trans issues

Gender Focus Reads: Excluded by Julia Serano

photo of a hard copy of Julia Serano's "Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive", with several post-its sticking outby Jarrah Hodge

I received a review copy of Julia Serano’s newest book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive last fall, and I knew it was going to be particularly important. Serano’s last book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Feminism and the Scapegoating of Femininity has been a hugely impactful book for many trans* people and feminists and was even named the 16th most important feminist book of all time by Ms. Magazine.

Moving into 2014, it’s clear this book – and the discussions it provokes – are more necessary than ever. Last year saw more than 790 individuals and 60 organizations sign on to the Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism, but it also saw trans people continuing to struggle – often without wholehearted feminist support – for acknowledgments of basic rights and freedom from violence. It saw the unjust imprisonment of CeCe McDonald, Vancouver Rape Relief invite an anti-trans speaker to their December 6 memorial event, and British media harassing trans teacher Lucy Meadows, leading to her suicide. And literally this past week, a similar event occurred when Grantland writer Caleb Hannan outed a trans woman, Dr. V., and published a cruel, misgendering article even after her suicide.

The continuing injustice and exclusion should unite us as feminist and queer activists, rather than dividing us, and Serano’s book considers how we can get there.

The first part of Excluded is a collection of Serano’s essays since Whipping Girl, outlining exclusion within feminist and queer movements, including femme and bisexual communities, and at events like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Fest:

“I realized right there at the lake what a mistake many women from Michigan make when they insist that trans women would threaten their safe space, destroying a rare place where they feel comfortable revealing their own bodies. Because there is never any safety in the erasing of difference, and no protection in the expectation that all women live up to certain physical criteria. The only truly safe space is one that respects each woman for her own individual uniqueness.”

The essays are particularly helpful for understanding the big picture if you haven’t read Whipping Girl or experienced the kind of discrimination she talks about first-hand.

The second part is new material introducing Serano’s proposals for creating inclusion. Serano states:

“One-size-fits-all approaches to gender and sexuality – whether they occur in straight male-centric mainstream, or within feminist and queer subcultures – inevitably result in double standards, where bodies and behaviors can only ever be viewed as either right or wrong, natural or unnatural, normal or abnormal, righteous or immoral…we should distance ourselves from these one-size-fits-all models, and instead embrace an alternative approach – what I call a holistic approach to feminism.”

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Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Books, Feminism, LGBT Leave a comment

The Gender Politics of Restrooms

Woman Restroom symbol

by Chanel Dubofsky

Let me start by declaring that public restrooms are one of my personal nightmares. It doesn’t matter if there are a million stalls, like in an airport bathroom – I’m perpetually nervous about getting walked in on, and self conscious about the length of time I spend in them. More than once, I’ve moved something (a trashcan, a shelf) up against the door of a single stall bathroom, to make extra sure that no one can come in. A good public restroom for me that locks from the inside (preferably there’s a bar that slides into the lock, so there’s no question as to its locked status), and in which the toilet is close enough to the door so that you could act quickly, should the lock fail.

Now that I’ve established the terms of my neurosis, here’s what happened the other night. Another female friend of mine, R, and I went to find the bathroom in a restaurant. There were two doors, one designated for men, the other for women. There was a line for the women’s bathroom (insert annoying and potentially sexist joke about how long women take in the bathroom here), and none for the men’s room. Because the door to the men’s room was closed, it was hard to tell if how many people, if any, were in there, although in retrospect, it was probably safe to assume that it was a single stall room, because the women’s room was.

So the line was long, and everyone had to pee, and waiting is annoying in that situation. I checked to see if the door to the men’s room was open, and if the room was empty, and it was. The other women in line waved me into it, and when I came out, R went in. Everyone else stayed in the seemingly unmoving line to the women’s room.

Why, if both bathrooms are single stall and contain exactly the same equipment (toilets, no urinals), do they have to be designated for different genders? Can’t there just be two bathrooms? And in places where there are two single stall bathrooms for men and women, why is there still a line for the women’s room?

The act of designating a space as being for a specific gender causes all of our policing mechanisms to kick in. Trans folks face issues with bathrooms every day-can you go in that bathroom that reflects the gender that you are, even if others question or are afraid or confused by your outward appearance? Will someone tell you to get out? Will someone call the police.

I don’t know if men use the ladies’ room in this restaurant, I didn’t hang out to see. Maybe they do, but I would wager that we’re so held hostage by gender norms that going into a space that’s not “ours,” especially if we’re women, is not only unfathomable, but scary. Sexism is at work here, of course, and it hurts everyone, as sexism does. Bathrooms are a big deal. It doesn’t get more real than having to go to the bathroom, and still, we follow the rules and police those who don’t. There was a moment when I felt weird going into that bathroom marked for men, even though there was no reason not to. The other women in line were watching me do it. It felt brazen, taking the space that was not designated for me. I did it anyway, because I could.

Posted on by Chanel Dubofsky in Feminism, LGBT 1 Comment

My Feminism Will Be Trans-Inclusive

Trans flagby Jarrah Hodge

I have joined at least 200 other feminists in signing on to A Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism. The statement was crafted in response to a summer that saw several high-profile instances of feminist transphobia, including:

“the forthcoming book by Sheila Jeffreys from Routledge; the hostile and threatening anonymous letter sent to Dallas Denny after she and Dr. Jamison Green wrote to Routledge regarding their concerns about that book; and the recent widely circulated statement entitled “Forbidden Discourse: The Silencing of Feminist Critique of ‘Gender,’”signed by a number of prominent, and we regret to say, misguided, feminists have been particularly noticeable.”

This is all happening in an already hostile climate for trans people, including persistent mis-gendering of Chelsea Manning and continuing murders of trans people, particularly trans women of colour.

I’d encourage people to read the statement in its entirety and to sign on here, but I’m also excerpting a portion for this post. Thanks so much to the people who took the initiative to write this thoughtful statement and to the moderators going through the deluge of comments and signatures.

We, the undersigned trans* and cis scholars, writers, artists, and educators, want to publicly and openly affirm our commitment to a trans*-inclusive feminism and womanism.

[...]

We are committed to recognizing and respecting the complex construction of sexual/gender identity; to recognizing trans* women as women and including them in all women’s spaces; to recognizing trans* men as men and rejecting accounts of manhood that exclude them; to recognizing the existence of genderqueer, non-binary identifying people and accepting their humanity; to rigorous, thoughtful, nuanced research and analysis of gender, sex, and sexuality that accept trans* people as authorities on their own experiences and understands that the legitimacy of their lives is not up for debate; and to fighting the twin ideologies of transphobia and patriarchy in all their guises.

(full credit to Flavia Dzodan for writing the article the title alludes to: “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be Bullshit”, and specifically for her work supporting trans-inclusive feminism).

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, LGBT 1 Comment

Gender Focus Reads: Whipping Girl by Julia Serano

by Jarrah Hodge

I’m a bit late to the party reviewing Julia Serano’s book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Feminism and the Scapegoating of Femininity for Feminist Classics Book Club (it was April’s pick) but really wanted to cover it for the blog anyway since I think it’s a feminist must-read. Cass at FCBC said Whipping Girl “changed [her] entire understanding of the intersection of feminism, femininity, and trans identities”.  I had a similar experience.

Perhaps Serano’s most provocative argument is against women’s groups like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, who create “women’s only spaces”, even occasionally including trans men while excluding trans women. She argues that feminism needs to embrace trans issues, specifically the issues of trans women since all our oppression is linked through a general scapegoating of femininity. She points out how reality shows focus more on trans women than trans men and particularly highlight the before/after pictures and videos of trans women putting on makeup. “We are ridiculed and dismissed,” Serano writes, “not merely because we ‘transgress binary gender norms’…but rather because we ‘choose’ to be women rather than men.”

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Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Books, Feminism, LGBT 1 Comment

Impact of Trans Discriminatory Airline Regulations

In the round-up from two weeks ago I shared a link from Christin Milloy’s blog, which reported on trans discriminatory changes to Canadian air travel identity screening regulations. According to Milloy:

The offending section of the regulations reads:

5.2 (1) An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if …

(c) the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents…

[...]

So what does this mean? Well, in order to change the ‘sex’ designation on a Canadian Passport, the federal government requires proof that surgery has taken place, or will take place within one year. So for non-operative transgender persons, for gender nonconforming (genderqueer) persons, and for the vast majority of pre-operative transsexual persons, it is literally impossible to obtain proper travel documentation marked with the sex designation which “matches” the gender identity in which they live.

Now this is not a piece of new legislation, which would’ve had to be debated and voted upon in the House of Commons, but it is a change in regulation implemented by the Ministry of Transportation. In other words, the government could change this if they really wanted to, without requiring new legislation to be passed. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, LGBT, Politics 1 Comment

The Round-Up: Nov. 29, 2010

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Round-Ups Leave a comment

Rookie Blue: I’m Not Impressed

Sometimes people say to me, “So Jarrah, what do you look for in a TV show?”

Ok, nobody actually says this to me, but if they did, until recently, I probably would’ve answered: “At least one strong woman character, intelligent plots, preferably a crime drama.”

From the previews, the new ABC/Canwest show Rookie Blue would seem to fit those conditions. But boy did the pilot episode, which aired Thursday, fall flat on the intelligent plot front.

**caution: spoilers ahead**

In case you hadn’t seen the previews, Rookie Blue follows a group of rookie police officers as they start on the force in an unnamed city (it’s shot in Toronto). The main character is Andy McNally, played by Missy Peregrym. She starts out her first day on the job making a huge mistake, for which she gets called a “Bambi” by a male superior. When she tries to fix it, he calls her a “Girl Guide”.

Because if there’s one thing we want in a role model for girls its the willingness to suck up sexist criticism from condescending men in the workplace.

Then there’s the writing, which is pretty weak. Entertainment Weekly notes one of Peregrym’s worst lines: “[A suspect] is out there…with a gun!”

But in spite of that I could’ve given it another shot were it not for the ream of stereotypes they’ve used to create the female characters. For starters hey’ve got the devious blonde (Rookie Gail Peck) and the sporty and earnest brunette (McNally). In the department of racial stereotypes, the African-Canadian (American?) character Rookie Traci Nash (Eunuka Okuma) is described on the Global website as a “tough-talking party girl and [single] mother to a six-year-old son.”

Believe it or not, even that representation was more subtle than the appalling portrayal of a transgendered woman.

The scene starts when Rookies Gail Peck and Dov Epstein are asked to deal with a woman who’s been arrested for stealing drugs. In the process of interviewing her, Peck finds out that she’s transgendered. Peck goes to talk to Epstein, convinced that he’s now the one who should search the suspect.

“She’s a chick!” he protests.

“No, she’s not a chick, she’s a man!” retorts Peck.

“I’m not a man, I’m transgendered,” the woman interrupts politely.  Epstein then asks her what that even means, like she’s some kind of freak. He tells her  she’s either a “chick” or a “dude” and whichever one she is determines which one of the rookies searches her. At that point, the rookies’ supervisor steps in, grabs the woman’s driver’s license and notes that it states the sex as “M”.

“I forgot to change it,” the woman protests lamely as the supervisor hands the latex gloves to Epstein for the search.

Where do I even start?

First, there’s the fact that when we have so few representations of trans individuals in pop culture, Rookie Blue had to go ahead and make their first one, in the first half of the show, a criminal and a drug addict. Many trans people face discrimination partially due to these types of images that stereotype them as deviant.

Second, there’s the whole idea that you’re either a chick or a dude and that any questioning of that binary makes you a freak. As soon as the rookies aren’t sure of the suspect’s gender they challenge her, with Epstein demanding she pick a gender so they know what to do with her. And instead of any acknowlegement that maybe the problem is with the police procedures, as they’ve tried to do on other shows like SVU, it seems like the Rookie Blue writers decided to let the audience off the hook by having the supervisor defer to the driver’s license.

Third, it’s disturbing, but I actually think the writers thought this was a funny scene. It seemed like the point was to show Epstein, in particular, having to endure an uncomfortable and embarassing situation. There was absolutely zero acknowledgement of the humiliation that might be faced by a trans woman being searched by a cisgender male police officer simply because her ID hadn’t kept up with the police manual.

The scene wasn’t funny, nor was it entertaining or necessary to the plot. The only purpose it served was to perpetuate transphobia.

So sorry, Rookie Blue, but next Thursday night if I’m bored, I’m going to read a book.

-Jarrah

 

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, LGBT, Pop Culture, Racism 7 Comments