This time it’s more dramatic. I’m in graduate school. My grades are crap, and my research progress is too. I pull energy from everywhere else in my life, first to remain productive at my research and my classes, and then finally to keep up my facade of looking like I am. I date my burnout to an ordinary day when I noticed I needed to do laundry. A week later, I take a mental health day off work and actually manage to do it that night.

Then my facade cracks. I don’t want to go in to how, but I publicly show that I haven’t been nearly as hard at work as I should have been. Then I notice that I’ve been burned out for a month. Or, well, I spend the rest of class stimming with my flash drive, walk out, wander around campus for a while looking for somewhere quiet to cry, find one, cry for a bit, and go to the counseling center, and somewhere during this whole breakdown I realize that I’ve been burned out for a month.

Transitioning may have saved my life here, to be quite honest. Through this breakdown, I had thoughts of wanting to die, which I could reject easily. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted my pain to be seen, to drop the facade that I’m ok. I’m not, no matter how many times since I burned out I said I was. But through all of this, I am proud of my decision to transition, proud of being honest with myself about what I need. And, well, being a girl is actually pretty awesome. So even though I fully had a plan to put myself in the hospital after an attempt (so that I would have an excuse to cut class), I never took any steps to carrying it out. I’m safe now (no suicide risk).

This was my first time being seriously suicidal. It was pretty terrifying.

Then I talk with my advisor. It’s clear that I’m going to need time off, or on light responsibility, because being self-directed with my responsibilities is what burned me out the hardest. It’s not that I’m not passionate about the things that I burned out on, I just burned out on the little things that have to go around it that hold me up so that the work is possible. Things like executive function to put my computer away and get to work. I come in wanting leave, and come out with us both in agreement that it would be better for me to not return to the group. And now I’m no longer adrift. Now I have to make decisions about which direction I want my life to go, and I can’t just do things others set up for me.

The weekend after, though, I came out to my parents, which was a thing I scheduled long before, and now I’m out everywhere. I even have a picture of myself as my profile pic on out!facebook and a coming-out post on closet!facebook. I’m done keeping up the boy facade, even though it was the allistic facade that burned me out.

In as many years (on a calendar that starts in August), I have had two burnouts. This is the cost of hiding my autisticness.


Lyon-Martin: Saved? (UPDATE: YES!!!)

2011/05/03

So, the big Lyon-Martin fundraiser is apparently over. They’ve been desperate and on the ropes for the past few months. As of last Tuesday, they reported that they were within $5000 of hitting their fundraising goal. Apparently they’re slow to update their official numbers, since even as money’s been coming in that was the number they sent out with their fundraising plea for the last day on Friday. I chipped in and signal-boosted it on Facebook and Tumblr.

Now, they still haven’t updated their number, and I haven’t seen any news anywhere. I imagine they’re counting up their donations, trying to make sure they have the money they need to stay open, before releasing the final figures.

Me, I’m sitting and waiting, nervously. I don’t even live in the right town to be a regular patient there (though I’m probably going to head there for my hormone treatments. This clinic is a big deal). What will the final numbers be?

More importantly, what does this say about us as a community? Trans people are far from the only patients there, but we were as active as anyone else in fundraising for the clinic. Asher called for us to pull together, draw our line in the sand, and not lose this lifesaving clinic. Were we able to do this? Only the final number will tell.

Update: I just got an email from them. The final number is just over $501,000. We did it. The clinic is saved!


Principles of Trans Friendly Language

2011/03/02

(minor edits have been made on May 27, 2012)

The language broader society uses to describe trans people involves denying that we are who we say we are. This is on top of the active misgendering we have to continually deal with. Often people try to fight this linguistic misgendering one word at a time, especially cis people new to learning about it. This is incoherent, at best, especially since new problems are constantly being found and new words coined to replace the old ones.

So, instead of trying to do a vocabulary list or glossary, I’m going to lay out a couple principles. Words will be used as examples to illustrate these principles, but the principles themselves are the central point. The attitudes that cause the use and proliferation of this language are the problem, not the language itself. Also, I’m going to be assuming here that people know that slurs against trans people aren’t acceptable at all, and even a level beyond that, that explicit misgenderings aren’t acceptable. Read the rest of this entry »