You claim to be an ally of the trans* community or even a friend of an actual trans* person or two. Still, you have your concerns and, rather than use Google like the rest of us, you think to yourself, “why not use the wonderful and bottomless educational resource that is my very own trans* community?” Why not, indeed. Unfortunately, some of those so-called “concerns” are really your unwittingly transphobic beliefs couched in a seemingly innocent desire to learn from or worse, to “help” your trans* comrade. So, before you embarrass yourself and possibly lose a friend in the process, allow us to help you understand why some statements are better left unsaid.
1) “What’s your ‘real’ name?”
– “What’s the big deal?” you ask. You’re just curious after all. And yet, when you meet a woman introducing herself as Mrs. So-and-so you probably don’t ask her what her “real” name is. You don’t ask her this in spite of knowing that there is a high likelihood that So-and-so wasn’t the name she was born with. You say Mohammad Ali’s name in the face of readily available evidence that his mother wanted him to be called Cassius Clay. In fact, it is possible that you have no idea what your favorite rapper’s name is at all. This is because you not only have the capacity to respect adults’ decisions (and in the case of Soulja Boy Tell’em, teenagers’ decisions) to decide what they’d like other folks to call them but you’re also fully capable of calling them exactly what they tell you to call them without being side-tracked by your curiosity.
So then, the real issue is that you are having trouble accepting this trans individual as the person they say they are. When you view a person’s identity as a costume or charade, it is only natural to want to get to know the “real” them underneath the mask. The only problem with that is that in this case, unlike in the case of Soulja Boy, there is no mask. The person you were introduced to by whatever name they were introduced to you is who they are and you need to accept that and stop trying to uncover hidden mysteries that aren’t actually there.
2) “Gender is a social construct anyway, why can’t you just be a butch girl/femme boy?”
– I find it terribly interesting that the folks who mention that gender is a social construct never consider the possibility of operating outside of that construct themselves. For instance, why don’t you identify as the opposite gender or as no gender at all? It’s because “social construct” doesn’t mean that something is imaginary, it means that we’ve collectively agreed to call a certain set of behaviors/traits/phenomena by a name (in this case, gender) and to treat people with variations in those traits certain ways. Within this social construct, some of our actual genders do not match our birth-assigned gender. Outside of this social construct, trans*folks wouldn’t be different, what people called them would be different.
3) “Did you get ‘the surgery’?? / what do your genitals/boobs look like?”
– Remember that time when you initiated a conversation with a complete stranger by talking about how you were uncircumcised so your junk sort of looked like it was wearing a flesh-toned turtleneck sweater most of the time, but it was ok because the ladies didn’t seem to mind? You don’t? Why not? Would that be weird to have a in-depth conversation about how your sex organs look with a person you don’t know (or even with a person you do know relatively well if that’s not the type of relationship you have)? Oh, ok then.
4) What kind of sex do you have? / What do you do in bed?
– I see what you did there. You thought that by modifying the question we wouldn’t notice that you’re still just trying to figure out the answer to number 3 above. If this is the case, ask yourself why you’re so concerned with what’s happening inside the underwear of a person who probably doesn’t want to sleep with you at this point.
5) “Why would you be trans if you still like [insert whatever is the opposite of your birth-assigned gender here]? Can’t you just be straight?”
– This question is sometimes accompanied by the similarly incorrect assumption that binary trans*folks are just super-gays, so gay that they have transcended traditional butchiness / femmedom into a whole other gender. While I won’t deny our unicorn-like amazingness, we trans*folks are hardly gay super heroes. In fact, being gay or straight has zero to do with gender. That can be hard to remember since the T is tacked onto the LGB as though they are all sexualities but you’ll have to do your best here. Just like knowing a person isn’t trans* doesn’t give you any clue about who they’ll be taking home tonight, being a trans-person doesn’t guarantee a hetero-normative coupling.
6) “I don’t get ‘they/them/their’ pronouns / they is plural and it’s grammatically incorrect to address a single person that way.”
– Some people, who may have otherwise been composing treatises via hashtag and who speak in mostly in text shorthand, become surprisingly huge sticklers for grammatical correctness as soon as someone requests that they use the gender-neutral pronoun “they”. In spite of this, trans* folks wanting to be called by the less common ze/hir pronouns get even less compliance. It’s not that it’s hard to understand that some folks don’t consider themselves to be men or women (or consider themselves to be some combination of both). It also follows that these folks would prefer not to be called he or she if there was another viable option. So what’s really going on in this situation? As it turns out, acknowledging that someone doesn’t fit into the two gender categories you’ve been taught your whole life is pretty uncomfortable, especially when it forces you to change the way you use language in order to communicate with and about them. But you know what’s even more uncomfortable than that? Being of a non-normative gender in a society that not only doesn’t acknowledge you exist, but also doesn’t come with language to talk about your existence. So get over yourself and try harder. (also, if you want to learn more about gender neutral pronouns, go here: http://transcendingboundaries.org/blog/153-a-crash-course-in-gender-neutral-pronouns.html).
7) “I still see you as a girl/boy.”
– When you were little, you thought the tooth fairy actually flew into your bedroom at night and carried off your gummy bear coated choppers in exchange for their hard-earned money from the tooth fairy factory or wherever those little suckers work during the day. I can imagine your shock at discovering that this mythical creature was no more mystical than your own parent, which I suppose could be kind of a bummer if you’re 8 and a half. Similarly, your friend/family member/co-worker/neighbor was never the gender you thought they were. They have always been the person they are now expressing outwardly to you and the rest of the world, you just didn’t find out until recently. The fact of the matter is, you were wrong and just like the tooth fairy situation, sometimes we need to grow up and accept that things aren’t always what they initially seem to be.
Many things can be said about the fact that a white guy can request $10 to make a sub-par potato salad for the first time and end up with $43,000 in under 24 hours. Numerous speculations can be made as to why our society feels more comfortable giving to this young man than to numerous other diverse causes and individuals of value who are also in need.
However, in lieu of a rant on the matter, I believe this urgent plea best sums up my personal assessment of the situation.
An excerpt from the appeal:
I am writing you today to ask that you assist me in acquiring some white privilege. Although I have layered oppressions that have affected my ability to access my slice of the American Pie™, no issue has affected me more readily than my lack of white privilege…I am hoping that, through this campaign, I will begin to make some headway towards closing the gap that white privilege has created in my life.
See the rest here.
A co-worker recently old me that she moved to a rough neighborhood in Brooklyn, not realizing that it was a neighborhood I’d been raised in and still go to regularly to do community work. I was confused because the neighborhood never read rough to me and I wanted to know what was happening to terrify her so. She said she was forced to run home from the subway station because of all the random black men (her neighbors) just standing around at night. I always thought a street full of people at night was a great way to make it home without getting robbed or assaulted because of a thing I like to call community-accountability. Criminals don’t tend to want to get seen by a street full of witnesses.
Some black people go to college, speak “proper” English, listen to things other than gangster rap, and wear pants that fasten securely at waist height. But that 16-year-old black girl talking too loud on her cell phone on the bus with her baby on her lap doesn’t deserve your racist crap either. Neither does the black guy who is sitting on his (your?) stoop at 11pm drinking a 40 with his boxers partly exposed.
There is nothing inherently dangerous about having a loud mouth & tacky fashion sense or drinking a comically oversized beer after work. And not raising children as a teenager is a relatively new and bourgeoisie concept too. My grandmother had her first child at 18 or 19 (she was married but don’t get me started about marriage). So the real issue with these “bad” neighborhoods where these folks live isn’t the deviant behavior of the residents, it’s the fact that bigots tend to be terrified by anyone that isn’t like them.
They condition you to believe that the worst thing you could be is offended. They call you dramatic, over-reactor, and too sensitive. They teach you to shame criers and silence the angry. The cool kids are the ones with no reaction, the cynics, the indifferent, the unemotional. We are taught to become like that. Forget empathy, ignore pain – even when it’s your own, and whatever you do, don’t care. And while we are all so busy trying to be cold and emotionless it becomes easy take away our personhood since, are we even people if we don’t feel?
Does anybody know where I can go to earn some respect? Is it like Pac Man where have to eat a bunch of cherries & blinking circles & shit? Or is this just an option I can check off when I get hired to have some of my money diverted to respect? If I am disabled or laid off and not working is supplementary respect assistance available through the government?
I find that the most interesting thing about respect, is that we just expect folks to give it to us. When your cashier is having a bad day & is short with you, or someone on your block doesn’t pick it up after their dog drops a load in front of your steps, or your upstairs neighbor is blasting 3-6-mafia at 2am on a Wednesday & you have a meeting first thing in the morning, you feel unjustly disrespected. I suppose it could be argued that you earned (purchased?) the respect of the cashier by contributing to his paycheck with the money you spent at his store but what of your neighbors? Do you earn their respect just by living near them? do you have to own your home or can you be a renter? Do you have to know their names or have said hi to them?
Desiring respect without any effort on our parts isn’t interesting in itself of course. Most people want to be treated well by others. It is when others demand respect from us that it gets interesting because that’s when we pull out the “respect must be earned” argument. But as soon as people start marching around in the streets, penning articles, and making speeches demanding to be respected in spite of *enter oppressed status here* they need to earn our respect. How exactly do they go about doing that? What do our fellow humans have to do to earn the right to expect that people should treat them with the same decency and humanity that we treat the people who look, think, and communicate like us? What do people have to do for us to treat them the way we ourselves would like to be treated?
In honor of the #stopblamingwhitewomenweneedunity hashtag (started via this Huffington Post article penned by the delightfully clueless Adele Wilde-Blavatsky) I’ve decided to put together a top ten honoring the many interesting methods white feminists employed this year to promote unity between themselves and feminists of color.
From refusing to defend feminists of color against attacks from the patriarchy (or from other white feminists for that matter), to deriding feminists of color for not being feminist enough, to blaming feminists of color’s oppressions on their own cultures (instead of, you know, patriarchy) white feminists sure have a funny way of expressing their desire for unity with feminists of color.
10. When 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, the young actress and Oscar nominee, was called a cunt by The Onion in a poorly thought out satire attempt, white feminists decided that not defending her made sense because cunt shouldn’t be a bad word anyway and whatever, it was a joke ok? Anyway, it’s not like white feminists are in the habit of defending other white women against gender-based comedic assaults. I mean, unless you were called a slut. Or if Seth MacFarlane sings a song about your boobs.
9. Lily Allen became a white feminist icon for pop anthem “Hard out Here”, a video in which she sings the lines “no need to shake my ass for you cause I’ve got a brain” over a backdrop of black women shaking their asses for you in a demonstration of how brainless they are. Clearly, this video would make any feminist proud, since intersectionality is not a real thing. Even so, this too ended up being an instance of a satire that went completely over the heads of women of color feminists, who mistook the video as a fully clothed white woman singing about her own liberation while using gyrating half-naked black women and hip-hop culture in general to illustrate her point about what empowerment doesn’t look like.
8. And in an interesting turn of events, Miley Cyrus is a also feminist icon for doing almost the exact opposite of Lily Allen, and reveling in her own booty-shaking scantily-clad glory. I say almost because she does this while accessorizing with black women and black “ratchet” culture in many of the same ways that Allen does, since that seems to be the only method white feminist icons know of to drive their feminist viewpoints home. White feminists rushed to defend her from scathing slut-shaming criticism but, once again, very few critiqued her minstrelsy (and even when they did give her metaphoric black face and cultural appropriation a cursory mention, it was only to say something along the lines of “this deserves attention” just not in this article).
7. Self-proclaimed feminist mouthpiece Lena Dunham also skyrocketed to feminist icon status this year when she won two Golden Globes for her hit TV series Girls, a show which Dunham believes represents any woman who hasn’t felt her voice represented in the media (to paraphrase her Globe acceptance speech). She has naturally decided to only use upper middle class, college educated white women as the stand in voice for women of a wide range of different cultural experiences, ethnicities and economic backgrounds and has based the show in some imaginary section of Brooklyn, NY where people of color appear to be almost non-existent. But don’t take that to mean that Dunham doesn’t see people of color because she absolutely does; just only when they’ve done something she doesn’t like.
6. Yet, somehow, Beyoncé missed the boat for white feminist icon this year despite the success of yet another album with a number of pro-woman anthems and finally officially declaring her support of feminism. Is it because she’s decided to promote her music under married name just like Lily Allen has? Is it because she posed half-naked for the same photographer Lena Dunham posed half-naked for? What exactly was she missing that they had? It’s hard to be sure but there’s been some speculation.
5. Then there’s Michelle Obama, who is apparently failing feminists nationwide through her startling inaction since the message she sends by starting the first organic garden on white house grounds is not activist enough. Additionally, using her platform as First Lady to preach good diet and exercise when blacks in America have the highest rates of diet-related illness is an obvious waste of her time, as is focusing on raising her children. White feminists want us to remember that motherhood, especially woman of color motherhood, especially black motherhood, is never radical or feminist.
4. In world news, white feminists continued campaigns against India this year provoked by what they perceived as “cultural attitudes” and backwards traditions, which have led to India’s recent rape “epidemic” which gained international notice late last year. It’s hard to say how Indian rape culture became the epidemic of choice over rape-culture in western nations while having a higher rape conviction rate (about 24%) than many western nations, including the UK (7%) and Sweden (10%), and despite America not only topping the global list of reported rapes per year (including having college campus sexual assault statistics that would seem to make a woman equally as safe in an American dorm as in a Delhi public bus). What we do know is that there is no need to fear; white savior is here to bring women of color salvation from their savage male counterparts.
3. Speaking of international feminist attitudes, the Ukraine-based feminist group Femen staged what they called a “topless jihad” this year, allegedly in support of Amina Tyler, a Tunisian woman who was arrested after posting topless photos of herself with feminist slogans painted on her chest. They provided their “support” in the form of a full-scale attack on Islam, and showed their solidarity with Muslim women by calling Islamists “inhuman beasts” and by producing images of themselves profaning Islamic spiritual practices and customs among other forms of encouragement. White feminists then patted themselves on the back for a job well done.
2. Although women of color have been attempting to bring Hugo Schwyzer’s racist antics to the attention of white feminists at least since his defense of a white woman’s plagiarism of a Chicana blogger’s work in 2008, white feminists seemed to mostly ignore them (and in certain cases even defended him) until he himself broke down and admitted his bigotry earlier this year, proving that a white man, even an attempted murderer and admitted sexual predator, is always more reliable than a black woman. The incident, along with the support Schwyzer received from bloggers at popular feminist sites Feministe, Jezebel and Pandagon, resulted in the creation of the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag by Mikki Kendall. The hashtag and accompanying tweets were promptly reposted on the very site they’d been created to critique in an effort to encourage dialogue, though it slipped the poster’s minds to advise their readers that the hashtag was about them.
1. Last, but certainly not least, feminist folk-singing icon and Ani DiFranco chose to help black feminists workout their history of slavery issues by making music and good vibes for them on a former plantation (and inviting them to do the same for the low price of $1100-$4000 a head). When large numbers of ungrateful women of color expressed outrage at this move, and when DiFranco stayed silent in the face of said outrage, DiFranco supporters took to Facebook in her defense, with one even going so far as to create a fake black online persona to defend their position. Luckily said persona used enough bastardized Ebonics that black feminists were finally able to successfully understand and accept white feminists educated and enlightened viewpoints for what they were. Unfortunately, it was too late to save the retreat from being cancelled.
Oh well, there’s always next year! Until then…
The Colored Fountain
I know you’re mad and rightfully so. If black folks don’t have nothing else it’s faith & hope. We can see the same fucked up thing our whole entire lives and still believe that if it isn’t right somebody (god? humanity? spirit?) is gonna eventually make it right. There might be more of us that believe in karma than there are practitioners of the Indian religions that the concept comes from. But somewhere, rattling around in the back there, behind whatever it is you tell yourself to get out of the house in the morning, behind whatever you use to convince yourself that it’ll be ok tomorrow, you knew this was going to happen. Because behind that “if I be a well-spoken, educated member of society” was that time you got pulled over in a rental and harassed by that cop. You remember watching your whole life scrolling in front of you and the first thing you did when you got home was call your mama and tell her you loved her. Because behind those “the battle is not ours but the lord’s” is 400 years of slavery ain’t nobody write a holy book about or deliver us from and 150 years of the aftermath that folks keep trying to convince you ain’t actually happening. Because behind that “black power movement” are loopholes structured to strip you of your voting rights, promote the legal enslavement of black people via the criminal justice system/school to prison pipeline and disempower any black person crazy enough to rely on the government for change. And you’re still mourning over how they convinced us that the Civil Rights Era was over through BS, legislation and, ultimately, violence. Whatever your thing is there is always this other thing reminding you that your thing, that you, can’t quite do enough.
You see how they move & you’ve been seeing it the entire time you’ve been here & if you disagree show me your receipts! Call out the names of the black people who got the justice you so desperately were seeking yesterday. Tell me their stories as an explanation of why you believed in the system for even one minute. Speak the names of those who have passed on, bring your ancestors into this space and let them tell us that we stood for them and triumphed.
Call on Emmett Till whose murderers were acquitted but then admitted to killing him later. Call on Arthur McDuffie whose murderers fractured his skull after he surrendered and were subsequently acquitted after two officers present testified that they had pulled off his bike helmet & beat him to death. Call on Amadou Diallo who was shot 19 times for pulling his wallet from his jacket who’s murderers were not only acquitted but who kept their jobs as NYPD officers. Call on Sean Bell who was shot on the morning of his wedding by 5 officers, only 3 of whom were charged, all acquitted. Call on Aiyana Jones, a 7-year-old shot in a police raid of her home on video and whose murderer made it to court two years later in a case that was declared a mistrial last month. Call on Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. 68, who was tasered and then shot and killed in his home by police officers who responded to his own falsely triggered medical alert device and have since been acquitted of all charges. The family states that he stated that he did not want to open the door because he believed the police would kill him. Call on Tamon Robinson who was struck and killed by a police car in front of his Brooklyn home & then blamed by officers claiming he had run into their vehicle, fell backwards & struck his head. His family was later charged for damages to the police car and there has been no grand jury hearing over a year later. Call on Rekia Boyd, murdered as the “collateral damage” of a shot meant for an innocent black man, whose murderer has yet to be brought up on criminal charges. Call on Kimani Gray, shot 11 times and killed in March by officers claiming self defense even after an eyewitness reported seeing them continue to pump bullets into his body as he lay bleeding facedown on the pavement outside of a friend’s home. Call on Trayvon Martin.
Call on the 313 black people killed by law enforcement last year and ask how many of them were guilty.
Listen to their stories and tell me something important. What do we do now that we know that it’s not getting better it’s just getting called something different. What do we do when we’ve waited for whatever change we were waiting for & it doesn’t happen? What do we do now that it’s clear that our collective indignant rage isn’t changing it?
So the problem with our socioeconomic system is that it’s a pyramid. In order for someone to be at the top, many more have to be at the bottom, right? So when you argue that it is fucked up that YOU don’t get to be on top (because of racism, classism, ableism, misogyny, homophobia, or any other oppressive force) and you fight to be allowed the privilege of being on top, you are fighting to be the foot on someone else’s throat instead of being the one underfoot.
So can I holla atchu real fast about marriage “equality”? Marriage is one of those exclusive institutions that awards an array of attractive benefits to muh fuckas because they arbitrarily decide to suffer the company of one other person for a prescribed period of time AND choose to report it to the government. These benefits are not available to two platonic queers who have been co-parenting a child for 6+ years together, 3 partners who have been in a loving triad for 15 years, 2 close friends who decided to live to live together to financially and emotionally support each other as their golden years approach, the young woman who was raised by chosen family since the age of 15 when her parents kicked her out for being trans*, the children who have been left without a parent present since theirs’ were deported a few years ago, etc., etc., etc. (these are actual examples of people I know). They don’t get any special tax, insurance, inheritance, social security, employment, immigration, or parental rights/benefits/privileges to help them live with and care for their loved ones and marriage equality will never give it to them. They don’t even have the right to hold their loved ones hand(s) in a hospital room as they pass on from this life. They don’t even have the right to lay them to rest afterwards.
So I wonder if, when we fight for marriage equality, what are we fighting for? Who are we fighting for? Are we fighting for people to have sovereignty over how we love and take care of each other? Or are we just fighting for normalcy and the “right” to be two people with our kids and our dogs and our picket fences and our feet on the throats of whomever doesn’t end up looking enough like, living enough like, loving enough like us to be on top?