Archive for September, 2011

My SLC Speaks Column

For a while now, I’ve been writing a weekly column on queer issues for SLC Speaks, a Sarah Lawrence student publication.  My latest column is here, and is a brief rundown of words that are frequently used in discourse about queers but are problematic.

 

My friend Ella, the publication’s editor-in-chief, started SLC Speaks last year.  It provides an alternative to the now largely inactive Sadie Lou and the frankly shitty–and you can quote me on that, especially after their public misgendering of a trans student in print last year–student newspaper, The Phoenix.  (Seriously, they misspelled TS Eliot’s name in a crossword.  When I asked the editor how they were improving their quality, because I’m on Student Senate and we were discussing approving their yearly budget, she told me, I swear to god, that this year they had said no to copy editor applicants who misspelled their applications.  I realize that this is a long parenthetical, but god, it’s embarrassing; we’re a college of writers, or we’re supposed to be.)

 

Well, I’ve finished bitching.  If you’re interested in my writing, SLC Speaks is another place you can catch me as well as numerous other writers.  Check out in particular the glowingly postcolonial Preksha Kumar; the sparklingly femme James Neiley, fashion editor; and the ridiculously competent Jing Min “Jeamme” Chia, who will one day save the world through smart economics and cooperative agriculture.

 

SLC Speaks!  Read it!

Troy Davis

Remember your history.

If you’re white, go study.  Go do your work.  Go shut the fuck up and listen to a person of color who’s willing to share their experiences with you.  Shut up and do your work.  It is work that needs to be done and tonight you are seeing what happens when people fail to do that work.

If you’re a person of color all I can say to you is that I am trying to do my work.  I am trying and I am sad.

 

ETA: If you’ve come to this post after the fact to tell me that racism doesn’t exist, that white privilege is a myth, or that “racism is a two way street” and white people are oppressed too, please don’t leave a comment.  It won’t be posted.  Instead, click here.

Why Chaz Bono Is a Misogynist Who Does Not Represent Us

ETA: This post is getting some attention–which I wasn’t expecting–so I made a follow up.  Here it is, if you’re interested.  The long and short of it is, I bear Chaz no ill will, but I have some serious ideological problems with him as a spokesman for the trans community.

If you’re here from Jezebel, or Radar Online, or one of the various outlets that picked up this post, and you’d like to find out what I’m about and what you can expect to find on my blog, I wrote an introductory post to explain what I do a little bit.  Cheers!


I’ve been feeling conflicted lately about Chaz Bono’s relationship to the media.  On the one hand, he’s being unfairly vilified by bigots like Keith Ablow and so many others.  He’s being misgendered, called by his assigned name, pathologized, threatened with physical violence, had medical abuse advocated as “treatment” for him, and treated in other unforgivable ways.  Presumably he went into this knowing that that would happen and believing he was strong enough to take it.  That’s brave.  I admire that.  And when people say fucked up things about Chaz, I am moved to defend him, because he’s a transgender man and I am a transgender man.  We both want full recognition of transgender people as human beings.  We are meant to be on the same side.  The hell of it is, we aren’t.

Chaz has appointed himself as the representative of a group of people who are not all like him.  He has said misogynistic and prescriptivist things about gender.  I take particular issue with his comments on trans embodiment and on women.

Here’s a link, for example, to AN INTERVIEW CHAZ DID WITH ABC.

Here’s something he says in that interview:

“If you are a man and you have breasts, any man would want to have them removed,” Bono said. “It is scary for a woman to think about it because it is something that they are really attached to. Being male and having breasts is about the worst thing I could imagine.”

Chaz is erasing the experience of trans men who don’t need top surgery.  He needs to realize that “men” is a more inclusive category than he seems to believe.  He’s reinforcing the cissexist idea that having breasts that you intend to keep equals being a woman, which we know from the experiences of many non-op, non-binary and intersex people is just not true.  Chaz is ignoring the needs and lives of many people who belong to the very group he purports to represent and to fight for.

Here’s another prescriptivist quote:

“I think of it as hormones that, you know, went in the brain but not in the body, and that’s all being transgender is. It’s just that the sex of your body and the gender of the brain don’t match up.”

Reading this, I think first of my non-binary transgender friends and comrades in arms.  Chaz is defining transgender in a way that excludes them completely from the category.  That is wrong.  I know so many trans people who saw rhetoric and metaphors like this early in their lives and immediately assumed that transgender could never refer to them, that they were outside the purview of even transgender issues, completely freakish, completely alone.  I am a binary trans man, and I do not want Chaz, another binary trans man, representing me and simultaneously mistreating my non-binary comrades in this way.

And here’s the interview that finally made me decide I was done with Chaz.  It’s with the New York Times.  Here’s a LINK.

“There’s a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For 99 percent of people, those things are in alignment. For transgender people, they’re mismatched. That’s all it is. It’s not complicated, it’s not a neurosis. It’s a mix-up. It’s a BIRTH DEFECT, like a cleft palate.”

I do not have a birth defect.  If you feel like you have a birth defect, fine.  That’s how you feel.  Go feel that.  Do not put it onto me.  Do not define me that way, and do not define other trans people that way unless they claim that label.

It’s beyond that, though.  Chaz is a misogynist.  He is a trans man who seems to believe that his female-assignedness and his female socialization makes him immune from being a misogynist, and he is manifestly wrong.  Look at this quote about testosterone, from the ABC article again:

But an added benefit of the hormone injections, the couple said, is that the testosterone has improved their sex life.

“[It’s] just a higher sex drive, like all men,” Bono said.

All men do not have higher sex drives than women.  The idea that women have inherently lower sex drives is sexist and sex-negative.  Plus, what about asexual men?

Now this little excerpt is the kicker.  If I hadn’t abandoned Chaz before, I would have after reading this.

“I never really understood women before, to be honest, but I had a tolerance for women that I don’t have now[…]No, really.  There is something in testosterone that makes talking and gossiping really grating.  I’ve stopped talking as much.  I’ve noticed that Jen [his partner] can talk endlessly.”  He shrugged.  ”I just kind of zone out.”

“You just don’t care!”

“I just don’t care!”  He laughed.

I was floored  by reading this.  Can the guy really lack self-awareness to this degree?  Does he really not realize that this is a variation on saying, “Women should shut up and let the men do the important things men do”?  Does he not realize that there are women in the trans community that he claims to represent, women who are offended by this kind of sexist bullshit?

I can speak to what the experience of being on testosterone is like.  I still gossip just as much as I used to.  I still love to listen to my female friends and I love to gossip with them.  I don’t think they’re “grating.”  And I don’t want any rich white straight trans guy going out there into the world and telling the media that testosterone made him into a misogynist.  If this is how he feels about women, I can tell you as a trans man who takes T, it is not because of T.  It is because he has some deep seated misogyny to work through.

This man doesn’t represent our community.  He especially does not represent those of us who are non-binary, non-op, women, or feminist men.  Chaz needs to do some hard thinking about what it means to appoint oneself representative of a whole group without considering the desires of all the group’s members.

And yeah, the guy didn’t spend his formative years in communities where people were actively talking about trans men and male privilege.  (They were too busy having useless radfem dialogue about trans women and their “male privilege.”)  But he certainly did spend his formative years in a world that was thinking hard about women, feminism, and misogyny.  Any guy Chaz’s age, who’s had that many opportunities to educate himselfand is still going around saying that he finds it “grating” when women talk, is a misogynist.

I think how we refuse to let this guy speak for us is that we actively and loudly contradict the messages he sends–that being trans is always a “birth defect,” that testosterone is an excuse for trans men to behave in sexist ways.  I think other visible queer people should be speaking out about Chaz’s misogyny and binarism.  (The reason this isn’t happening–and I’m not aware of it happening–is probably because Chaz has a lot of money, and queer rights organizations need a lot of money.)

The next time you hear Chaz’s name brought up in a conversation about trans issues, point out the things he’s said about surgery, “birth defects,” and women.  Because I don’t want a single person thinking this guy is the best of us.

Stealth Shaming: What It Is, Why You Shouldn’t Do It, and How Not To

It looks like I’ve made up a term.  I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  It’s not like it’s in common usage, but I think it’s a good term.  That is to say, I made it up to do a particular job and I think it does its job well.  To get this out of the way: I am a trans man who discloses.  I haven’t always disclosed, i.e. I’ve had jobs and brief periods of residence in rural periods when I’ve blended as cis full time, but for a variety of reasons blending as cis hasn’t been an option for most of my life.  At the place in my life I’m in now, I don’t want to blend as cis full time,  I am able to disclose my trans status safely, and pretty much everyone I meet learns quickly that I’m trans.

 

The term is stealth shaming, and here’s a definition:

 

stealth shaming:  The practice or act of stating, implying, or acting as though binary-identified trans people who do not disclose their trans status are somehow not being trans properly.

 

First of all, let’s unpack the term “stealth.”  Obviously problematic, right?  It carries all these icky connotations of hiding and lying and general cissexist bullshit.  It’s a term from the Dark Ages of trans discourse, when every doctor told us we had to learn to “construct a plausible history” and that we had to live “stealth” if we ever wanted to be considered “real” men and women.  People have inaugurated new terms, like “blending as cis full time,” which is my favorite, or just “nondisclosing.”  I recommend we use these new terms instead of “stealth.”  I’d say I insist, but if you follow this blog you know I’m kind of incurably fluttery.

 

I use “stealth” in the context of stealth shaming in a similar way feminists use “slut” in the context of slut shaming—it’s a problematic word being used to describe a problematic action.

 

There’s a second really important thing we have to do here before we attack just what stealth shaming is and how to prevent doing it—we need to countenance the fact that disclosing and blending as cis aren’t mutually exclusive.  There’s ambiguity everywhere.  To say that the two things are utterly different and have no overlap is to create a false dichotomy.  Feel free to skip this part and go straight to the numbered list below if you want; it’s kind of abstract and gets a bit long.

 

Obviously almost everyone who blends as cis full time have a few people in their lives who know about their trans status.  I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.  But consider this:  If you’re a trans person who gets read correctly in a consistent way, and you don’t walk down the street yelling “I’m trans!” or have one of those OP T-shirts that say “Nobody knows I’m a transsexual”—you’re blending as cis!  If you ever go to a dinner party with people you don’t know well and you don’t disclose to them, or you have a beer with some guys you’re meeting for the first time and you don’t disclose to them—you’re blending as cis!  I know this seems obvious, but it often seems like people need it articulated,especially binary-identified trans activists who have the privilege to be read correctly but trumpet themselves as paragons of complete openness w/r/t their trans status.  I’m just about as close as someone who runs down the street yelling “NOBODY KNOWS I’M A TRANSSEXUAL” as a guy can get without actually doing so, and most of the interactions I have with people daily, they assume I’m a cis man.

 

Now for the meat of the post.  Important points to remember.

 

1)  Saying that people who blend as cis full time are not “out” is stealth shaming.

 

The term “out” is of massive importance to queers.  It is a term that describes how brave we are, how open, and most important how good we are at being us when everyone else insists that we shouldn’t be us.  Denying blending trans people access to this term is identity policing in the worst way, and of course, it’s cissexist.

 

In a specifically trans context, to be out means to be honest and open about one’s gender identity.  When a trans man tells someone he’s male, or walks into a men’s bathroom, or says, “From a guy’s perspective…” or does anything that indicates that he identifies as male, he’s out as a man.  And he’s out. Full stop.  He’s put his gender identity out there.  The idea that he needs to add being trans to that as some sort of qualifier is a huge double standard.  We don’t demand that all cis people come out as cis in order to be honest about their gender identities, even though it’s entirely possible that some of people in our lives whom we assume are cis are actually trans.

 

A trans person comes out when they say “Hey world, I know I was assigned one gender at birth, but as it turns out, I’m not that gender.”  The process occurs at different times with different people and it can take a long time.  But that trans person has been out ever since—they know who they are, and they’re open about who they are with others.  To say otherwise is stealth shaming.

 

2)  Saying that blending people are “not being honest” is both stealth shaming and vilely cissexist.

 

It is nothing more and nothing less than a regurgitated version of the internalized cissupremacist idea that trans genders are lies, fabrications, or figments of our imaginations.  The idea that trans people must disclose their trans status exists so that cissexist assholes—pardon me!  I seem to be getting ruffled!—can be sure they can tell the “real” men and women from the monsters.

 

Why do you think so much violent hate crimes occur after a blending trans person is outed or discloses?  It is because they do not want us to have privacy.  They want to treat us like animals whose bodies are open, including the genitals, for perusal and examination at all times.  They are willing to kill and maim us to reinforce this condition.  It’s depressing beyond words to see trans people vomiting this kind of cissexist idea back.

 

“I just wish they could be honest!”  If this person is a man and is telling you he is a man, he is honest.  If this person is a woman and is telling you she is a woman, she is  honest.  To say that binary trans people must always state that they are trans is to say that they must qualify their maleness or femaleness, so that we all know they are not REAL men or women.

 

3)  One hears often that trans people who blend are “traitors to the trans community” or “harming the trans community” or “not really part of the trans community.”  The most false and holier than thou version goes “I’m so sad that those poor people can’t be open and disclosing!”  All these are stealth shaming and full of unchecked privilege.

 

These attitudes are always laden with one and usually several but not necessarily all of the following:  class privilege, white privilege, and abled privilege.

 

It may be safe and comfortable for you to be out where you are, but what about a blue collar trans person in a small town in the Southern US, in a state with no protections for transgender employees and no hate crime legislation, in a place were there’s very little institutionalized support for queer people, who is currently working an absolutely necessary job they’d risk losing if they disclosed?  What about a trans person with a social anxiety disorder, or clinical depression, or another disability that doesn’t allow them to go through the daily grind of disclosure and explanation?

 

It’s great that people want everyone to come play on the big fun happy safe queer jungle gym, but this poorly overextended metaphor is like playgrounds in real life, there are big strong kids who like to smack little weak kids in the head, and there are kids who are too tired or sick to get on the jungle gym, and just not everybody has access to the fucking jungle gym, ok?  Go get a juice box and mull it over until recess ends.

 

The assumption that all trans people are upper or middle class people in liberal areas who read lots of Judith Butler just enrages me.  There are, astonishingly, trans people who do not attend and will not be attending liberal arts colleges in the Northeast with LGBT Studies programs where they get to participate in symposiums on gender diversity.  (Disclaimer: Stephen, the author of this article, is a student at a liberal arts college in the Northeast with an LGBT studies program; he will be organizing a symposium on gender diversity during the coming year.)

 

Lastly, I think any discussion about disclosure versus blending brings up some really interesting questions about what these terms and ideas mean for non-binary people, for whom blending in their gender isn’t really an option because most people don’t know their gender exists.  I tried initially to make this post inclusive of that kind of experience, but I just don’t have the knowledge, and I don’t want to speak to others’ experiences.  I’d love to hear from any of my non-binary identified readers on the subject.



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 247 other followers