No My Bits Aren’t Your Business or Your Trans Advocacy

Recently I read the en(Gender) post,”Guest Author: Zoe Dolan, When Political Correctness Hits Below The Belt.” Helen Boyd states in an introduction to the piece:

Here’s a controversial piece from Zoe Dolan, lawyer, author, and friend, in a smart piece about why, when it cones to dating – amongst other things – talking about genital surgery is important.”

If this piece was a post strictly concerning intimacy and talking to a potential partner in frank terms about sex with a trans person, then I’d agree it was a “smart piece.” Unfortunately it does not stay within the boundaries of negotiating intimate relationships. The post opens up with:

The conversation goes like this:

Him: Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?

Me: Yes, I have a vagina. Yes, I have a clitoris, and also labia majora and labia minora. Yes, I feel sensation and I can have orgasms — both vaginal and clitoral. And yes, I self-lubricate; but who ever said no to a little coconut oil?

Him: Wow. That’s amazing. Thank you for being so open. I’ve been curious but afraid to ask.

First off, what’s the context of this hypothetical concersation? Dolan doesn’t give lay out a scenario in which the questions are asked. Is this man a potential lover that you’re on a date with? Is this question being asked by a co-worker that is “just curious?” The context matters.

Dolan continues, saying:

I’ve written before, and I maintain: my view is that there’s no shame in the human body. We all have one.

Nevertheless, a politically correct script of deflection dominates public discourse when it comes to sex change surgery. This condescension shames people into believing that questions arising out of natural curiosity are somehow overly intrusive, and that inquiring about the medical aspects of being transgender is wrong.

First of all, there’s an assertion underlying here that trans bodies are surgically created bodies. Dolan repeatedly conflates M2F transsexuality and transgenderism. Trans bodies can be surgically created, synthetically created through hormone therapy, or by winning the genetic lottery. Dolan is correct that there should be no shame in talking about the human body, but context matters because respecting a person’s body matters. Context matters because a right to personal privacy matters.

Recently I met this anonymous fella at a music show:

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He told me that he thought trans women were women and he respected them. He then asked me if I’d had “the surgery.” I’d literally known this guy for minutes. He also informed me that I needed to smile more. I’m in a long term monogamous, committed relationship. I’d given him no signs that I was interested in him in any way. In this context, this man was being disrespectful.

I don’t and haven’t ever publicly stated the state of my genitals, because I don’t believe that’s something I personally feel the need to share or that should be up for public consumption. If you ask me about the state of my genitals when I’ve not expressed an interest in you, you’ve crossed a boundary and are being disrespectful. Some similar violations of privacy and personal boundaries/space without consent are:

  • Women that are visibly pregnant being “belly touched.”
  • White people touching an African American’s hair
  • People with physical disabilities being “helped” without being asked

Dolan states:

While the privacy that others may choose deserves respect, there is fallacy in the proposition that everyone should know better than to pursue understanding of a subject to which they have yet to be exposed.

After all, I myself had no idea what sex change surgeons were capable of these days until I asked and found out. So how can I hold regular people to a higher standard and expect them to know what I, as a transgender person, once did not?

Indignation exacerbates at least four problems created by muzzling discussion of sex change surgery. First, silencing talk about the procedure undermines its medical necessity for many of us who identify as transsexual. In the United States, we are now required, like anyone else, to carry medical insurance; yet, although more and more insurers are developing policies that cover transgender genital surgery, many have historically excluded coverage for an operation they deemed “cosmetic.” Tell that to a transgender person wincing every time they have to go to the bathroom, weeping at their body in the shower or the mirror or trying to explain their sex to a potential intimate partner. 

There’s no muzzling of discussions of sex change surgeries. If one is interested, they only need a web browser to educate themselves. I hate being so repetitive, but again it’s context of the inquiry that is disrespectful. Trans people should not be asked to educate cis-gender (not transgender) people, with their own bodies as the curriculum of that education.

Sorry, I’m not your trans101 sex education doll.

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Millionaire Was Misgendered, I Was Triggered (From Martine Rothblatt to Me)

Even when you’re a person of extreme wealth and privilege, being visibly trans is a challenge. For once, that fact is oddly comforting.

This morning I decided to watch a Ted Talk that featured Martine Rothblatt. Martine’s life story is incredible. The Washington Post said of her:

Let’s be clear: Martine Rothblatt is just plain more of a lawyer than anybody else in this town.

The 60-year-old grandmother and CEO of United Therapeutics, the Silver Spring-based biotech she founded to help save her younger daughter’s life, banked $38 million last year. It made her the nation’s highest-paid female executive. It also made her the nation’s highest-paid transgendered person, as she had sex reassignment surgery in 1994.

She is an amazing person, living an amazing life, doing amazing things. Yet someone that is interviewing her, who is in obvious awe of her and her accomplishments, misgenders her. No amount of wealth, prestige, or accomplishment stops this from happening.

I’m well past being triggered by being misgendered, but there was a time in my life that it would literally send me into a depression. Even though I’ve learned through Schema Therapy to deal with those triggers, it still has impact. At times it still feels like the person I see isn’t the person that everyone else does. At times being visibly trans still weighs on me.

As I said before, I don’t regret transitioning, but I understand it. Even when you’re a person of extreme wealth and privilege, being visibly or openly trans is a challenge. For once, that fact is oddly comforting.

Suicide, Leelah Alcorn, and Living Openly Trans*

I’ve kept quiet much for the last few months because I’ve been mourning a loss, the equal I can only compare losing my father at age 11. I’m not going to share the particulars of this loss because it doesn’t really matter in the context of this post, and secondly because it’s extremely personal. But emotionally I’ve been hampered a bit in just getting by day to day. I’m just trying to work out a plan for my future and try to do all the things people do when they’re mourning a huge loss. Trying to move on when you don’t really want to.

The holidays haven’t made it any easier. My circle of friends in Madison, Wisconsin is small. This is the first Christmas without my partner. I’ve just been putting my head down, going to work, and trying to make it through.

And then I read the suicide note of a trans teen, Leelah Acorn. Her parents tried Jesusing the the trans out of her to the point she killed herself. Some cis-gender (not trans*) people (especially those people that can’t bring themselves to call trans women, women but feel the need to call them “penised individuals“) have suggested that it’s irresponsible to post Leelah’s suicide note.

This is thorny territory for me personally. When I read it, it did trigger me. I’ve been pretty much staying away from social media the last few days because of her suicide. In her suicide note she said:

“I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

That part of her note pierced through me like a knife. I understand her pain, because I feel like I am the embodiment of the comments of her future. I’m a visibly trans woman that struggles every day. As I said to a friend after this story broke:

“I’m not clinically depressed or having suicidal ideation. I’m currently mourning a loss and been having dysphoria related issues lately. Basically I’m the person she said she didn’t want to live to be. That was a huge punch to the gut.”

and

“I’m not saying it for hugs or attention (but thanks for the love), but that it’s just hard. Especially what she said about it not getting better. If you don’t have cis-privilege, life is fucking hard being openly trans.”

But I don’t think it’s irresponsible to publish her note. I think it’s wise and compassionate to warn people with “trigger warnings”. But for someone that routinely fights for the right to exclude trans women from “female only” spaces without one shred of evidence that trans women are a threat (regardless of their genital status), I find Ditum’s words to be both disingenuous and oppressive.

Irresponsible? That would be the Philadelphia Gay News publishing a story about an underage child’s genitals. Irresponsible would be the Statesman asking a TERF who openly mocks trans women to write a piece on a trans child’s suicide.

The answer to transphobia that leads to suicide isn’t more transphobia. The answer to transphobia isn’t silence. Not talking about it isn’t going to make it go away. Trans reparative therapy isn’t going to suddenly go away on its own. It needs to be talked about and people need to know how awful and destructive it is.

She says:

“Trans lives matter. We know that transgender people are at particular risk of suicidal thoughts. So why are people endorsing and sharing material that, if it has any effect at all, is likely to be the catalyst for a trans youth to attempt suicide?”

Ditum’s pity feels a lot like the pity trans people get from Focus on the Family. She knows that trans people are at particularly at risk for suicidal thoughts, but never seems to ask why. I’m suffering every day as a visibly trans person, and it’s not because I’m mentally ill or because I’m diagnosed with any sort of depression. It’s because being visibly trans in this world IS A HARD LIFE. It’s because there are people that other us, disrespect us, and objectify us on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis.

The answer isn’t silence, it’s education. The answer isn’t fear mongering, mis-gendering, or “gender nerd snark“, it’s treating trans people with respect and human dignity. It boils down to just letting trans people live their lives authentically without being attacked for who they are. Ditum and folks like her aren’t part of the answer, they’re part of the problem.

Media Barr Roseanne From Criticizing Cosby, But Trans Women HELL YES!

Apparently the media think it’s news that Roseanne Barr has made some rather lewd comments about Bill Cosby, who:

“Several women in recent weeks have come forward to claim the comedian drugged and raped them or touched them inappropriately in past decades.”

But when Roseanne said some really horrible stuff about trans people? The media was and is silent.

What did I learn today? The same thing I learn most days. Trans people’s lives aren’t worth much at all.