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Cross-posted

7 Oct

on the blog for my Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, which unfortunately you can’t view unless you are a member of the class. This post also relates to and includes some information I posted in one of my first entries after restarting my blog. The original entry can be found here, and this is an expansion of those ideas:

This summer, I read “Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity” by Julia Serano, an MTF trans woman. Besides being an incredibly eye-opening book, which I recommend to everyone, Whipping Girl also addresses certain vocabulary often mistakenly used when discussing trans issues. In the Introduction to Chapter 3 in Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions, the editors mistakenly use the terms “transwoman/transman” and “transgendered.” In her book, Julia Serano explains why these terms are incorrect, and how they perpetuate negative ideas regarding trans people.

First, using the word “transwoman” (or transman) is inappropriate. The two words should be separate (trans woman), as this phrase functions kind of like “Jewish man” or “black woman”…it is a descriptive phrase, not a summation of an entire identity, like “transwoman” might suggest. Serano says using a phrase like “transwoman” third-sexes or third-genders (both verbs) a trans person, thus “relegating [them] to [their] own unique categories that are separate from ‘woman’ or ‘man.’” Additionally, MTF and FTM are adjectives, not nouns, so using the adjectives MTF (male-to-female) or FTM as nouns is equally offensive. As Julia says, “I do not identify as a ‘male-to-female’ – I identify as a woman.”

Regarding the word “transgendered,” the addition of the -ed at the end of the word suggests being trans is something that is done to trans people, rather than something they choose and identify with. People are not transgendered, any more than they are straighted or Jewished. Transgender is a trait, not an action.

Finally, I’d like to draw attention to how important it is for trans people to be consulted whenever something is being written about them, or whenever trans rights/issues/definitions are being discussed. While I am not sure how Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions was constructed, it seems that the editors did not, in fact, consult trans people when writing the section on transgender and transsexual identities. Cissexual people cannot pretend to understand the nuances of trans people’s lives and identities anymore than straight people can fully understand gay people’s lives and truths, or white people can understand the lives of people of color.

I’d like to reiterate how strongly I recommend this book. Absolutely worth your time, money, energy.

teaching moments

5 Sep

we took a vote on the way our bathrooms would be gendered. two teaching moments occurred:

1. we did the votes on pieces of paper, and were asked to write down our preferred gender (so they would know to make a single-gender bathroom for men if most of them wanted it, or for women if they wanted it). anyway, it didn’t ask for “sex,” it asked for “gender,” so I put down “woman.” I recognize and accept that my biological sex is female, and am okay putting that down if the question is asked of me, but would prefer to answer “woman” when asked about my gender. To me, gender is more purposeful than sex and results from experience and growth and life. I identify as a woman because I feel like it’s something I’ve grown to, something I’ve chosen for myself, something that is strong and beautiful and flawed, whereas “female” is something that was assigned to me by someone else.

Anyway, a girl sitting next to me saw me write “woman” for my gender, and asked me why I wrote it. I think she was confused as to why I didn’t just write female. So I got to explain to her everything I just explained to all of you.

2. The rule for voting was this: if even ONE person said they unequivocally needed a single-gender bathroom, there would automatically be one, even if the majority of people said they wanted gender-neutral bathrooms. For example, if even one girl said she wanted a single-gender bathroom, there would automatically be a women only bathroom. I asked why that was, and they (the Student Adviser and the Residence Life Coordinator) said they wanted everyone to feel as comfortable as possible. I asked what if a gender neutral person felt really uncomfortable choosing either a men’s or a women’s bathroom? why aren’t we worried about them feeling safe and comfortable? i didn’t really get a good answer to that question, but there was a half-hearted attempt at justifying it by saying that we cater to the most conservative person. Um, horrible reasoning? I also ran into a tad bit of unspoken animosity as a result of me challenging the idea that one gender binary-conforming person’s interests trump the interests of everyone else. Dear person who gave me asshole-y looks during this conversation: genderfucks, transsexuals, gender neutral people, intersex people all exist. Your rights do not trump theirs. They have just as much a right to a safe space as you do. A compromise would be more productive than just simply asserting the rights you claim as a member of the majority.

In the end, we did come to a compromise. One bathroom is woman-only, and one bathroom is gender neutral. I have chosen to only use the gender neutral bathroom, not because I am genderfuck or transsexual or gender neutral, but because I think it’s important that everyone feels comfortable entering that space, and I want to show that gender neutral bathrooms can work for all kinds of people.

Teaching moment number three, which did not involve the bathroom vote:

A person I just met, who has since become a friend, used the word “pussy” in a derogatory manner toward one of his friends. I asked him not to use the word, and explained that it bothered me because he was equating a body part of mine (which I love and take pride in) with weakness and fear. My pussy is not weak or scared, it is powerful and a great source of joy for me (and others). This leads to the greater issue of equating femininity with weakness. Feminine=strong, wonderful, powerful. Not worthless or weak. Next time you insult someone, please think of a non-gendered word, because I take offense when you use my body to bring other people down.

(p.s. look forward to a future post about using gendered insults)

During the course of the conversation, I had a learning moment, too! We were brainstorming words to use instead of “pussy” that could convey the same message without being super ultra sexist, and we came up with “sissy.” I have no personal experience with that word being anything other than a synonym for weak. But my gay friend spoke up, saying that “sissy” is a word used to describe/make fun of gay men. He told me about how he was called a sissy throughout his childhood, and I promised him I wouldn’t use that word either.

Can’t decide which is better, teaching or learning. Thoughts?

Daily Whipping Girl quote

7 Aug

“I am attracted to people, not to disembodied body parts. And I would be a selfish, ignorant, and unsatisfying lover if I believed that my partner’s genital existed primarily for my pleasure rather than her own.”

So, so true. Her point, with this quote, is that one is not defined by his/her/hir genitals. We can be attracted to people, no matter what genitals they have. That’s why the argument “trans women are not real women” is bunk. If we argue that a woman’s penis is what makes her a “fake” woman, then we are putting way too much emphasis on one small part of a much greater, more complex person. And isn’t the central tenet of feminism that we are all more than the genitals we were born with? That what we do and experience is so much more a measure of who we are than our individual body parts?

4 Aug

Yummy things on my tumblr recently:

1. “here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)”

e.e. cummings is always wonderful, and I believe Jessi has posted some recently.

2. “Although born identical twins with matching DNA, Tom and Ryan were two immensely different children. As toddlers, Tom entertained himself with toy trucks while Ryan fawned over his girl cousin’s Barbies and Little Mermaid dolls. Photo after photo of them at that age show Ryan with a t-shirt wrapped around his head, mimicking long, flowing hair. At age 4, he asked his mom, Cecelia, a heartbreaking question: When do I get to be a girl?… Ryan is now 12 and goes by the name Sylvia… Tom, who says he always felt like his twin was a girl, isn’t surprised by the twists their lives have taken so far. “I do wonder what it would be like to have a brother,” he says, smiling at Sylvia mischievously, “But I guess a sister cuts it.” (via genderqueer)

3. “On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, ‘What God do you pray to?’ (Bloomberg’s voice cracks here a little as he gets choked up.) ‘What beliefs do you hold? The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.”

Michael Bloomberg, you’ve never made more sense.

4. Yep, that’s definitely yummy.

A little of both

20 Jul

Something I learned today:

  1. Using the word “transwoman” (or transman) is inappropriate. The two words should be separate (trans woman), as this phrase functions kind of like “Jewish man” or “black woman”…it is a descriptive phrase, not a summation of an entire identity, like “transwoman” might suggest. Julia Serano, author of Whipping Girl says using a phrase like “transwoman” third-sexes or third-genders (both verbs) a trans person, thus “relegating [them] to [their] own unique categories that are separate from ‘woman’ or ‘man.'” Using the adjectives MTF (male-to-female) or FTM as nouns is equally offensive. As Julia says, “I do not identify as a ‘male-to-female’ – I identify as a woman.

Beginning again

20 Jul

Alright, so I caved. Once you have a blog, it’s hard to stop having one. I’ve been sticking mostly to my tumblr these past few months, but I’ve been doing so much thinking and exploring on my own about lots of stuff (things like where I want to be in one year and what my gender identity is) and it’s driving me a little crazy that I don’t have anyone to talk to about them. So here I am, back in the blogosphere, spewing personal thoughts into the nether. I hope you guys will help me sort through some of the things I’ve been wondering about, and maybe propose new ideas for me to spend a lot of time contemplating.

Just started reading Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano. (I can never remember if you’re supposed to underline or italicize or put quotes around book titles, so I just picked at random) Anyway, I’m only 2o pages in, and I’ve already marked three quotes that stuck with me:

1. “Even feminists buy into traditional sexist notions about femininity – that it is artificial, contrived and frivolous; that it is a ruse that only serves the purpose of attracting and appeasing the desires of men. What I hope to show in this book is that the real ruse being played in not by those of us who happen to be feminine, but rather by those who place inferior meanings onto femininity.” Love this, because although I’ve been a self-declared feminist for as long as I can remember, for a long time I regarded a shift toward stereotypical masculine tendencies as the only way for women to be seen as equally important members of society. Now, I believe that there is strength in any and every way a woman chooses to express her gender, sexuality, self, life. I’ve re-embraced the femininity that, as a feminist, I have occasionally called into question. This idea leads into the second quote from the book:

2. “No form of gender equity can ever truly be achieved until we first work to empower femininity itself.” Yes yes yes, all the time, yes. Femininity is not inherently weak, vulnerable, emotional (although it can be all those things). Femininity is strong and beautiful and thoughtful and rash and everything that we believe masculinity is and more than what we believe masculinity is.

3. “We make assumptions every day about other people’s genders without ever seeing their birth certificates, their chromosomes, their genitals, their reproductive systems, their childhood socialization, or their legal sex. There is not such thing as a “real” gender – there is only the gender we experience ourselves as and the gender we perceive others to be.” I disagree with nothing she writes here, but would like to point out that our tendency to make assumptions goes beyond gender. One of the biggest problems with our world is that we tell people they are what other people think they are, rather than what they think of themselves. Telling someone she isn’t a woman, when she very clearly lives and identifies as one, is a way in which we communicate that our perceptions of ourselves are inferior to other people’s perceptions of us. Telling someone (through words or actions) they are unwelcome in this country because they are immigrants, when they know themselves to be an American citizen is another way we do that. Yet another way is the judgments we make about a woman’s sexual activity because of the way she dresses. And what right do we have to make any of these assumptions? Appearances often don’t tell you any (or most) of what a person might want you to know about them. Thus, I’ve been trying to stay away from making judgments about people. Partly because I don’t think anyone could know anything about me based upon my appearance, and partly because I think being open to learning about someone organically, through interacting with them, makes my relationship with them much stronger and purer than it would be if I made judgments based on nothing.

More thoughts will come as the book progresses. Any of your thoughts are super appreciated, always.