Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I Don't Vote for Bullies

First off, I'd like to apologize for my week-long hiatus.  I just finished all my mid-terms/papers and Chris and I adopted a 13-week old puppy this weekend.  'Nuff said.  But I'm back and ready to talk about what's on everybody's mind: The Election.

I intentionally try to avoid politics on this blog.  I think it's fairly obvious I'm a bleeding-heart, pinko liberal, but I don't bash or praise specific politicians so as not to alienate others and imply that in order to be trans and/or godless you need to vote for a certain person or party.  I consider myself an independent for several reasons:

1)  Even the Democrats aren't liberal enough for me.  Not to mention they don't have the balls to get half the shit done they wish they could.  I'm all for "reaching across the aisle" and all that, but if the folks across the aisle won't even talk to you then you've got to move forward and start working on your own if needed.

2)  While I am super liberal about nearly all social issues, I do support the second amendment on the principle that I support the rest of the Constitution just as fiercely.  I think the second amendment is in place so that we the people have the means to overthrow the government if we believe it has become corrupt.  That's what the founding fathers just did when they wrote the damn thing and they wanted to be sure we could do the same.  I personally would never own a gun, but I will defend your right to own one.

3)  "Socialism" is not a dirty word to me.  There are plenty of "socialist" programs in our country that no one has a problem with.  Like the military, or the police department, or fire fighters, or the coast guard.  Should everything be run by the government?  Hell no!  Should things essential to life be protected and overseen by the government?  That's what it's there for!  To "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty".  Oh, and for the record, socialism is not communism and it's not fascism.  If you're going to attempt to insult me at least get your basic terminology right.

4)  Neither major party is financially conservative.  They both spend a lot of money, but on different things.  The Republicans need to quit pretending they spend less than the Democrats, because the GOP spends our taxes on giving tax cuts to the rich and creating government projects for their corporate buddies like Blackwater and Halliburton.  Both of the parties spend way more money than they should.  That being said, I'd rather my taxes go toward helping the most citizens who need it the most, so I tend to side with the Democrats more often.

All of that being said, if the right Republican candidate comes along, I vote for him.  It's never happened in a National election for me, Presidential or Congressional, but it has happened locally.  Often in local politics the party is just a brand name with no ideology attached to it, so I vote for the best qualified who matches my values the closest.  No one is ever a perfect match, but I shoot for the best fit.  However, there is one issue I will not budge on -- Bullies.

Not only was I the victim of bullying in my younger years, but I work with LGBT youth, who are disproportionately targeted by bullies.  Any politician who tries to defend gay-bashing or bullying will forever be black-listed for me.  We can talk all day about what defines a marriage or a family, but the abuse of children and young adults should be a non-partisan issue.  Even if you believe that same-sex marriage is somehow offending to other-sex marriage, we should all agree that no one deserves to be assaulted or killed because of who they are.  At least, I wish we could.  Some politicians are trying to spin the LGBTQA community as the bullies against other people's religious freedoms.  But here's the thing.  You can believe anything you want until that belief violates someone else.  As soon as your belief crosses that line it is no longer protected.  I could believe death is a liberation from this life into a better one, but that doesn't give me the right to kill others.  A religious belief that homosexuality is wrong does not give anyone the right to bully.  Some politicians try to frame LGBTQA issues as "special rights" and "playing favorites", claiming that we all have the same right...to marry someone of the other sex.  This is the same argument that was used during the civil rights movement and I won't even dignify it by arguing against it.  Asking for the same rights as everyone else isn't "special", it's just fair.

Even these moronic arguments I could almost see as political grandstanding.  I mean, if I squint my eyes and try really hard.  But some politicians have gone beyond defending bullies and actually are or have been bullies.  When I read the story of Mitt Romney and his high school buddies tackling a fellow student to the ground as Romney forcibly cut his hair to an "acceptable" length, hot angry tears came to my eyes.  I've experienced that kind of helplessness, I've held teenagers who have experienced it as well and tried to tell them there is life after high school.  It's something no one should ever go through.  Ever.  As furious as this story made me, I like to think I could have accepted an apology from Mitt Romney.  I know we all do stupid things when we're teenagers that we wish could do differently as adults.  If Romney could honestly look back on that day and feel sickening shame about the animal he allowed himself to be, I would try to forgive him.  But Romney claimed he didn't even remember the incident.  Let me repeat that.  He didn't even remember pinning a young man to the ground, taunting him, humiliating him, brandishing a sharp instrument at him, and hacking away at his hair.  What kind of human being does something like that and doesn't even remember it?  I'll tell you what kind, the kind that will never get my vote.  Not even if he agrees with me on every other issue, I will not support him.  There are some stains that don't come off.

I don't agree with any politician on everything.  I have a big problem with Obama's immigration policies, but his support of the LGBTQA community has been the best we've ever received from a president.  I didn't agree with Bush about nearly everything, but the words he said to his transgender classmate at their college reunion, "You came back as you," were truly touching and sincere.  Clinton is still my favorite president within my lifetime, but I can't forget he's the reason we had DADT and still have DOMA.  Nobody's perfect.  I get that.  But some things are unforgivable.  I wouldn't even say the act of bullying is unforgivable if the person sees the error in their ways and because I like to think most people are good, I think most former bullies regret what they've done.  But to not even acknowledge it, to not even attempt to put yourself in someone else's shoes and try to understand what you've put them through shows a coldness I wish weren't possible.  I can't understand how you can laugh at another person's suffering.  And anyone who can do that and still feel okay with themselves is not someone I want representing me and the people and country that I love.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Double Standards, Part 2

For those who may have missed it, in Part 1 I talked about the double standards that trans women get weighed down with in society.  In particular the "Madonna/Whore Complex", which all women must deal with, and the "Permission Paradox", which often results in trans people being denied their rights because they're polite enough to ask for them.

For Part 2, I'd like to discuss two more sets of double standards that are unique to trans women.  There may be some overlap for issues trans men face, but since I'm not a trans man I'm not the best to make that judgement.  So let's get started with what I like to call, "Man if you do, and man if you don't."  This set of double standards basically states that if trans women act feminine, then it's artificial.  If a trans woman likes to wear skirts or high heels or make up she can be accused of "supporting the patriarchy" and "appropriating women's identities" by crazy, hateful, misguided feminists.  To be fair, these same accusers might turn around and say cis women who enjoy femininity are a problem too, but they're just "duped" or "misguided", whereas trans women are somehow actively trying to work against women by becoming women.  It sure doesn't make sense to me, but I'm sure in their minds it is flawless logic.  But let's say you're not a very feminine trans woman.  Hell, let's say you're a big ol' butch lesbian.  Now you're persecuted because you're not feminine.  People might accuse you of not "really" being a woman because you like to keep your hair short, don't wear make up, or enjoy "masculine" activities.  And if you're a lesbian, especially a butch lesbian, people will always ask, "Why did you bother to change in the first place?"  As if being a straight man and a butch lesbian are the exact same thing.  The same goes for straight trans women being compared to gay men.  Then people take it even further with surgery.  If you decide a vaginoplasty is not right for you or can't afford one, many will say you're still a man because you have a penis.  And yet, if you do get SRS than people say, "Well, you're still not really a woman because you don't have a uterus."  I guess that means all women who've had a hysterectomy aren't really women either.  Some people will carry a grudge against you if you're a trans woman no matter who you are, what you do, or how you act.  For them, you'll always be a man and there's nothing you can do about it.

The second double standard I'd like to discuss is the "Deceiver/Pathetic Complex".  This is something the media is especially guilty of.  Trans women are often seen as a "deceiver" if they don't disclose their birth status.  This can be with a romantic partner or friend or any other acquintance.  The thought is that trans women aren't just dealing with the circumstances of their birth as best they can, but rather are actively trying to "trick" others into seeing them as female.  This is often used in the issue of "women's only spaces" excluding trans women.  The myth is that trans women are only trying to get into, say, the women's restroom so they can spy on or assault women.  Never mind the fact that there is no recorded case of this ever happening.  (However, trans women have been physically and sexually assaulted in women's restrooms.)  The deceiver portrayal is pervasive and is often applied to trans women who are perceived as cis.  The media loves to create deceiver trans women as a "twist" in movies.  (The Crying Game, Ace Ventura)  Many cis people can't handle the fact that cis assumption is prevalent in our society.  Unless you perceive someone as trans -- often this is a flawed image of what a trans person is -- you assume they're cis.  The same can be said for heterosexuality as well.  But rather than examine their own bias, the cis person blames the trans person for "tricking" them.  This complex is what romantic or sexual partners of trans women use to justify violence toward them.  Otherwise affectionately known as the "Gay Panic Defense".  Unless you're sexually involved with someone, it's nobody's goddamn business what your genitals look like, now or then, yet so many people can not get a grasp on that concept.  And even if you're sexual partner didn't disclose her birth status with you, that's no justification to kill her.  Even if a trans woman is out, she can still be labeled a deceiver if she's potential competition.  This was what I experience when my cis friend resented me for having larger breasts than her.  It was okay for me to be trans woman, but not to considered as or more attractive than a cis woman. 

If you're not a "deceiving" trans woman, then you are a "pathetic" trans woman instead.  This is applied to trans women who are known to be trans and have a hard time being perceived as female.  It transforms the trans woman into a sad, confused man in a dress.  This is the most popular type used in the media (Transamerica, Priscella Queen of the Desert) in order to make the trans woman non-threatening.  The thought is, "No man/woman would find this person attractive, therefore I don't have to worry about competing with them."  This turns trans women into something worthy of pity rather than people to relate to or be romantic with.  While there is less violence commited in the name of "Gay Panic", it's just as harmful a stereotype because it dehumanizes trans women, and once you dehumanize someone it is much easier to commit brutal acts toward them.  In fact, I would say this is the most harmful stereotype because it's so widely prevalent and reduces trans women to the role of confused gay men.  It justifies ridicule and violence to the most vulnerable among us, either those who have a difficult time transitioning or those just starting out.  These women often don't have the self-confidence to stand up for themselves which makes the atrocities committed against them all the easier.  Either way, you can't win.  If you "pass", you're a threatening deceiver.  If you don't, you're pathetic and harmless.

While it's damn near impossible to avoid these double standards, it's important to be aware of them.  You need to know the "Madonna/Whore Complex" is used to justify rape and disrespect of sexually confident women so you can protect yourself from physical and social slurs cast against you.  You need to know about the "Permission Paradox" so you can learn to demand the rights you deserve rather than ask for them.  You need to know about "Man If You Do..." so you don't waste time trying to win the support of biggots.  You need to know about the "Deceiver/Pathetic Complex" so you notice the negative portrayals of trans women and fight against the different justifications for disrespect and violence.  Ignorance can't protect you, but awareness and actively pointing out the double standards to others will make things easier.  Not over night.  It's going to be a gradual journey that may never end, but we'll never even get started if you don't educate yourself and start fighting against them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Double Standards, Part 1

I, like many trans folk, went a little overboard when I first came out and started living "full-time".  My wardrobe was almost exclusively skirts and dresses and I don't know that I even owned a t-shirt.  I wore full makeup every day because I was worried I wouldn't pass otherwise.  I (briefly) convinced myself I was only attracted to men and flat-out refused to have anything to do with LGBT gatherings or rights.  I was terrified of being mistaken for a gay man rather than a woman, and thus I did and said things I'm not proud of, now that I look back.  Nearly every experience I had was like experiencing it for the first time, and in some ways it was, but I'm sure it got a little irritating to others after a while.  I resented the accusations that my hormones made me "emotional", but they did change how I felt and expressed my emotions and, if I'm completely honest with myself, there was some "relearning" involved when it came to controlling my emotions rather than letting them control me.  In short, if you had only seen me my first six months or so of transition, it would probably have left a bad taste in your mouth about transsexual women.  But I was only experiencing what nearly all teenage women do, albeit at an accelerated pace and in my early twenties.  The only strange thing about what I went through then was my age.  Had I been between the ages 12 and 16 or so, no one would have blinked an eye at my behavior.

While I went through all this self-discovery I was forced to deal with many double standards that, intellectually, I had known to be true but were very different once directly experienced.  The "Madonna-Whore Complex" was (and still is) the most baffling to me, as my feminist mother had always raised us to be unashamed about sex or our bodies, and yet society seemed to say that as a woman I was expected to be sexy, but not too sexy.  I was supposed to be a sexual object, but not a sexual being.  I was expected to be ashamed or disgusted about every aspect of my body, yet put it on display for men.  And the worst part, for me, was realizing that many women are enforcing these harmful standards on other women.  My breasts grew very quickly when I started hormones and a friend at the time, who had a tall and slender body type, seemed obsessed with what I did with my boobs.  I still remember one particularly confounding coversation:

"So, now that I've been on hormones for three months I'm going to see my doctor next week so he can look at my bloodwork again and adjust for what my full dosage should be."

"Do you really need to be on more estrogen?  Your boobs have already grown into B-cups."

"You know the amount of estrogen has nothing to do which my cup size, right?  My hormone levels are going to be about the same as any other woman's.  It's all a matter of genetics.  My mom has Double-Ds, what were you expecting?"

"I don't know.  You just seem to be flaunting them around lately."

"In what way?  It's not like I'm walking around topless or anything."

"No, but you shouldn't wear low-cut tops.  People might get the wrong idea."

"There's nothing wrong with a little bit of cleavage.  I like my boobs.  I had to fight like hell in order to get them.  And it's not like my boobs are constantly threatening to fall out.  Hell, my mom wears lower-cut shirts than I do."

"Fine.  I don't care.  Do whatever you want."

What truly amazed me was the implication that, as a trans woman, I shouldn't be allowed to have larger breasts than her.  It was this same friend who taught me another painful lesson: women can be extremely petty to each other.  We ultimately lost our friendship over something as stupid as breast size.

There's are unique double standards for trans women that seems breath-takingly cruel, especially because they are often enforced by other women, be they cis or trans.  I'll call the first one the "Permission Paradox".  When coming out as trans, many of us constantly ask for permission to be trans.  We ask the women in our lives if we can join their ranks.  We ask our employers if it would be okay to transition.  We ask if we're allowed to use the women's restroom.  The problem with asking for permission is that people can, and often do, refuse to give it.  This puts you, the trans woman, in an awkward position.  Do you directly defy the people you asked for permission and come across as a selfish bitch?  Or do you become a doormat and hope that maybe, someday, they might reconsider?  I fell victim to this double standard early on when I asked my employer permission to transition and was told to go for it, follow the women's dress code, but don't wear any skirts or dresses.  At first, I thought this was a fair compromise and didn't push things.  But as my self-confidence grew I began to ask questions like, "What the fuck does it matter if I wear a skirt or not?" and "Why should I have my own special dress code just because I'm trans?"  I wore a dress to work the first week of my transition and was prepared to fight over it, but nobody said a damn thing.  It was my first lesson that you can not ask for your rights.  You have to take them.  This is advice I give to every young trans person or anyone else that is facing discrimination.  Don't ask if you can use the women's restroom.  No other woman has to do that, so why the fuck should you?  Just walk in there, do your business and go on about your day.  You have just as much right to be there as anyone else.  Yes, you might be seen as a bitch, but that's a price worth paying for your self-respect and dignity.

Check back on Thursday for Part 2.  Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

Today is National Coming Out Day, an important holiday that encourages everyone to come out of the closet to their friends and loved ones.  I make a point to come out to at least one person every year on this day, which begins to get more difficult when you're as out as I am, but it's still an important reminder for me that coming out is a life-long process.  Do all of my family and close friends know that I'm trans, bi, and atheist?  You bet your ass.  But as my life has changed, the meaning of coming out has changed as well.  When I first came out it was completely necessary in order to live my life (it's pretty hard for your loved ones not to notice you're growing boobs and wearing skirts, so it's kind to give them a head's up first.)  But now that I'm pretty much done transitioning and blend in with everyone else, coming out is a statement for my rights and others'.  It's about celebrating my trans history rather than hiding it as something shameful.  It's about changing people's ideas of what a transsexual is and what a transsexual looks like. 

Now that my life as a woman is secured, I use coming out as a weapon.  I use it to blow up stereotypes and nip prejudice in the bud.  I use it to shatter the myths and stereotypes portrayed by media and politicians.  I use it to say, "I am a human being, just like you."  That's the real power behind coming out of the closet.  When people realize that "transsexuals" or "gays" or "atheists" aren't this big scary boogieman out to destroy their lives, but instead are people they know and care for, it puts a face to the movement and makes it that much harder to discriminate.  That's why it's so important.  It's easy to fear "them".  But it's not easy to fear your neighbor or the woman you buy coffee from every morning or your classmate or your coworker or the person you always chat with on the train.  Those are real people, not some faceless "agenda".  They're people who just want to live happy, beautiful lives with the people they love.  There's nothing scary about that, it's universal. 

So today, I'd like you to join me in coming out of the closet.  If you're so deep in the closet you're finding Christmas presents, consider making this the day you share who you are with your loved ones (assuming it's safe to do so.)  If you're already out to your family, consider coming out to some of your elected officials and letting them know that, like it or not, they are representing queer and/or godless constituents and would be wise not to demonize you.  Or come out to someone you don't know very well.  Maybe someone who has made a prejudiced joke in your presence before, but you just let it slide because you didn't want to cause a fuss.  If we don't continue to come out of our closets it's going to be easy for someone to lock the door on us and trap us there.  Never be ashamed of who you are and always stand up for yourself.  Because whenever you stand up for yourself, you stand up for everyone.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Comic Shop Love

For those who may not know, I was the assistant manager of a comic shop for about 4 years before I went to college.  It was the place I learned about who I was, matured as a person and finally transitioned on the job there.  There's a special place in my heart for my comic shop, as well as all the regular customers I got to know over that time.  We had over 300 customers who came in at least every month for subscriptions and I knew every one of their names by memory.  Nearly all of them shattered the stereotype of what a comic book fan is, they were business executives, teachers, bus drivers, factory workers, entrepreneurs, students, personal trainers, coaches, and every other job under the sun.  They were men and women, some as young as 3 and some as old 80 and everything between.  They were married, they were single, they were straight, they were gay, they were some of the most interesting people to talk with.

If you've never been to a comic shop, I want you to stop what you're doing right now.  Open up a new window or tab and go to this website right now.  Type in your zip code and find the nearest one to you.  Make a point to visit on a Wednesday (that's New Comic Book Day) and when you go, don't just stand sheepishly looking around.  Go to the salesperson and tell them what you're passionate about.  It doesn't have to be superhero related.  There is a comic or graphic novel out there for everyone.  Do yourself a favor and enjoy yourself.  Rant about politics, chat about history, theorize about philosophy.  Whatever it is, I guarantee someone will want to talk with you about it.  And you'll enjoy yourself immensely.  Why?  Because I've learned there is one supreme rule of the comic shop: You're allowed to be yourself here without reservation, because we've all faced ridicule and will not do that to you here.  Despite our differences, we will respect each other.

Maybe I'm a little over-sentimental when it comes to my comic shop, but if you can change sex somewhere and face little to no harassment about it, that seems like a utopia of understanding to me.  For the majority of people who even bothered to ask when I started presenting as female, the average conversation would go something like: "Why are you dressed like a girl?"  To which I responded, "Because I am one."  And that would be the end of it.  Some might go on to ask about details, but it was always out of respect and a curiosity to understand better so as not to offend.  It was a great experience for which I'm extremely grateful.  I wish all trans people could have as smooth a transition as I did.

I wish the whole world could be one big comic shop.  A place where everyone passionately discusses literature, mythology, politics, religion, and human rights, while still respecting opposing opinions and enjoying each other's company.  I wish the world was a safe place for everyone, where everyone has enough empathy to know ridicule hurts no matter the reason.  If the world was one big comic shop, maybe we'd finally work through some of our issues and focus on more important things.  Like space travel.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Wow! Ten-Thousand? Really?

Wow!  Trans and Godless has ten-thousand hits now!  I'm speechless.  Thank you so much for all your support and comments.  What started out as a hobby I did in passing has turned into something I feel compelled to do so I can reach out to all of you.  Words aren't enough to show my appreciation, but maybe my new logo for Trans and Godless will bring a smile to your face:

Hope that made you giggle.  Thanks again for all the support and I look forward to writing more stories for you every week.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Privilege: We All Have Some

A common tactic to explain why trans women should be discriminated against by some feminists is because trans women have "experienced Male Privilege".  Now, I'm not denying that Male Privilege exists or that trans women don't experience some benefits during their pre-transitional years, but I'm calling out this claim that being born with a penis permanently excludes you from the Female Club.  It's prejudiced bullshit used to justify a pre-conceived conclusion of bigots and goes against the core concept of feminism: judging someone based on their biology rather than their character.

There are plenty of privileges extended to me by our society.  I have White Privilege, despite being one-eighth Native American, because I'm perceived as white.  Because of this, American society caters to my culture almost exclusively, I have no difficulty finding representation in the media of my skin color, and my actions are not considered a reflection on all white people.  I have Female Privilege, which is not as generous as male privilege but does have it's own unique benefits.  Because of this, I can interact with and work with children without suspicion of child-molestation, I can wear any clothing I want, be it "men's" clothes or "women's" clothes, and not be questioned or harrassed about it, and I am free to express my emotions without being harrassed or ostracized by others.  I have Heterosexual Privilege, despite being bisexual, because I am in a straight relationship and therefore considered heterosexual.  Because of this, I can show affection to my partner in any social setting and not worry about assault or retaliation from strangers, government and society respect my relationship and if we were married it would not be called into question, and regardless of where I work, I will have a much easier time securing benefits for my partner than others would.  I even have Cissexual Privilege, despite being transsexual, because I am perceived as cissexual.  Because of this, my gender is never called into question regardless of what I wear or how I act, I can enter "women-only" spaces, such as a restroom, without being harrassed, and I can assume my gender will be respected above paperwork, such as a driver's license, even if it misrepresents my gender.  These are just some of the privileges I benefit from.  I'm not thrilled about it, and if it were up to me everyone would be equal, but wishing doesn't change the fact that I do have privileges.

Now, let's talk about Male Privilege.  No doubt, some people have already taken issue with me listing Female Privilege and will probably claim this is evidence that I still have "residual" Male Privilege.  That's ridiculous.  In order to benefit from a privilege you have to be perceived and/or identify as a member.  There is no way I would ever be perceived as a man now, nor have I ever identified as one, so Male Privilege will never be extended to me.  This is also why, even before transition, I was never extended "full member" privilege, if you will.  My feminine appearance and mannerisms singled me out as a "not-male" at a young age, and so I was punished by bullies, teachers, coaches and other men for my "not-maleness".  As a result, I only partially benefited from Male Privilege as a child but it was all at the cost of being misgendered for over 20 years and being systematically targetted for any "not-male" behavior.  Trust me, it wasn't a decent trade-off, which should be obvious, considering I made the choice to throw away male privilege by transitioning and being perceived as female.  One of the most unique experiences I've had as a transsexual was getting a first-person perspective on what privileges both genders receive.  Women don't receive nearly as much as men, but to deny that we have any is just abusing our privilege.  It's as obnoxious as a white male claiming he doesn't experience privilege. 

Privilege is fucked up, because nearly all of it is extended due to things completely outside of personal control.  Nobody chooses to be male or female (even trans folk), your gender identity is set from birth.  Nobody chooses to be cissexual or transsexual.  We don't choose our race, class, sexuality, ancestry, or nationality.  So why the hell should we judge anyone on the least interesting parts about them?  Why should any privilege be extended purely because of what genetic lottery numbers you were born with?  People should be judged on their actions.  Your choices are what make you who you are and are the most interesting thing about you.  They set you apart as an individual rather than lazily lumping you together with others, making the completely inaccurate assumptions that "All Xs are Y".  There's no such thing as an X.  You can't generalize someone based on things outside their control.

Women certainly wouldn't choose to be born with a penis, so it's unfair to judge a woman because she has a particular birth defect you don't.  If the Michigan Womyn's Festival decided they were going to ban all black women, or straight women, or immigrant women, or lower-class women there would be hell to pay.  These are all based on birth circumstances, but so is trans-status.  Why the fuck is the discrimination against trans women at MWF and other events like it tolerated?  Because not enough people stand up and say, "I will not condone the oppression of another person."  I'm sure most patrons are ambivalent at best about "womyn born womyn" policies, but because they don't stand against it they are enabling privilege.  If we want to live in a world without inequality and privilege, we need to stand up and speak out when we see it.  Especially if it's a privilege we benefit from.  Let's make this a fair world for everyone and judge people on their character, not birth.