faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Today is the anniversary of the first meeting of Stellar, the group of trans people, trans-questioning people, and allies who organized to resist cissexism at the 2010 Chicago Dyke March. As I recounted in yesterday’s post, I faced a potentially life-threatening situation and other challenges when I became a member of the Chicago Dyke March Collective in 2009. This was not because of anything I had done but because I was a trans woman. Some Chicago activists were less than ecstatic when they heard about this. I cannot hope to do justice to the story of the amazing people who overcame obstacles to organize with me, but I feel compelled to share my version of the events anyway, because it is a story that everyone who has an interest in social justice ought to remember, and the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) is not going to record our history for us.

According to the bylaws we adopted on April 24th Stellar was a group that welcomed “everyone, regardless of race, class, age, trade, religion, nationality, immigration status, trans status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or physical or mental ability”. Of course, as I learned in 2009, there is a world of difference between saying a group is inclusive and being inclusive. For its part Stellar implemented a number of structures to make the group widely accessible. For example, our bylaws specified a group decision-making process, and these bylaws were automatically sent to everyone who was added to our listserv, while hard copies were available at meetings. As trivial as this was to implement, in every organization I have tried to be involved in since obtaining the bylaws (or the equivalent document) has been like pulling teeth, leaving me on the outside of the organization’s decision making. Stellar recognized that paying attention to little details had the potential to make a big difference in the lives of marginalized people.

If you know that the Chicago Dyke March is always held on the last Saturday of June, you might be wondering why Stellar did not convene before April 28th. The reason for this is that as late as February of 2010 it was not apparent that there was a need for resistance. Though efforts to communicate with CDMC as a collective had failed, I thought there would be some benefit to engaging individuals, starting with a member I will call Daisy. By the time I had left CDMC Daisy was the only person in the collective I counted as an ally, so I approached her with what seemed to me to be a win–win proposal: Together we would organize a teach-in entitled “Making Spaces Accountable to Trans People” and invite the other members to attend. Initially Daisy seemed enthusiastic, but her response time increased with every message I sent her. Eventually she started broadcasting comments insensitive towards trans women via Google Buzz. I took this as a sign that I would not get a response to either of the last two e-mails I had sent to her (my conclusion would turn out to be correct). It was already March 23rd when I sent a letter to various transgender individuals and TBLGQ rights organizations warning them of the threat CDMC posed to trans people. By that time CDMC had been preparing for Dyke March for months.

But it was not just a shorter time-frame that put us at a disadvantage. The time between Dyke March 2009 and Dyke March 2010 was a rough year for me—and not just because memories of what went down in 2009 were keeping me up night after night. In December a couple of young men stopped me on the street, punched me in my face twice, and stole my cell phone. When Dyke March was about a week away and Stellar’s membership was frantically making last minute preparations, my laptop malfunctioned. Despite all this I cannot say I had it worse than anyone else in Stellar; we all had our struggles. For example, most of the people actively involved in organizing had to deal with a death or a serious illness in the family. As if to pour salt in our wounds, The Windy City Times published a fluff piece about CDMC, as it does every year, while it failed to report on our organizing. There were days when I wondered whether we would have a presence at Dyke March at all.

During the course of our organizing we decided it would be a good idea to march at the event both to acknowledge what CDMC had gotten right—namely, organizing an event that was open to working class people and people of color—and to prevent CDMC, which then consisted only of cisgender people, from co-opting trans and trans-questioning people’s pride. But we also decided to use the event as an opportunity to educate people about what the cisgender members of CDMC had done in 2009 and how cisgender people could be allies to trans people in 2010, so a number of us contributed to a leaflet whose title was Marching United. We also knew that we had to keep our own house clean, and to that end we discussed combating racism. I introduced Stellar to a piece I had written entitled “Five Things White Activists Should Never Say”, thinking others in the group might want to use it as a jumping off point for our discussion. My friend and fellow activist Darrell Gordon, who was a member of Stellar, helped me revise the document and proposed that we distribute it at Dyke March along with the other flyer. (Apart from a few typographical changes the version we distributed at Dyke March was no different from the version that is currently available at zinelibrary.info.)

In the end Stellar did have a presence at Dyke March. As is often the case with direct action, assessing what went wrong is easier than assessing what went right. I believe our biggest loss was that the printing of the Marching United leaflets did not go according to plan, so we were not able to send any to the members of CDMC before the march, or distribute as many at the march as we would have liked to. The most obvious success is that I and other trans people marched without suffering injury. However, I for one found it triggering to have my steps marshaled by people who had been actively involved in my oppression, and to leave a war zone unscathed is to leave a war zone, just the same. I think one easily overlooked benefit of working together was that we had multiple witnesses for every incident. When the march had ended, three members of CDMC, perhaps hoping to save face after we had protested their event, approached me and another transgender person in Stellar and said that they would be in touch with us to talk about what they could be doing better. Knowing that I had not been the lone witness, I felt confident when I later called them out for failing to follow through. All things considered, I believe Stellar’s action was a success, and I am grateful to have had such an inspiring group of people to march with. What’s more, I am thoroughly convinced that the day will come when Dyke March 2010 is remembered not for those who marched lockstep with the people who had shown no regard for the well-being of trans women but for those who marched to resist the oppression of the most marginalized members of our community.

2011–09–16 Edit: In the original location this post included a picture of a man and a transgender person holding a young child. The caption read, “Two members of Stellar and one very welcome non-participant after a meeting.”
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
This is an account of some of the experiences I had while trying to organize with the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) in 2009. The main reason I am writing this now is the same reason that I participate in trans activism: I want to see the day when no new names are read at Transgender Day of Remembrance vigils. During my brief stint in CDMC I survived a number of instances of transphobia and misogyny, including the decision of one of the members to put me in a potentially life-threatening situation. Whatever else might be said about CDMC, I do not know any member of the collective who would deny this. Indeed a member of CDMC recently sent me an apology on the behalf of the collective. Even so, if anyone were to have visited CDMC’s web presence at any point during the nearly two years that passed before CDMC so much as apologized, they could have been excused for thinking not only that CDMC welcomed all trans people but also that trans people were part of the collective’s decision-making process. If CDMC’s words are not a narrative, they at least implicate a narrative—a narrative that has no room for a trans woman who was effectively driven from the collective and has yet to see justice. As long as trans people are at risk of entering CDMC unaware of its history, I cannot afford to remain silent.

My story begins on April 14, 2009. If this date seems familiar to you, faithful reader, it may be that you remember it as the day I came out to myself as a woman. On that day everything fell into place for me. The reason I had long felt inclined to call myself a lesbian was that I was a lesbian or, as I prefer to say now, a queer woman. Feeling celebratory, I wanted to find other queer women to express my pride with. The Dyke March was by far my favorite part of Pride Weekend (the weekend when ITAPBLGQ folks in Chicago and many other cities around the world commemorate the Stonewall riots, which mark the beginning of the modern queer rights movement), so I felt I would be a good match for the collective. I was not naïve, however. I knew that there had been a history of transphobia in Dyke Marches in general and the Chicago Dyke March in particular. So I decided to look at CDMC’s web site, hoping to find its policy regarding trans people. This is what I found on its Myspace page (and what can still be found on CDMC’s Facebook page and Wordpress blog):

Chicago Dyke March is a grassroots mobilization and celebration of dyke, queer, and transgender resilience.
Though I found this encouraging at the time, it was perhaps my first clue that CDMC had a structural problem. I might have just come out to myself as a woman, but I had known for more than four years that I was not a man, and so I had already long been involved in queer and trans activism. On at least one occasion the Queer and Trans Caucus of the Chicagoland Anarchist Network, one of the groups I worked with, had had a very visible presence in Dyke March. Despite this I had never once known a CDMC member to invite members of the groups I worked with to help with the planning. Indeed it seemed to me that the general perception among the activists I worked with was that the collective was only open to dykes. But with hindsight being better than foresight I quickly sent the collective an e-mail, asking to be involved.

Trouble arose almost immediately. The less severe of the two problems I had when I had first joined CDMC was that, well, I had not joined CDMC. Though my e-mail address was on CDMC’s listserv, available for all thirty or so subscribers to see, no one ever told me when meetings were held. The only reason I was able to attend my first CDMC meeting was that someone outside the collective told me the meeting time. So I went to the meeting, informed the members who were present of the problem, and I gave one of them my cell phone number. After this I continued to miss a number of meetings, because as before no one was telling me when they were being held.

When I was finally added to CDMC’s listserv, it seemed that I had hurdled the obstacles to my involvement just in time. A discussion arose about the Radical Cheerleaders, who had been unfurling an unwelcome mat for trans women and transfeminine people by various means, including the use of the slur chicks with dicks in one of its cheers. Though some red flags were raised during our initial conversation, I left the following meeting feeling that, if nothing else, everyone who had been present at the meeting understood that it is only for trans women and transfeminine people to reclaim transphobic, misogynistic epithets. What I did not know at the time was that one of the members present at the meeting—I will call her Rose—had already forwarded the entire listserv discussion about instances of transphobia at Dyke March, including my name and e-mail address, to two cisgender members of the Radical Cheerleaders. It would be weeks before I knew the extent to which my initiation into Dyke March was a baptism of fire.

Even while Rose hid her indiscretion, it quickly became apparent that problems remained. It turned out that the inaction I encountered when I had tried to join CDMC was not isolated. Any time a trans woman contacted CDMC turn-around time was slow. I developed a strategy for those occasions when a trans woman reached out to us: I asked the other members what the collective’s policy was regarding the issue at hand, waited twenty-four hours for a response (which I would never receive), and then act unilaterally to address the problem. But when I was the trans woman with a concern, who was there to help me? Finally I called out various members for their cissexism; backlash ensued. After reading the content of Rose’s response I felt the need to point out to her that tranny was a transphobic, misogynistic slur, even though I had already done so not long before. I went to the next meeting thinking that we would discuss cissexism, but the double-than-usual turn-out was more interested in discussing me. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to disclose that she had betrayed me, Rose talked about the cis woman tears she had shed. It was in this gaslit setting that I agreed to take a step back from criticizing members of the group. If I have only one regret from my time with CDMC, it was that in that moment I sewed shut the lips of the only member of the collective who was transgender and the only member of the collective who had consistently taken initiative in confronting cissexism and sexism.

After the meeting a week passed before Rose finally disclosed her betrayal. The revelation was not to be found in an apology or in an expression of sorrow but in a message to the collective’s listserv in which Rose blithely announced that the Radical Cheerleaders had found a replacement for the term chicks with dicks—namely, tranny chicks. Only one member bothered to respond; she proposed that the matter of the privacy violation be dealt with in a closed committee meeting where neither I nor any other transgender person would be present. Out of concern for my safety I left CDMC.

I have seen some stellar displays of solidarity since Chicago Dyke March 2009. However, other Chicago activists have distinguished themselves by supporting CDMC, even after it had repeatedly shown that it was more interested in being actively involved in trans people’s oppression than in our liberation. Affinity allowed CDMC to use its space to prepare for Chicago Dyke March 2010. Since then the Creative Justice Coalition has had a fund-raising event for CDMC. I wrote to a prominent member of Affinity on March 23, 2009 to inform her of the threat CDMC posed to trans people’s safety; I never heard back from her. I wanted to ask members of the Creative Justice Coalition why they were enabling my oppressors, but an extensive search for any contact information the group might have has left me empty-handed. I can only conclude that many Chicago activists have a long way to go before they can rightly call themselves allies to trans people.

As for CDMC, it remains to be seen whether the collective’s actions will follow its words. Fortunately not everyone in Chicago has been content to wait two years for justice. This is another story that needs to be told.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Last night I accompanied two members of Bisexual–Queer Alliance Chicago (BQAC) to a meeting of Chicago’s LGBT Advisory Council where they would submit the report Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations. One of the two was Brother Michael C. Oboza, a co-founder of BQAC. During the public comment portion of the meeting Michael gave each of the present council members a copy of the report and shared some of the information from the report, much of which brings sexism as much as monosexism into the open:
  • Thirty-five percent of bisexual men and forty-five percent of bisexual women “have attempted or seriously considered suicide”. This rate significantly exceeds the rates for straight people, gay men, and lesbians.
  • The portion of the bisexual male population living in poverty is greater than the portion of the gay male population living in poverty by more than fifty percent. The percentage of bisexual women living in poverty is more than twice the percentage of lesbians living in the same state.
  • Contrary to what their lack of visibility suggests, bisexual people make up the largest portion of the TBLG community.
In regards to the report Elizabeth Kelly, the chair of the LGBT Advisory Council, said, “This is very important.” Michael committed to sending an electronic copy of the report to the council members who were not present, and among the members there was talk of endorsing the report at the council’s next monthly meeting.

Edited on 2011 March 19 for the sake of factual accuracy. I had originally indicated that the report made comparisons regarding the number of bisexual people living in poverty, when it really presented percentages, which is more significant. I am sorry for my error.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
I just spent a lot of time composing a reply to a post entitled Dyke March Diaries: Coming Out on the IMPACT Program’s blog before realizing that it does not allow comments. So I thought I would post my comment here instead:
This is a very well-edited video, and the people in it are so inspiring! I am glad you and other folks are doing the vital work of recording the experiences of people in our community.

If I were to add anything, I would highlight the adversity that some people aligned with the T faced at Dyke March in 2010. In 2009 I, a transsexual woman, had tried to be involved in the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) and found the collective to be hostile towards trans people, especially those of us who are women or who have a feminine presentation. In response to this a number of trans folks, trans-questioning folks, and allies joined me in going to Dyke March to both celebrate our pride and resist CDMC’s marginalization of trans people. It is excruciatingly difficult to find queer “community” after facing rejection from mainstream society, only to find out that the “community” rejects us well. Despite this and a number of personal hardships, the other members of Stellar took a stand in 2010 and showed me what real community looked like. If Dyke March is a safer place for trans people this year, we will be indebted to the people who have been standing with us all along. Thank you, trans folks, trans-questioning folks, and allies, for the amazing demonstration of resilience!

I will be posting more about Stellar in the next month or two. For anyone whose interest I may have piqued I will at this time just link to a press release we sent before last year’s Dyke March:

Stellar calls for resistance on two fronts at Dyke March

Solidarity

2011-02-21 10:11 pm
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
2011–09–16 Edit: At the old location this post opened with an image that displayed a hand making the sign of V for victory and that said the following:

libya
algeria
bahrain
egypt*
tunisia*
support the people’s revolution


“Pernicious talk that Arabs do not want democracy has been exposed as the big lie it is.”—Jaswant Singh, writing for Al Jazeera English

News Stories about Women:

11/03/26: Libyan Woman Struggles to Tell Media of Her Rape
11/03/02: Arab Feminism
11/02/19: Women of the Revolution

Other Related Links:

The Libyan Youth Movement
Rare public protest quashed in Syria
Region in Turmoil (Al Jazeera Overview)
Rolling Rebellions (Democracy Now! Feed)

If you know of relevant links, please share them in a comment, and I will edit this post to add them.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
One of the quotes that inspires me most as a blogger is one attributed to Mother Jones: “My business is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” On this day when the US federal government observes the birth of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I thought I would share a quote from the civil rights leader that is not likely to be among the quotes we hear on mainstream radio and television throughout the day. Though its connection to feminism and queer liberation may not be immediately apparent, I believe the quote is much in the spirit of afflicting the comfortable:

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Last night I decided to watch the pilot episode of the newest animated series in Fox’s Sunday night line-up, Bob’s Burgers. The series is produced by Kimberly Smith, which told me nothing, because up until this point Smith has mostly worked on children’s shows, which these days I only watch if they are especially good or about dinosaurs. The fact that the show would air on Fox was no more helpful; this is the network that gave us Futurama, which I love (or loved—the episodes that have aired since the move to Comedy Central have left a lot to desire), and Family Guy, which I disdain. Thus I went into Bob’s Burgers ready to experience one of either end of the passion continuum.

Bob’s Burgers is about the misadventures the titular character’s nuclear family has while running a burger joint called Top Notch. No—you got me—it’s called Bob’s Burgers. The other family members are Bob’s wife, Linda, and his three children, Gene, Louise, and Tina. Though it is by no means a great indicator of sexism or the lack thereof, I always like to look at how closely a show approaches gender parity. Bob’s Burgers throws me for a loop by having men provide the voices of Linda and Tina. Even if I did not care about feminism, I would question this odd casting choice. Kristen Schaal, whom I first became acquainted with in Flight of the Conchords, provides the voice of Louise, and she gave the stand-out performance of the first episode. Why wouldn’t the makers want to give other women an opportunity to breathe life into the family at the focus of the series?

Some viewers, if they did not determine that the show was sexist upon noting its casting choices, might have reached their conclusion about a minute in, when Tina discloses that she has a crotch itch. I have not yet figured out if this offends me as a feminist, but I will say it was annoying as a running gag. The introduction of the plots was hardly more promising. The A plot concerns the fallout of a rumor that Bob’s Burgers uses human meat from the mortuary next door. In the B plot Bob is feeling inadequate as a husband, because Ricky forgot Lucy’s anniversary—no, wait, Bob forgot Linda’s anniversary. The plots are linked together when Hugo, a health inspector who dated Linda before she and Bob were married, capitalizes on the situation by requiring Bob’s Burgers to display a sign saying that the burgers may contain human meat.

Lest you come away from this review thinking that I have taste, I found the cannibalism allegation to the be funniest element of the episode. I smiled when it became apparent that Louise was the one who started the rumor, even if the smile faded when a flashback told me what I already knew. Was the show trying to tap humor from repetition, or was it condescending to me? I smiled again during the plots’ resolution, when Hugo relents and decides to give Bob’s Burgers a clean bill of health only to have Bob shush him, because he has found clients that want to try human meat for fifty dollars a burger. Unfortunately for the show, capping each end of a plot with funny moments does not make it any more interesting.

I was not at all impressed with the show’s other attempts at edgy humor. When Bob leaves Louise to run the store, she changes the sign to announce that the burger of the day is “the Child Molestor”. In another scene the writers try to generate laughs by having Gene and Louise taunt Tina with the suggestion that she is autistic. I did not notice any homophobic content, but if the pilot is an indication, the series will offer plenty to offend viewers concerned about social justice all the same.

As for the characters, Linda, Gene, and Tina are mostly forgettable (or perhaps I would just like to forget Tina’s contribution to the episode). If there is any hope for the series, it lies in Louise and her relationship with Bob. Louise is easily the most intriguing character—and not just because we never see her without her pink bunny-eared hat. She pulls shenanigans in territory where Bart Simpson fears to tread. Unlike Bart, however, she has a father who instead of responding by strangling her gives the most understated responses imaginable. Of course, making her more central to the plot could lead to other problems. This character needs to remain an enigma to work, and too many unvaried responses from her father would be dreadful. I do not envy the writers who will be doing the tight-rope walk required to keep the show fresh.

Of course, the above presupposes that the show can be kept fresh. Personally, I found Bob’s Burgers to be rank after the first viewing. And even in the absence of the humor I found offensive I have little incentive to watch a show that never made me laugh and only made me smile twice. Bob’s Burgers falls far short of the heights that sitcomes like Arrested Development soared to on the same network. If I know Fox, this is a sign that Bob’s Burgers will be around for a long time to come.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
I found this information via Diamond Stylz and Transgression: If you do not already know, Angel Johnson is a trans woman from Indianapolis who survived getting shot six times. As is the rule and not the exception for women in her situation, she has had to endure misgendering and victim-blaming from the media. Adding injury to injury, Angel’s landlord recently evicted her, making the absurd claim that she was endangering the safety of other tenants. Angel’s story can be found on Diamond Stylz. Scroll down for the update on her eviction.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
I recently wrote a post about cis feminists who misgender trans women (and more generally about feminists who marginalize women). This post is for cis people who say they understand trans people and in all likelihood sincerely believe that they understand trans people, but after talking to them for a while I have to wonder if they understand trans people.

When I enter a space I consider to be relatively safe, I am usually quick to disclose that I am a queer woman. Upon the disclosure cis people tend to respond in one of two ways. First, some cis people respond by asking creepy questions about my experiences as a trans person. They ask all about my sex life or, more commonly, my genitalia. They want to know if I am going to have “the surgery”. Offhandedly I can think of eight surgeries a trans woman might want as part of her transition, so I am put off when cis people make the surgery a homophoric reference to the one that involves a penis. But I digress. Other cis people respond by asking non-creepy questions about my experiences as a trans person. For example, they might ask me whether I have encountered discrimination on account of my trans status. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. In these situations my problem is not with the questions that are asked but with the questions that are not asked.

Can you, dear reader, guess what the lacuna is in cis people’s responses? What sort of question do you suppose I would hope to hear upon my disclosure that I am a queer woman? If I disclose that I am disabled or working class, do you suppose that I expect to hear people ask, “What is it like to be trans?”

There are two questions cis people do not ask me:

  1. What is it like to be a woman?
  2. What is it like to be queer?
If someone wants to argue that these are overly broad questions that no one would ask a cis queer woman, I would concede the point. But the trouble is that cis people do not even ask me more specific questions like, “Do you encounter sexism at such and such a place?” or, “Do you encounter heterosexism at that other place?” Cis people do not ask me, “Do you think our organization is falling short of meeting the needs of women?” even while soliciting my feedback on how well the organization is meeting the needs of trans people. Cis lesbians do not ask me specifically, “Doesn’t a woman seem so much hotter when you find out she’s queer?” even though I have known them to ask this question in other situations.

It is not for a lack of opportunity. There are people who have visited this blog, undoubtedly seeing the subtitle “A Queer Woman’s Blog”, and still only want to engage me in conversation about my trans status. There are often situations in which I find it natural to ask cis women about their experiences as women or cis queer folks about their experiences as queer folks, and they do not hesitate to answer. But they do not follow up by asking, “And what is your experience?” When an opportunity to ask me what it is like to be a queer woman presents itself, cis people are silent, and that silence speaks volumes.

Some cis folks might say, “Oh, Veronika, I do get that you are a woman. It is just that your experiences as a woman are so different that I do not know what to ask you.” I don’t buy it. Most cis folks know a cis woman who has to shave her facial hair, who does not menstruate, or who does not have noticeable breasts, and they still find a way to talk about their experiences of gender. Also, if it is a lack of common ground that keeps cis folks from talking about my gender, how is it that they have no difficulty asking me questions about my experience as a trans person—an experience that by definition no cis person has had? As I said before, a non-creepy question that involves my trans status is not bothersome in and of itself. So why don’t cis people ask, “What is it like to be a woman, when everyone around you insists you are a man?” or, “What is it like to be a queer woman, when everyone around you insists you are a straight man?” If they did, they might uncover differences that would help them better approach topics of gender and sexual orientation with me. Or they might find out I am not so different from cis queer women after all. Either way, they will have learned something about my experience as a queer woman.

And, yes, I am generalizing. There have been times when conversation naturally led to talk about my experiences as a woman or as a queer person; I do not remember now if these situations began with questions, but I felt that the other parties got it, so I will count them as exceptions. Also I do recognize when cis folks get it, even when they are simply making a statement. I was recently at a party where someone turned to me and said, “It is hard being a woman,” and I knew from her delivery that she was not saying this to inform me but because she knew I would understand. I get teary-eyed just thinking about this—this moment that would have been unremarkable, had I been a cis woman—because for me moments like this are so few and far between.

As you have probably guessed, if a cis person comments on this post merely to ask, “What is it like to be a woman?” or, “What is it like to be queer?” I will not answer. After all the point is not to take just one moment to ask a trans person a couple of questions, never to engage them on the matters ever again. My hope is that the cis folks who read this will make a continued conscious effort to recognize when they fail to seek input from trans folks, when they would seek the same input from other cis folks. I will believe cis folks are sensitive to me as a trans person, when they treat me the way they do other people who share my gender or sexual orientation. I will believe cis folks are sensitive to me as a queer woman, when they understand that they cannot know about every queer woman’s experience without asking me about mine.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
I have resolved to use a new initialism, ITAPBLGQ, to stand for intersex, transgender, asexual, polysexual or pansexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer or questioning. This replaces my previous abbreviation of choice, TBLGQ. (I am continuing my original practice of placing identities that are excluded or marginalized first.) Of course some readers will now have a question for me: Why have I waited so long to include the I, the A, and the P?

When it came to the P, I considered that people who are polysexual or pansexual are attracted to people of more than two genders, and I thought that queer expressed this adequately. In hindsight this was a terrible decision on my part. No one would ever include the P and the B while excluding the L and the G and justify it by saying that lesbian and gay folks can just identify as queer. The reason for this is that polysexual, pansexual, and bisexual folks are in many respects more marginalized, and this is precisely why we need to explicitly include them. Another problem with leaving out the P is that it plays into the view that there are only two genders or sexes. I now realize that I cannot justify excluding polysexual and pansexual people, and I am hoping the P remedies the situation.

My thoughts on the I and the A were a little different. Some intersex and asexual folks do not want to be lumped together with people who are oppressed because of their sexual orientations. Asexuality is related to sexual orientation only insofar as colorlessness is related to color. Intersexuality has even less to do with sexual orientation, if such a thing is possible. As someone who is sensitive to the way trans people—even straight trans people—are often lumped together with queer folks (even though I am queer and trans), I do not want to be guilty of reinforcing associations that intersex and asexual folks are trying to distance themselves from. However, in the end I decided that it was important to acknowledge the intersex and asexual folks who do want to be included and resist the efforts of some gay and lesbian folks in the mainstream who deny that intersex and asexual folks have common cause with those of us who are gay, lesbian, or queer.

What is our common cause? We are all in some way dominated by the heterosexual hegemony, the system that enforces the following dogmas:

  1. There are only two proper sexes—male and female.

  2. Everyone should be assigned to one of the two proper sexes.

  3. The two proper sexes are discrete.

  4. The two proper sexes are readily identifiable at birth.

  5. Males should be attracted to females and females only, and females should be attracted to males and males only.

  6. Females should be subordinate to males.
In one way or another each identity represented by ITAPBLGQ challenges the dogmas of heterosexual hegemony. Our oppressors know that if one dogma fails, the entire system falls, and so they fight to defend each one. This is why we need to work together.

Before I close I would like to point out that I have deliberately left allies out of our alphabet soup. I do this, even though I have seen variations such as LGBTA with the A representing allies and even though I have known queer folks who want to expand the definition of queer to include allies. The problem is that there will always be a difference between those of us who are oppressed by the heterosexual hegemony and the people who benefit from it. ITAPBLGQ folks have insight into the system that no one else does, because our lives depend on it. Therefore we cannot raise a banner that is equally inviting to our own and self-declared allies and must instead take an active role in identifying our allies. True allies understand that they already occupy a privileged position, thanks to the heterosexual hegemony, and will not attempt to gain prominence by assuming a false queer identity.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
CHICAGO—People ordinarily take the expression “Have a ball” as an exhortation to celebrate, but no one was celebrating last night when nearly one hundred Chicago residents gathered outside Wrigley Field to hold the first annual Vigil in Memory of Flesh-Toned Balls. According to Stephen Stone, one of the planners, “This is a new event, but we’re trying to address an old problem: blue balls.” Stone planned the vigil with the help of Saul Sachs who said the pair deemed the event necessary “due to increased media sensitivity to women who turn down men’s advances without presenting the other side of the story”.

Stone said, “I wanted to make this vigil for men like me.” He then recounted his own story: “There I was in a local bar, and a woman refused to come home with me, so I asked, ‘Why would you accept my offer to buy you a drink, if you didn’t want to have sex with me?’ Then her friend said, ‘Maybe she just wanted the drink, dumbass,’ and they both laughed. How could anyone think it was a laughing matter when my balls were as blue as Jokey Smurf?”

Sachs is also no stranger to blue balls. “I got tired of living in a country where a woman can say, ‘Your freedom ends where my “no”s begin,’” he said. “Sexual interest unrequited is a tragedy as awful as a serial killer murdering a hundred people, a nuclear bomb destroying the city, or the Chicago Bears failing to go to the Super Bowl. I knew Steve understood that. That’s why I was happy to lend a hand when he said he wanted to host a vigil for men who don’t have the balls that they once had.”

In preparation for the vigil Stone and Sachs took their message to the streets. “It has been an uphill battle,” said Stone. “We stood on the street corner, distributing flyers while dressed as a couple of blue testicles. Some people were receptive, but most of them looked at us like we were nuts.”

“People don’t understand our predicament,” Sachs added. “There is a dearth of resources for people like us. Take the Internet, for example. You can find guides for everything from how to knit a hat with bunny ears to how to make a strawberry–rhubarb pie. But where are the web sites for men looking to relieve their sexual frustration?”

At the vigil Stone and Sachs unfurled a banner that read, “Women, it is time for us to chat balls out!” Abigail Glick, a passer-by from the nearby Boystown neighborhood, shouted into the crowd, “Cisgender, straight men aren’t the only people who get blue balls!” Sachs asked, “What? Do you expect us to invite gay dudes?” Stone expressed his own concern: “If we let a gay man with blue balls come to our vigil, he might want me to be the one to relieve him. Why can’t people understand that a man’s discomfort doesn’t outweigh my right to refuse to have sex with him?”
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Lately I have been thinking about the value of trigger warnings. Writing about the use of the phrase trigger warning to indicate that content triggers others, Katherine of The Body Electric writes, “It rests on a massive set of assumptions about what might trigger survivors.” As someone who often finds it empowering to watch depictions of violence that would trigger others but can be triggered by seemingly innocent phrases, I could not agree more. Katherine also points out that trigger warnings have been used to “infringe upon the rights of others”, referencing a post in which Lisa Harney notes that trigger warnings have been used to justify barring trans women from women’s spaces. Taking all this into consideration, it is obvious that there is a problem with the way I have been handling triggers so far.

With that in mind I have decided to draft a new policy on potential triggers, based so much on Katherine’s that I am rejoicing in the fact that copyright law only protects content and not ideas:

  1. I will write the first paragraph of each post in such a way that the reader can easily determine the content of the rest of the post.

  2. I will construct hyperlinks in such a way that the reader can easily determine the content of the resource I have linked to.

  3. I will follow the internet convention of letting the reader know that material is NSFW or contains depictions of violence.

  4. I will tag or categorize all satirical content as such.

  5. I will not hold commenters responsible for content that is potentially triggering. However, I will hold commenters responsible for abusing or insulting me or other commenters.

  6. I will leave it to the reader to determine whether content is potentially triggering before they proceed.

  7. As I strive to make this an accountable space, I will welcome comments that let me and commenters know when we have said something insensitive.
Edited on the 29th to fix a typo.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Two nights ago I dreamed that I had recently started dating someone; I will call her Amy. Amy and I seemed to be hitting it off, but I was anxious, because I had yet to disclose my gender identity. While I was trying to find the least awkward way to disclose that I was a woman, Amy got kidnapped by the Joker. At that point it seemed prudent to put revealing my gender identity on the back burner.

While I am sure this dream has something to do with my current relationship anxieties (I am a queer woman who looks like a man, as far as most people are concerned), I think it is more a reflection of anxieties I had before coming out as a woman. You see, in the preceding years I had identified as genderqueer. Genderqueer people are trans folks who fall outside the gender binary; they are not men or women, male or female. Though I would now disclose my gender identity before dating someone, this was not easy to do when I thought I was genderqueer. After all most people are not familiar with the concept of genderqueer. I often had to have ongoing conversations with the people I was dating, because I was not sure they understood; often they did not. In more than one relationship I was afraid that once my partner got it she would want to leave me. (As for the Joker, I have no idea what he was doing in my dream. I welcome your speculations.)

This seems as good a time as any to share some of the experiences I had when I thought I was genderqueer. I do not claim that my experiences make me an authority; only genderqueer folks are authorities on being genderqueer. Rather, I am writing about the difficulties genderqueer people face for much the same reason cisgender folks should write about the difficulties genderqueer people face: It should not always be genderqueer folks who shoulder the burden of educating us. (As my aim is to help, please let me know if I get something wrong.) Also, in the past people have used the narratives of people like me—trans women and trans men who at one point identified as genderqueer—as “proof” that genderqueer people are confused about their gender identities. Of course, all it demonstrates is that I, a trans woman, was confused about my gender identity. There are also people who spend quite some time identifying as trans women or trans men before coming out as genderqueer, but for some reason no one ever presents this as evidence that trans women and trans men are confused about our gender identities. My experiences might give me a perspective on what it is like to be genderqueer that cis folks do not have, but it would be wrong to cite them to dismiss the first-hand accounts of genderqueer folks.

Without further ado here are some of the experiences I had:

  1. When I started identifying as genderqueer, I stopped using my legal name and started using a gender neutral name. Much as is the case now, I met a lot of people, including people who undoubtedly considered themselves liberal or progressive, who were persistent in asking me what my legal name (or, as they liked to say, “real” name) was. However, I also got this from people who I felt would have gotten it, had I been a trans woman or a trans man. One person I had expected to be an ally made it a matter of contention, arguing that the name I had used before was just as gender neutral, and continued to call me by my legal name. As you might imagine, it is very disconcerting to wonder if you have a fight ahead of you any time someone asks, “What’s your name?”

  2. I once announced to someone that I had started dating a genderqueer person. The first thing she wanted to know was whether my new partner was assigned female at birth or assigned male at birth.

  3. When someone would propose splitting into groups based on gender, I would invariably be asked to join the men’s group and never asked to join the women’s group. On one especially infuriating occasion I was asked to join a men’s group aimed at helping men fight urges to abuse their partners at a time when I was in a relationship with someone abusive.

  4. As for the abusive ex, she was a feminist who, though she claimed to be sensitive to trans folks, drew heavily from second wave feminism when she wanted to justify inequalities in our relationship. In one of the incidents that opened my eyes to how crucial it was that I leave her, she sent me an e-mail written entirely in the third person, in which she referred to me as a man throughout.

  5. At a later point I joined a chat room that offered support to abuse survivors. When one of the chat moderators asked me what my gender was, I told her I was genderqueer. She asked, “Could you find a nicer way to say that?” I felt like asking, “Could you find a nicer way to say you are a woman?” But because I felt I needed the support the chat room offered, I remained silent.

I think that the first four of these experiences arise mainly from the fact that in many people’s minds genderqueerness is not real. Like trans women and trans men, genderqueer folks face an oppressive gender construct that does not acknowledge that someone can have a gender that no one assigned to them at birth. But genderqueer people face another difficulty: The same oppressive gender construct does not admit of any category outside male and female. Even when binary-aligned folks do acknowledge (to some extent) that genderqueerness exists, we tend to separate genderqueer folks into two categories—“male genderqueers” and “female genderqueers”. If we want to make our spaces trans-inclusive, it is not enough to acknowledge that some people have gender identities that are not aligned with the sex assigned at birth. We must also resist attempts to split what is whole.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Most people who know I am a queer woman will assume that I am ecstatic about recent legislation: The bill approved by the Illinois General Assembly making civil unions legal and the bill approved by the US Congress repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). However, people who have known me for some time might wonder. You see, I first delved into queer rights activism on Pride Day of 2004, when I joined a number of queer anarchists and allies in entering the Pride Parade, which we saw as a corporate sell-out, without a permit. A number of us commented on marriage, characterizing it as an oppressive institution. I do not remember whether we specifically addressed the issue of queer folks in the military, but people who saw the banner that read, “No war but class war,” might have inferred what the majority of us believed. We were not interested in reforming marriage or the military, we wanted to abolish them both.

Seven years have passed, and I am happy to learn about both pieces of recent legislation. Even so, I am not ecstatic. Though I am no longer an anarchist, I am still a radical. Marriage and the military have long been the primary concerns of white, cisgender, middle class gays and lesbians. Meanwhile organizations that have been in touch with the needs of working class queer and trans youth of color—organizations like Chicago’s Gender JUST—have tended to focus more on the systemic discrimination that is not codified into law, such as bullying in schools and the inequitable distribution of funding for AIDS prevention. When it comes to queer liberation, some of us have a longer way to go than the mainstream gay and lesbian rights organizations let on.

I am sincerely happy for the TBLGQ folks in Illinois who will no longer face institutional discrimination, but what about the problems it leaves unresolved? Even though the level of domestic violence in same-sex relationships is similar to the level of violence in straight relationships, the former is a lot more likely to be neglected. As the recent discourse regarding the accusations against Julian Assange shows, a ridiculously narrow definition of rape dominates in our sexist society, making it even more difficult for bisexual and queer women to be taken seriously. Considering that Illinois law formalizes a narrower definition of rape for victims whose perpetrators are their spouses, how attractive an option is marriage for those of us who survived sexual assault in same-sex relationships? As a trans woman who suffered abuse, including sexual abuse, at the hands of a transphobic woman who was my partner, I can tell you my personal perspective: The idea of being married is terrifying.

It is good that Congress has repealed DADT. Considering the rate at which black women were discharged under DADT, it was not only a heterosexist policy but also a racist and a sexist policy. However, repealing DADT will have no direct bearing on the fact that members of same-sex households are disproportionately more likely to serve. And why have they served? So that the US could destabilize Iraq to the point that it is arguably the worst country for TBLGQ people to be in? So that the party that is purported to be the party of “family values” could initiate a war in Afghanistan that has led to the daily death of 850 children? How does DADT—or any other legislation proposed by the mainstream gay and lesbian rights organizations—address the fact that it is straight folks’ war and queer folks’ fight?

If I could go back and relive my first day of activism, there is little I would change about my message. If I were to spend less time speaking out against marriage and the military, I would use the time I gained to speak out about the mainstream gay and lesbian community’s complacency when it comes to domestic violence and war. In the real world Illinois does not yet have equal marriage. Future generations will judge us based not only on our approval of reforms that would change this but also on whether we let focus on these reforms divert our attention from the plight of the most vulnerable members of our community.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Yesterday The Guardian published “the full allegations against Julian Assange”:

10 Days in Sweden

Because I want to give Assange’s “supporters” (as The Guardian refers to them) time to consider the allegations in all their detail, I will not write about blog posts or comments prior to the 17th. (However, if anyone feels inclined to comment on what others have been saying, you are welcome to do so here.) For now I will just say this: If the allegations are true, both women are survivors of rape, and if US state laws say otherwise, then in regards to rape US state laws are inadequate.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
While preparing to revise a piece I wrote entitled Five Things White Activists Should Never Say, I read people’s comments on the original version, including criticism. (The revision, Version 2.1, is now available at zinelibrary.info. Some of the comments I read can be found at People of Color Organize!.) A number of people, mostly people of color, gave thoughtful criticism that was crucial to helping me fill in some of my blind spots. There were also a number of white people who attacked the idea that white privilege exists. There can be no white privilege, they said, because there are rich people of color. Because Five Things is a short piece that was never intended to be an exposition on the fundamentals of anti-oppression, I did not respond to this criticism in my revised version. However, I will give a response here: Privilege is relative. As people who do anti-oppression work often put it now, there are intersections of identities, and people live at these intersections. The criticism fails, because you are privileged as a white person and you are oppressed as a working class person are not mutually exclusive claims.

It is not only those activists who fetishize class who have failed to account for intersectionality. Feminists have been guilty of this as well. Second-wave radical feminists believe that women’s bodies, as they conceive of them, have preeminence over all else, and vestiges of this belief can still be found among third-wave feminists. As an aside, there is an enormous failure here that should be obvious but which for some reason seldom gets mentioned: If feminism is, as bell hooks put it in Feminism is for Everybody, “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression,” then it is wrong to make women the exclusive focus. Feminists must never forget that two-spirit people, intersex people, genderqueer people, and other people outside the gender binary suffer some of the most painful and violent expressions of sexism. Returning to the main topic, the problem with ignoring other forms of oppression, as Audre Lorde famously pointed out, is that discourse on the people who are oppressed in regards to gender ends up being centered on those who are the most privileged in other respects. Though second-wave radical feminists do not say it—indeed they may not even realize it—the abstracted womanhood of their discourse is a white womanhood (and for that matter a middle class womanhood, but I will save that for another time).

Let’s take a moment to look at some specific problems with this. If we ignore race, we cannot address the injustice found in the way that women of color are held to a beauty standard that demands that they straighten their hair, lighten their skin, or lose weight. (Though there are white women who experience pressure to do the same, there is a significant difference of degree.) If we ignore race, we cannot explain why it was a woman of color who not all that long ago was told she had to leave the lobby of a Hampton Inn. If we ignore race, we cannot adequately account for the murder rate of transfeminine people of color. In short if we ignore race, we ignore people, most of whom are are themselves the targets of sexist exploitation.

There is a flip side to failing to take intersectionality seriously. This is manifest when second-wave radical feminists and those influenced by them subsume oppressed identities under women’s identity. The accompanying idea is that in some way all women are the primary stakeholders when it comes to the matters of sex work, trans status, and rape. Because acknowledging that sex workers face an oppression distinct from sexism amounts to making a concession to intersectionality, second wavers must construe sex work as a manifestation of the sexist system that harms all women, casting women who do sex work as dupes contributing to sexist exploitation. Second wavers are similarly unable to offer a rationale for how oppression against trans women is oppression against all women, and so perversely invert the oppression, arguing that trans women are men who appropriate cis women’s bodies and in doing so commit rape (I could not make this stuff up). Finally, to focus on rape survivors would be to throw a monkey wrench into the project of rooting all victimization in cis women’s bodies—after all, not all survivors are cis women—so second wavers talk about statistical likelihood of being or becoming a rape victim to redirect attention to cis women. (To be sure, women are more likely to be raped than men. The problem here apart from the marginalization of trans women is that women who are not survivors cannot truthfully claim to be stakeholders in discourse on rape in the same way that survivors are.) When people ignore intersectionality, they end up twisting reality to maintain the appearance that they are the focus of all anti-oppression work.

And who suffers the most from this flip side of intersectionality denial?

  • When feminists make women who do sex work out to be dupes, it is women who take the blame for the oppression of sex workers. Indeed there was a time when some feminists curried favor with legislators in the US and convinced them to make laws that were tougher on sex work; the result was that more women were thrown into prison, while pimps and johns carried on as usual.

  • When feminists make trans women the targets of ridiculous slander, it is women who suffer discrimination. Consider that the Michigan Womyn’s music festival remains one of the largest institutions that tells women they are unwelcome because they are women.

  • When feminists make rape survivors a footnote in a narrative about people who are likely to rape and people who are likely to be raped, they exclude a number of people, including folks outside the gender binary, men, trans women, and women who are raped by women. One consequence of this is that often when activists decide it is time to discuss rape, they segregate their collective into two focus groups, one for those who are likely to rape and one for those who are likely to be raped, and invariably put trans women into the former group, even though trans women are statistically more likely than cis women to be raped.
To summarize, when feminists deny intersectionality, they either erase people who suffer sexist oppression or co-opt the oppressions they suffer apart from sexism. Either way it is the people who are oppressed under patriarchy who are the most alienated. Just as white workers have time and time again played into the hands of employers who use racism to divide and conquer the working class, feminists have all too often aligned themselves with patriarchy in its war on the most oppressed women. Feminists must acknowledge intersectionality, because if we do not, we will contribute to sexism.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
On the 19th I started taking estrogen tablets. While this has mostly been a cause for celebration, I’m dreading the moment someone says, “Congratulations on your first step towards womanhood!” I’d like to pre-empt this now. Taking estrogen never could have been my first step towards womanhood for the simple reason that I have always been a woman (or a girl). On the 18th I was a woman without estrogen, now I’m a woman with estrogen, and in my mind there is very little difference between the woman that I was and the woman that I am.

I once stumbled across a remark a cis woman made—something along the lines of, “Wearing women’s clothing and having surgery doesn’t make anyone a woman,” though her choice of words was much cruder. This wasn’t anything new, but it stood out to me, because she chose to offer her words to the masses in the comment thread of a news story about the murder of a trans woman. Even if I had wanted to contribute to the derailing of the thread, I wouldn’t have bothered to respond to someone so unabashedly callous. But if I had responded, I would have said, “Exactly! It is not clothes or sex organs that make a woman but what’s in her head!”

This is not to say that I don’t feel closer to women while I’m on estrogen. I’ve already had a number of new experiences on estrogen. That is, I’ve had experiences that are new to me but not at all new to most of the women who have walked the face of the earth, and contemplating this is nothing short of wonderful. But then I also felt closer to women when I found my new voice. When I started doing voice work, I immediately felt a connection to all the trans women who had gone before me, struggling to make the sounds that resonated with them, and especially to the trans woman who showed me that the voice I wanted was within my reach. Finding my voice remains the moment of my transition that I’m the most proud of, because it required me to work under daunting circumstances, and all the immediate support I received was from other trans women. But I wouldn’t count this as my first step towards womanhood either. Trans women, like all women, can only succeed when we don’t try to obtain what we already have.

If you feel like being happy for me, then by all means be happy. I for one am ecstatic. And if you’re happy because you understand that this is nothing more and nothing less than a milestone in my efforts to have the body that I want, then I can know you empathize and be all the more elated.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
I recently started watching the PBS series Dinosaur Train on a somewhat regular basis. The show is obviously aimed at a younger demographic, but I was drawn to it, because, well, dinosaurs are awesome, and when was the last time a show all about dinosaurs aired almost daily? Of course once I started to watch the series I noticed sexism, some of it subtle and some of it not so subtle. Because I wanted to be sure that the subtle sexism wasn’t all in my head, I thought I’d analyze five episodes to see if my suspicions about the show’s trends were confirmed.

The show focuses on the family of Buddy, a young tyrannosaurus rex. The rest of Buddy’s family is made up of pteranodons—Mom, Dad, Tiny, Shiny, and Don. In a typical cartoon members of the Pteranodon family take the Dinosaur Train to meet other animals from the Mesozoic era. While on the train, a troodon called Mr. Conductor tells the family members all about the animals they’ll be meeting. At some point Buddy will say, “I have a hypothesis!” After each cartoon Dr. Scott, a paleontologist, interacts with children, and he expands on what they might have learned from the cartoon. During the Dr. Scott segments there is often a man who suddenly bursts through a door to make an announcement that begins with, “Point of fact,” and usually ends with a denial of one of the obviously fanciful elements of the show, such as, “Therizinosaurus did not practice the martial arts.” (Yes, martial arts. I’ll say more on this later.) Each episode consists of two cartoons and therefore two Dr. Scott segments.

Though it isn’t of much social consequence, there is something I see in every episode that bugs me: In the introduction a song recounts Mrs. Pteranodon’s experience of finding Buddy in her nest. According to the lyrics she explains why Buddy belongs in the family by saying, “You may be different, but we’re all creatures. / All dinosaurs have different features.” Pteranodons aren’t dinosaurs, dammit. Now I know there’s been at least one cartoon in which a character says that pteranodons aren’t dinosaurs, but when it’s insinuated at the beginning of each episode, it’s bound to create confusion.

With that out of the way I can get on with the meat of my review (which is available for everyone’s digestion, not just carnivores’): Even after casually watching a few episodes a few problems become immediately apparent. Though the show seems to offer something approaching gender parity—the Pteranodon family has an equal number of males and females, and there are a lot of girls represented among the children Dr. Scott interacts with—it is nevertheless male-dominated. Buddy is obviously the main character of the series, not only because t-rexes are more recognizable than pteranodons but also because he is the only character who always takes the dinosaur train. (This contributes to a problem with the PBS Kids block: When different characters appear during station breaks or on the web site to represent different series, there are often no girls among them.) Mr. Conductor, Dr. Scott, and the Point of Fact guy are also all males/men. Though the show welcomes girls to enjoy dinosaurs, it sends the message that it’s mainly boys who get to hypothesize and speak about them authoritatively.

Upon closer examination the show reinforces gender roles in other ways. In the episodes I watched Mom alone took the kids out in four cartoons, Dad alone takes them out in two, and Mom and Dad take them out together in one. (The other three cartoons did not have Pteranodon family members leaving the nest.) Dad only went out when he got to play the role of the great outdoorsman, as when he took the children out to go fishing and look for dinosaur tracks. On the other hand Mom’s primary motivation seemed to be that she was always eager to please the children. The one exception is when she has the opportunity to get the autograph of a cryolophosaurus patterned after Elvis Presley. It’s hard to see how the writers might justify this. I don’t know what the current scientific consensus is on pteranodons’ child-rearing tendencies, but this scarcely matters. The series already makes a number of departures from reality in an attempt to appropriately socialize children (I always have a very hard time suspending my disbelief when Buddy nonchalantly tells a herbivore that he eats meat and the herbivore doesn’t show a hint of fear). Why can’t we have more females/women actively involved in learning and teaching about biology?

The cartoon I found to be the most irritating was the therizinosaurus cartoon and not just because Mom’s expression of support was so over the top. (Mom is in the background, silent and motionless until one of the kids suggests to Buddy that they visit the therizinosaurus family “today”, and Mom suddenly leaps into action to say what a good idea it is.) Throughout the episode traditional Chinese music plays, and the viewer finds that the therizinosaurus family practices a martial art that looks like Tai Chi Chuan. Why? Well, often in the series a dinosaur will have attributes associated with the people who currently live in the land it was discovered in. For example, Archaeopteryx was discovered in Germany, and Arlene Archaeopteryx has a German accent. The therizinosaurus practice a Chinese martial art and are accompanied by Chinese music, so where was therizinosaurus discovered? That’s right, Mongolia. Wait, what? Yes, apparently the show’s writers find Chinese culture and Mongolian culture to be entirely interchangeable. I must confess that I was blindsided by this racism, which probably says more about my white privilege than the likelihood of its inclusion.

If it weren’t for the therizinosaurus cartoon, I’d be a lot quicker to endorse Dinosaur Train. There aren’t enough shows that teach children about a subject they’re already enthusiastic about. To the extent that gender parity is present in the episodes, it’s encouraging. Though the females of the series aren’t very well developed, the same is true of the males. I suppose some adults would gag on the simplicity and cutesiness of the cartoons, but I for one appreciate the occasional escape from heavy topics. I just wish there were less sexism and racism in the series; I prefer that my escapes be not so short-lived.

You Belong

2010-10-10 12:17 pm
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
In the wake of tragedy an ad campaign has been launched to tell TBLGQ youth, “It gets better.” I think others (see Lisa Harney’s remarks at Questioning Transphobia, for example) have already done a good job elucidating what’s wrong with the ads. I will simply say that however well-intentioned the campaign may be, it would not have helped me when I was close to suicide, because I would not have believed that my situation would ever get better.

So why go on living? For me it comes down to this: I belong. I don’t mean that I’ve regularly had people close to me who tell me I belong—quite often I haven’t. And I certainly don’t mean that I find belonging in the cissexist, heterosexist society I’ve been forced to live in. What I mean is that I find belonging through the shared experience of being trans or queer. No matter how painful it becomes, there are people who know exactly what I’m feeling.

Have you ever felt so dysphoric in the body of the wrong sex that you thought it would be better to be dead? I’ve been there.

Have you ever felt so guilty about your same-gender attraction that you thought it would be better to be dismembered? I’ve been there.

Have you ever come out to a family member you thought would be understanding, only to find yourself estranged from that family member? I’ve been there.

Have you ever been in an abusive relationship and remained silent because there seemed to be no resources available to someone of your trans status or sexual orientation? I’ve been there.

Have you ever felt marginalized, even among oppressed people, because you’re queer or trans? I’ve been there.

Have you ever felt marginalized, even among other TBLGQ people, because you face oppressions apart from being queer or trans? I’ve been there.

Have you ever had a painful experience that seemed so typical of the trans or queer experience that you said nothing out of fear that people would say it was cliché? I’ve been there.

Have you ever had a painful experience that seemed so atypical of the trans or queer experience that you said nothing out of fear that no one else would understand? I’ve been there.

In saying this I don’t mean to suggest that any of the people who recently committed suicide are to blame for not understanding that they were not alone. It isn’t often that we’re told that we’re not alone. And perhaps they did know, but it wasn’t enough. Who are we to judge? There won’t be progress until we stop pointing fingers at the victims and start asking ourselves, “What could we be doing differently?”

I also don’t mean to suggest that the message I offer here is new or the solution to all the problems we face. I have no idea how helpful it will be in the grand scheme of things. However, it is something that has helped me, and it is something that I can say to you with all sincerity. You are not alone. You belong.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
I came out to myself as a woman on April 14, 2009, and when that happened all my confusion about my sexual orientation ended, and I realized I was queer. I came out to my friends two days later. By the time I came out I was already a feminist and a queer rights activist. I knew I would encounter sexism and heterosexism, but I figured I wouldn’t encounter much until I had started to take hormones and “pass” as a woman. Now that I’m on the verge of taking estrogen for the first time (I hope to have it on the 19th), I thought it would be a good time to write about how wrong I was.

One reason I was taken by surprise was that I failed to appreciate how much my social interactions were mediated by the Internet. In cyberspace nobody knows my trans status unless I tell them, so even people who would otherwise dispute my gender identity see me as a woman. This was most noticeable when I joined lesbian chat rooms. Upon entering I was inundated with private messages from men who were soliciting sex. Some of them didn’t even bother to pose as women. All I wanted was to find a supportive environment where I could talk about the struggles we face as queer women, but even when I devised ways to block private solicitations, there was little I could do about men’s disruptions in the chat room. I ended up giving up on using chat as a way to network with queer women.

Women also contributed to the problem. When I made the switch from the m4w to the w4w personals in the “Strictly Platonic” section of Craigslist, the homophobia came at me like a punch in the face. A number of women had posted ads that said, “No lesbians,” (if they weren’t using epithets) or, “Straight women only.” As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t a manifestation of heterosexism alone. If you take issue with women who form intimate, supportive relationships with other women, you are engaging in sexist behavior. The one small comfort I took from this was that I was unlikely to meet anyone who secretly hated me on account of my sexual orientation.

I also learned that while my male body might keep me from some encounters with sexism, it guarantees I’ll have others. Shortly after I came out as a woman I joined the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC). Apart from a few insensitive but ambiguous remarks I saw no sign of a pervasive tendency to regard me as something other than a “real” woman. On the contrary, the more time I spent in the collective the more I felt self-conscious about being a woman. I raised some concerns about how trans people were being treated in Dyke March, and I wasn’t the only trans person to raise such concerns. What became obvious almost immediately is that if anyone perceived that transmasculine people were being marginalized, the other members were quick to step in. It also seemed that trans men were the barometer by which other members of CDMC determined that they were doing okay in regards to trans people. But when I talked about the concerns of transfeminine people, trying to engage other members in dialogue was like pulling teeth from a badger. In 2009 the Chicago Dyke March Collective would have been more welcoming to trans straight men than it was to trans dykes. Considering that CDMC members have gone back on their promises to work with me and other trans people to improve the situation, I doubt much has changed since then.

I could mention other times I’ve encountered sexism and heterosexism, but I think I’ve made my point: Being a trans woman, even one who looks “pre-transition”, does not save me from being the target of sexism. Sexism hurts all women, as well as people who don’t fit in the gender binary. Heterosexism hurts all queer people. If we want progress, we need to stop fighting over who is more oppressed, and work to abolish the systems that oppress us all.

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faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Veronika Boundless

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