Saturday, September 10, 2011

Postscript for my “TS-vs-TG-Intervention” piece

So in the couple days since my blog entry A “Transsexual Versus Transgender” Intervention came out, I have spent a big chunk of my free time pouring over all the responses - both comments made on my own blog, plus all the comments that appeared when it was cross-posted on The Transadvocate and tagged on numerous Facebook threads. I knew I was writing about a hotly debated topic, so I am not *too* surprised that the piece generated interest (both positive and negative). But I am a bit overwhelmed by how many responses there actually were.

While I have read all of the comments, I don’t have the time to reply to each comment individually since there have been so many. So here, I will respond more generally to sentiments that seem to have come up on more than one occasion. Occasionally I will cite or quote specific individuals, but other times I will discuss some of the sentiments/reactions more generally.

Note: I am making this a separate post so that it can be linked to more easily, and so that people who follow me on Twitter, Facebook and NetworkedBlogs will be notified of this post. I will also paste it into the comments sections of my original blog entry and the Transadvocate blog entry.

1) Many negative reactions to the piece stressed the ways in which cis gay and lesbian folks are dismissive of transsexuals. I certainly agree that such sentiments exist, and a lot of my previous writings (e.g., Whipping Girl, my “frustration” web page, and all blog posts tagged with “frustration”) discuss this. However, I completely disagree with the monolithic portrayal that all cis lesbian and gay folks are this way. Many cis lesbian and gay folks are sincerely informed about, and supportive of, transsexuals. If you have not met anyone who fits this description, it is probably because you are not active in gay/lesbian/queer spaces on a regular basis.

2) Marlene (posting on my blog) brought up the history of how all people who currently identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, etc., were generally described by others, and often self-identified, as gay up until the 1970s. This is something that I did not discuss in my post, but which is obviously pertinent. So the idea that transsexuals, or transgender people, have nothing to do with LGB folks is ahistorical.

3) Along similar lines, several replies reiterated that sexual orientation is totally different from gender identity in their attempts to separate the T from the LGB. I would encourage them to re-read this passage from my post:

“Transsexuals who want to secede from the LGBT umbrella keep citing the fact that sexual orientation has nothing to do with gender identity. This may be true, but this point has nothing to do with the rationale behind why trans people were initially included in the umbrella - specifically, because LGBT individuals are all discriminated against for similar reasons (i.e., because, in one way or another, we challenge the assumption that sex, gender and sexuality should all be perfectly aligned). This is evident in the way that gays, lesbians and bisexuals are often targeted for discrimination for their gender nonconformity, and in the way that transsexuals are often targeted for discrimination because people fear that sleeping with us might “make them gay.” In other words, while sexual orientation and gender identity may be different things, homophobia and transphobia are very much intertwined.”

4) Jonah (posting on my blog) brought up how umbrellas (e.g., transgender) can lead people to appropriate other groups (e.g., trans people appropriating intersex identities and experiences). Here was my response: “This is a legitimate concern, and I feel that it stems mostly from people confusing identities with umbrellas. People who understand umbrellas realize that they are in an alliance with other marginalized groups, but that they have no right to speak on behalf of those groups. I know several intersex folks who also identify as transgender. But I do not assume that I can speak on their behalf simply because I also identify as transgender. Just because you identify a particular way, or are included in the same umbrella as someone else, does not give you the right to speak on their behalf.”

I would also add, the same is true for cis lesbian and gay folks who appropriate trans people’s identities and experiences. Being in an umbrella does not give one the right to appropriate other people’s identities or issues, and such instances should be challenged. Granted, this may happen quite often (e.g., G & L appropriation of T, trans folks appropriations of intersex), but it is not because of umbrellas per se, but because of a lack of understanding or respect for what umbrella alliances are really all about.

5) dentedbluemercedes (posting on my blog) said: “you make the point that even "transsexual" is an umbrella. This is true. But the wider an umbrella is cast, the greater the erasure and the sense that any one narrative becomes misrepresentative.” This sentiment was echoed in an anonymous comment (posting on my blog): “arent we all groups of one essentially? All marginalized peoples should with varying degrees help one another...being identified in any group lessens our unique individuality.”

Sometimes I refer to this as the Russian nested doll problem. Each of us is a unique individual with lots of issues that affect us personally (and also, lots of privileges that allow us to ignore other people’s problems). Each of us on our own is unable to make much of a dent in the system, so we ban together with other people to fix these problems - that is, we form umbrella groups. The smaller and more specific the umbrella group, the less in-fighting and the more focused the activism. This can be good. But there is drawback, in that the smaller the umbrella group, the less impact it will have on the world. Bigger umbrella groups have bigger impacts, but they also dilute out individual voices more, and tend to favor larger or more established subgroups over more marginalized subgroups. So which umbrellas should we choose?

Well, I don’t think this is an either/or situation. I personally think the answer is to work on multiple levels at once. Sometimes I write about, and focus my activism on, transsexual issues. Other times, trans woman-specific issues. Still other times bisexual issues, or queer issues, or women’s issues. And so on. This is what I advocated at the end of my piece - that there are numerous alliances that we can create and/or strengthen.

Some transsexuals may want to only focus their activism primarily on transsexual-specific issues. I think that is completely valid, and I encourage them to do so. But they should not discredit those of us who are working at the level of larger umbrellas (e.g., transgender or LGBT). And vice versa.

One more thing that was implicit in my piece, but I want to say more explicitly here: One potential benefit of larger umbrellas is that (when working functionally rather than dysfunctionally) they tend to be less elitist or exclusive than smaller ones. They force us to recognize and challenge obstacles that may not affect us personally, but which affect other folks under our umbrella. While I may be transsexual, I feel that it is important for me as an ally to recognize and challenge obstacles faced by crossdressers, or genderqueers, or intersex folks, or cis gays and lesbians, even if they are not my issues per se. And as someone who is in favor of social justice more generally, I think that it is important for me to also challenge racism, classism, ableism, etc., both within my own community as well as in society more generally.

6) Teagan (posting on the Transadvocate) said: “For what it's worth, I do believe that Serano and others desire hetero TS women in there to legitimize the movement with the public.”

I can’t speak for “others,” but I am comfortable with the fact that some hetero transsexuals do not identify as transgender or LGBT. I don’t think that transsexuals are some monolithic group that all share the same orientations or political views. I am comfortable stating publicly that some transsexuals are actively involved in transgender and LGBT alliances/umbrellas whereas others are not. In other words, I am not out to exploit/appropriate hetero-identified transsexuals.

A question: do hetero-identified transsexuals exploit/appropriate transgender/queer/LGBQ-identified transsexuals when they argue that all transsexuals want out of the transgender or LGBT umbrellas? It’s kinda sorta the same thing, isn’t it? That’s why I believe we should embrace the fact that “transsexuals” are not a monolithic group. We differ on this, and other, issues. Our differences/diversity is an asset, not a drawback.

7) Andrea (posting on the Transadvocate) said:

There's a serious issue being missed here: CONSENT. Women are individuals, not individual examples of a homogenous "identity group" called "women." We cannot consent for each other. You can't consent for anyone else but yourself, Julia. All a "Separatist" really is, is a woman who said "NO." NO MEANS NO. It is not the beginning of a discussion, it is the end. There is no debate to be had. The "Separatists" aren't preventing any woman from saying "YES," for herself, if she wants to. It is the "Inclusionists" with their grabby umbrella that are ignoring consent issues and trying to remove the ability to say "NO."

Amber (posting on the Transadvocate) then replied “Yes brilliant. I say no to being raped by the transgender umbrella. I say no to someone making knowledge of my sexuality the price of admission. I say no to gays and lesbians presuming t0 speak for me.”

So first, as a survivor of an attempted date rape myself, I must say that comparing pro-umbrella folks to rapists is beyond the pale. Having said that, the issue of consent is a legitimate point. For the record, I have never once advocated that all transsexuals *must* identify as transgender or LGBT. And I denounce anyone who insists that all transsexuals *must* identify as transgender or LGBT. At the same time, many anti-umbrella folks claim that transsexuals (uniformly) are not transgender, or that we are not LGBT, when many of us do identify these ways. So perhaps there is some non-consensuality on both sides of this debate?

Hopefully, my above discussions about the difference between umbrellas and identities, and my Russian nested doll analogy, will help clarify my perspective on this. I will not force any transsexual person to identify as transgender or LGBT. But at the same time, I believe that my identity as a transgender- and LGBT-identified transsexual woman should also be respected. And when I (and others) talk about transsexual participation in transgender and LGBT alliances/umbrellas, it should not be seen as me forcing my identities onto you, but rather as my belief that there are commonalities worthy of forming alliances there. Conversely, if you want to focus primarily on transsexual-specific issues, I should (and do) respect that.

I hate war metaphors, but here it goes: There are many fronts to every movement. You are focusing on one front (i.e., transsexual issues), whereas I and other transgender- or LGBT-identified transsexuals are focusing on other fronts. We are on the same "team," but tackling different issues. And when people exploit or appropriate transsexual identities, we should stand together to challenge that, whether they be LGBT, or transgender, or cis straight folks. But we should welcome legitimate (i.e., non-appropriating/exploitative) cissexual allies of any stripe.

8) Speaking of which, comments on my piece (and on this issue more generally) constantly talk about transgender and LGBQ appropriation of transsexuals, as though this were unique to transgender- and LGB-identified folks. This ignores the fact that there is a long history of cis straight-identified folks (whether they be media producers, novelists, photographers, psychiatrists/psychologists, academics, etc.) who have appropriated/exploited/misrepresented transsexuals over the years! To pin this solely on LGBT/transgender/gender theorist folks is both wildly incorrect, and potentially sexist on several levels (e.g., traditional sexism, heterosexism, monosexism, etc.)

9) I saw a couple commenters who actually said they didn’t feel that transsexuals needed to form alliances with anyone. I feel that those responses are naive, and I assume they were probably uttered by folks who have no experience doing grassroots activism of any sort. It is easy to be an “arm chair activist” who complains about alliances they dislike without having to do the heavy lifting required to change societal views about transsexuals and the various forms of sexism we face.

10) Of all the people who objected to my piece, none of them offered different alliance(s) that they would support over transgender or LGBT alliances. I just wanted to note that.

11) Thaniel (posting on my blog) said “it seems to me that there's also something else at work here. I believe that some transwomen bring a heap of unexamined male privilege w/them thru their transition, & this causes them to think they have the "right" to define "trans-ness" for everyone. Thus their intolerance for those of us who may have gone in a different direction (and who frankly don't care what *they* think.) And with such a binary, right/wrong world-view, there can be no interpretation of "transgender" other than "it's wrong."

I am very sensitive to when the “male privilege” card is played against trans women - it is often used to dismiss our perspectives (especially in cis feminist spaces). It also ignores the fact that trans women no longer experience male privilege in our day to day lives. Having said that, I do believe that Thaniel has a point here about privilege more generally. When I have met (in person) transsexuals who hold anti-umbrella views, they are almost always white, middle-class, able-bodied trans women (for the record, privileges that I also share). There is nothing inherently wrong with being a white, middle-class, able-bodied trans woman. However, this can mean that such women have never been personally exposed to activism or social justice issues until coming out as transsexual.

In activist and social justice circles, people often justifiably decry people who are “single-issue activists” - that is, people who are only concerned with the one issue that personally affects their lives, but ignore the issues faced by other marginalized groups (which they do not have to deal with because of their own privileges). I think that it is fine to focus your activism primarily on a specific issue that you are most passionate about. But it is not okay to use that as an excuse to ignore the issues that negatively impact other marginalized groups.

12) On the comment section of the Transadvocate, some disagreed with my opinion that someone can be a transsexual woman yet still have a penis, to which I responded: “objecting to the idea that 'woman and can still have a penis' is logically no different from objecting to the idea that 'woman and is not XX chromosomally' or 'woman and cannot bare children'. There are countless arbitrary lines one can draw in the sand to separate women from men (and many would also disenfranchise many cis women as well as trans women). We are women because we move through the world as women. Trans women face the same sexism that cis women face. We deal with similar expectations and obstacles. That is what makes us women. Not our biology or anatomy.”

13) In that comment thread, several people argued with my claim transsexual was also an umbrella, arguing instead that it was a “medical condition.” While the phrase “Harry Benjamin Syndrome” (HBS) was not stated explicitly, this seems to be the position they were taking. Personally, I believe that transsexuality is a natural (i.e., pan-cultural, trans-historical) phenomenon where some people understand themselves at a deep and profound level to be a member of the sex/gender other than the one they were assigned a birth. I don’t view it as an illness, pathology, disorder or syndrome, but rather as a part of human variation. Unfortunately, in a cissexist world, transsexuals often are required to be diagnosed as having some kind of “disorder/illness/syndrome” (whether mental or medical) in order to access the means to physically transition. HBS-identified folks support the “disorder/illness/syndrome” model, whereas I and other non-HBS-identified transsexuals do not.

I personally feel that the natural variation view that I hold is both more accurate and empowering than the HBS view of transsexuality as medical “disorder/illness/syndrome,” but I respect the fact that others may disagree. But what I do strongly object to is the way that HBS-type positions are often used to police the “real/fake,” “transsexual/transgender” hierarchies. I think that it is arrogant when a psychiatrist or psychologist feels entitled enough to state that they can single-handedly determine whether a person is transsexual or not, especially when that determination invalidates that person’s gender identity. When a transsexual claims that they are truly HBS, whereas other transsexuals are not (which typically invalidates the latter person's gender identity), it is the same sort of arrogance.

14) Some people disagreed with my claim that trans men are relatively accepted in contemporary queer women’s spaces. To be clear, I am not saying that trans men are universally accepted. But as someone who has been active in queer women’s spaces for a decade, I can tell you for sure that in almost every dyke/queer space I’ve been in, trans men have been more accepted than trans women. This isn’t just my observation - many others have noticed and written about this discrepancy as well. Perhaps there are small pockets of queer women’s spaces (e.g., in particular towns or cities) where trans women are more accepted than trans men, but if they exist, they are few and far between.

It was also pointed out that trans men are not accepted in gay male spaces. I agree, this is a problem. But trans women (pre- and post-transition) are not readily accepted there either. I often participate in queer spaces (i.e., where there is a mix of LGBTQ folks) - these tend to be more accepting of trans women than either gay or lesbian/dyke spaces, but there still seems to be a bias or preference toward trans men over trans women, and it seems to stem from a favoring of masculinity over femininity.

So I am not saying that trans men are always accepted whereas trans women are not. It is more complex than that. But I do believe that there is a discrepancy there and that it is fueled primarily by transmisogyny and anti-feminine sentiment. And the *only* reason that I brought it up here is in an attempt to explain why most anti-umbrella advocates are trans women rather than trans men.

<!--—pause for a deep breath ---->

A disclaimer, I am rushing this out there because I feel that the blogosphere demands my (relatively) immediate response. This response is not as well honed or thought-out compared to most things I write (where I go through several revised drafts). So please give me a little leeway if my particular word choice (or even grammar/spelling mistakes) bother you. I have written this in the spirit of explaining my views while simultaneously respecting other people’s views. I hope that it is taken in the same way.

Okay, so that is it for now. I am taking a couple day break from the internet after all this. Feel free to leave whatever comments you may have. I will read all comments sometime soon. Right now, I feel wiped-out responding-wise. But perhaps (after my break) I may reply to a handful of future comments, especially if they touch on issues I did not address here...

Best wishes, -julia

[note: If you appreciate my work and want to see more of it, please check out my Patreon page]


  1. Julia - thank you for this. I do want to offer a counter alliance to the LGB. This is based on my own personal observations and activism (both online and off). I should preface this with a disclaimer. I'm a binary, heterosexual, trans woman who gets asked out on dates frequently. I mention that last bit because it allows me to come into contact with cis men who are attracted to trans women (mostly pre-op). Largely, these guys want to help us, they have personal reasons to fight the stigma of being and dating a trans woman.

    In the past 2 years I have been going online to the places these guy congregate (porn sites) and pointing out the realities and the mythologies of being with a trans woman. Frankly filling them in on my perspectives and my experiences and answering any and all questions. Pointing out how their language and their perceptions can hurt women like me and encouraging them to think of us as people and not fetishes.

    I have been able to get many of these guys to attend local TDoRs, donate money to trans-specific groups, publish trans news on their webpages, and call their elected officials on our behalf. In 2 years I feel I've done more successful activism than the previous 8 in the LGB. Just an observation,

    LaughRiotGirl aka Bianca Lynne

  2. Thanks for both of these posts Julia. I fear the nuance will be lost on many people.

    As for the idea of alliance, well I like what Viviane Namaste has to say a lot - those are three crisis sites for trans women and the more organising around them the better.

    I think that Namaste's position does need to be supplemented with attention to employment, which is the source of trans downward mobility. I think we should organise with (and like!) unions, because even in places where there's anti-discrimination laws there's serious issues with access to employment. LGBT activism is often highly individualist and I think that leaves us to flounder in those situations where we most need support. Organising collectively, with and without cis people, would make a huge difference.

    Having said that, I don't think that any of this should necessary be an either/or thing? LGBT does provide a lot of support for us, and the tacking on of the T has often (in the law of unintended consequences) got trans rights through under the radar of a greater acceptance of homosexuality than transsexuality. I don't understand why there needs to be discarding of historically productive alliances in order to create new things as well...

  3. To utilize a sports metaphor, you hit that one all the way out of the park, Julia!
    Cross-posting immediately:

  4. One of the most potentially beneficial alliances the trans-feminine community could make would be with queer femmes. Both parties speak outwardly of invisibility within the greater LGBT umbrella, and I would tend to agree that it is because of societal preference of masculinity over femininity. The latter, being regarded as plastic, fake, or imposed by many in LGB circles, is used against both queer femmes and trans women of all sorts. Accusations of upholding the patriarchy have been leveled at both groups, when, in all actuality, it is because of a self-imposed choice (some trans women might argue that the choice to transition was not a choice, I would argue that it was a choice made under significant duress).

    By forming this type of an alliance, our position within the LGBT umbrella could be made stronger, giving us a more credible voice to have our stories told and heard.

  5. Ah, crap, Queen Emily stole half my comment.

    To me, I don't really view true transsexuals as enemies and certainly if any came under fire I would defend them as quickly as I would anyone else, but I find it extremely difficult to interact with them, as I am quickly miscategorized, misgendered, accused of many horrible things, both indirectly and more rarely directly. One that particularly stood out for me was a post that effectively blamed me (and others like me who hold similar positions - for example, that a trans woman who has not had surgery is still a woman) for Angie Zapata's murder, as well as other similar murders.

    What I wanted to write about was what Emily said about Vivian Namaste and crisis points. To me, it is functionally impossible to pick a single cause and say "this is the only thing I want to care about." And anyone who says that is making it clear that they're not interested in my welfare (as a disabled working class trans person who receives benefits). But not just me - most violence against trans people is specifically against trans women of color, and this violence is horrific and needs to not ever happen. So how can race be tossed aside?

    I mean other than "forgetting" about race when white trans women talk about violence or "forgetting" about race when white trans men talk about violence.

    And as I mentioned, disability - in the recent study on discrimination against trans people, a large number identified as disabled - and being trans can complicate access to necessary medical care as Robert Eads could attest if he were alive to do so. I've actually been so fortunate with my medical providers I am simply amazed. In the past I've been refused medical care because I was trans and because of dodgy and insincere "concerns" about interactions between estradiol and things like antibiotics or painkillers.

    Economic class is important because so many of us really do have a hard time finding work. I find with my disabilities (being on the autistic spectrum makes it hard for me to handle interviews) and being trans means that I simply never get hired. Emily's comment on downward pressure is important. This also crosses over directly with sex workers because so many find ourselves in sex work. I nearly ended up in sex work, but my social cluelessness basically sabotaged that plan, and I have a lot of sympathy for anyone and everyone who turns to it for survival purposes.

    I find it impossible to take "trans" or transgender or transsexual and separate it from all other things, because it is so interconnected with so many things. Because you cannot chop people into convenient pieces that are easy to relate to and discard the remainder. This is where Second Wave Feminism failed trans women and women of color, and very nearly failed lesbians. And where so many continue to fail.

    I also fail to see the point of jettisoning people who are working with us and supporting us (and whom we work with and support) just because some people do not wish to be associated with them. While I would not force them, I would appreciate it if they didn't argue that my activism or your activism or anyone else's activism should support their specific goals at the expense of all others.

  6. I think it's kind of a testament to your substance (and how important/volatile the subject is) that almost immediately after restarting blogging that it makes waves like this!

    Another important point is that (unless one is only going to look at it in American terms) many people who are called transsexuals in other countries identify as 'gay' or some other thing like that. In reality, it's more complicated than that, and is probably wisest to simply use the local terms, but the umbrella also serves to make the idea of transgender (or gender/sexual minority) not so completely Western.

    Queen Emily makes a good point, and to expand further: the only way to get rid of most singular oppression is to get rid of all of them, Like Dr. Pauli Murray said.

    I think that LaughRiotGirl's suggestion is a really interesting one, given that many of these men also occupy places of great privilege. I just have to wonder how easy that would be to put in action to say, those who watch pornography with trans women in it. It has definite potential (at least, in my naive mind it would).

    -Joel Layton

  7. Joel, it does work and is working. Nov. 20, 2010 Grooby Productions (the first and largest producer of trans-porn) put a notice on their top sites providing information about and links to TDoR events. They also used all signup proceeds for that day to set in a fund to give to non-political trans-woman focused charities. They raised in a single day $3,000 with recurring billing going to the same fund. This was a direct result of a heated conversation I had with the owner of the company (I can slap a link to it if Julia doesn't mind).

    Grooby has also offered their services in producing media to help fight the "men in the bathroom" meme that come up. The level of open distaste I get by even suggesting that we reach out to "chasers and pornographers" much less work with them has largely been dismissed and ridiculed by the folks in leadership positions.

    So, that's just one day and one guy. I have been compiling an email list of "chasers" who WANT to be more involved, but don't know how/where. These guys are less interested in the larger LGB movement and don't exactly feel welcome or particularly invested in that (not to mention that they don't consider themselves particularly "gay" and are trying to fight their own issues around being mislabeled). These guys are over 1000 in number and ready to respond to any local or national need for vocal assistance (calling, writing, etc.). I had 200 guys in NYS to help pass GENDA who never got called upon because ESPA didn't update anything after GENDA passed the assembly this year.

    The days of the creepy fetishist looking to explore his fantasy, while nowhere near over, is turning into the beginnings of an aware communicating and increasingly more willing community.

    aka Bianca Lynne

  8. Bianca,

    I think what you've described is pretty amazing and you've made some progress where I think most of us would have never thought to even try.

    I'm glad this approach is working. I admit I never would have considered it.

  9. Julia, you said that "Many cis lesbian and gay folks are sincerely informed about, and supportive of, transsexuals. If you have not met anyone who fits this description, it is probably because you are not active in gay/lesbian/queer spaces on a regular basis."

    As you are located in Oakland, California, I can see why you have this opinion. But I believe this is largely dependent on where you live. For example, I am involved and active in the gay/lesbian/queer spaces in my midwestern city, and I can confirm that very few cis lesbians and gays are informed and/or supportive of trans* identities and issues.

    Finding trans-friendly gays and lesbians is not as easy as getting more active in the community. It is unfair to assume that people simply aren't doing enough to find those types of people; in some places, they just don't exist. So please remember, we don't all live in queer/trans friendly meccas such as what you might find in the Bay Area.

  10. (Coming in late, but...) What the previous anon said. I am a cissexual, genderqueer gay man in a relationship with a bisexual trans man in a large Canadian city. I am continually frustrated with the utter absence of reflection on the part of 90% of the queer cis people with whom I interact regarding trans issues. More than one trans person of my acquaintance has said that straight cis people often seem to be more welcoming than the LGB community! I am in favour of the alliance, but I think it's a bit too rosy to suggest there aren't deep wellsprings of cissexism among the cis LGB community in many places.

  11. Having moved to Tasmania where the LGBTIQ community is small I have found that there is a great deal of mutual support within the few organisations that comprise our umbrella. There are not enough of us to have more than one umbrella. All the comments I have read on this subject seem to be out of the USA and characteristic of the ultracompetitive, zero-sum game attitude that is a basic part of American society. We can't afford that here.

    Any rejection of me as a transsexual woman who identifies as a lesbian is on the level of individuals. This is overcome on a personal level, by the person concerned getting to know me as an individual. Once that happens, there is no problem, we are fellow travellers looking out for each other.

    I have recently attended two retreats locally where the participants from all parts of the LGBTIQ spectrum shared their deepest experiences and we concluded that we all face similar issues. We have made it our mission to turn Tasmania into the San Fransisco of the Southern Hemisphere, a place where someone's gender or sexuality is a matter of little comment, and we can all live a satisfying life.

  12. How I identify myself - in ANY facet of my self - is MY identity. No one has my permission to speak for me in that regard. If I choose to identify myself as a female, transgender, transexual, bisexual comic, then no one can say that I'm not funny. Or that any of the other myriad ways I identify myself is not a valid identifier for me.

    I'm totally willing to let anyone else identify themselves as anything they want. What I am NOT willing to do, however, is let them do so by trying to remove some of MY identity from ME. Your definition of "woman" may differ from mine, but that does not make either definition right or wrong, valid or invalid, good or bad - only different.

  13. Dear Julia, my apologies for arriving so late to this virtual seminar. I love what you say, for its content, its measured tone and the rigour of its argument. Having read through the responses, I am a little lost as to who said what and how it fits together, so I will add my four penn'orth and hope it makes sense.

    Firstly, I separate my lived identity from the way in which I communicate it. My identity is so complex and ever-changing that it would take as long to communicate it as it does to live it (Borges's 'Del rigor en la ciencia' comes to mind). I articulate this identity in a way that helps me to achieve what I want from communicating it. Not always successfully, but it's worth trying.

    I will not bore you with an attempt to describe my identity, nor do violence to it by attempting to summarise it. Instead, I will talk about my associations, which are not the same as my identity but which have aspects that overlap with it.

    I have three tattoos, late additions to my body (only in transitioning and reaching my mid forties did I feel I really liked my fleshy home and knew how I wanted it decorated). I will use these as symbols, metaphors.

    On my left wrist is the Stonewall star. I had this done on the first Saturday after I went full-time at work. I know that Stonewall does not speak on my behalf as a trans* person: it is explicit in representing LGB interests. My sexuality overlaps, as does my experience of oppression. When asked why I have that star, I say that it is because I am queer. Or at least I do when adults ask me. My gender identity, sexuality, diet, religion (see below) and politics are as queer as can be, and the star reminds me whenever I look at it. When the children I teach ask me, I tell them (truthfully) I can't tell my left from my right and (equally truthfully) the star helps me. When I am teaching them, they don't need to know any more than that they are wonderful children and will be even better at swimming (or whatever they are learning) than they are now. Which brings me to my next tattoo.

    At the base of my belly is a picture of a wave. I am never happier than on or in the water, whether it is rowing, windsurfing or swimming and I am lost in the moment when I am doing it or teaching it. It lies close to where the sacral chakra might be if I fully understood or subscribed to the thinking. A nice coincidence, perhaps unsurprising as I practise yoga and feel rooted from somewhere thereabouts...

    On my right wrist is my most recent tattoo. It is the black and red star of the Friends' Ambulance Service. It represents my recent decision to become a Quaker. Its colours are also those of anarcho-syndicalists, some of whose political views I share. When I began to transition, Quakers accepted me from the first word just as I was, without any apparent attempt to judge, explain or reduce me to fit with their own world view. On my first Pride march, I marched with the Quakers, as to do so with any other group felt less inclusive.

    This is the association that means most to me. Quakers have argued for our essential equality since the 1650s. We have been ahead of the game on most issues of equality since then. When some people ask us whether we are Christian, we may - because they wouldn’t understand the complexity - say yes. When others ask us, we may say that it is a way of living, not a set of beliefs and that there are almost as many beliefs as there are Quakers (some unpleasant). I am a British, universalist Quaker. We speak because we feel compelled to; otherwise, we keep it to ourselves. When we meet to decide things, we do so through consensus - and it can take an age to do so. No one tells me what to believe, nor how to live my life. Were they not also bloody-minded activists in so many fields, I would worry that they didn't care enough.

    My further apologies if this has appeared to ramble. In short, I choose the ways in which I communicate with other people, and the groupings with which I associate, to help myself and to help other people.

  14. Don't forget that many assert the "transgender" is a colonization of transsexual identity by crossdressers. In your other post, one reply reads:

    "The one reason why I am not willing to accept that someone call me transgender is that "transgender" is a word that comes from Virginia Prince who firstly talked about "real" and "fake" transsexuals in her essay "Transsexuals and Pseudotranssexuals" (Archives of Sexual BEhaviour, Vol.7, 1978). Since that time there's the big lie, that being "transsexual" means "sex-changed". This is some of the bullshit people who wanted to split up transsexual people, argued in the 60ies and 70ies. "Transsexual" doesn't mean "being sex-changed" in origin. "Transsexual" was invented 1923 from Magnus Hirschfeld and what he meant was, that there are sexual variations in nature... and one of this variacions is "Transsexualism"."

    This is factually incorrect. Here's the real history of "transgender":

    Prince didn't coin transgender; the term existed in print almost a decade before she used it. Transgender was in use prior to transgenderist (another term that existed years before Prince used it) and during the first part of the 70s, transgender meant surgical transsexual. By 1974, the term was used as an umbrella term in both America and England. Christine Jorgensen was promoting "transgender" in the 1970s. No 70s use of "transgender" has been found to only refer to crossdressers. By 1984, trans magazines were writing of the benefits of the "transgender community" (wherein transgender is used as an umbrella term).

    I wish more transsexuals knew their actual history instead of clinging to their faith in the internet meme "transgender means crossdresser."

    Also, the term "transsexual" WAS NOT invented by Hirschfeld it was being used as early as 1907 (the term transsex goes back to the mid-1800s) and the term "Transsexed" showed up in print in 1915 to refer to transgenderists.

  15. i so much enjoy reading your thoughts on trans issues, Julia. they are always so insightful and measured. the comments here are also great. now i have a question which at least to me seems pretty central to a lot of trans, genderqueer, and intersex issues. if formally recognized "women's only" spaces are to continue, won't it be necessary to actually have a general definition of what constitutes a woman?... or perhaps more accurately what constitutes "not-a-man"? Woman's spaces were originally created to keep out those perceived as men... or once again more accurately to keep out post-pubescent males or those approaching puberty. Small boys accompanied by a woman are not excluded. of course, each one of these "spaces" serves some particular purpose of its own (e.g. restrooms, showers, etc.). The reason men are excluded from them may differ somewhat. for example, men are excluded from women's sports because of unfair advantages they may gain from greater exposure to testosterone. famously, the olympics no longer excludes transwomen because their advantage is lost after their new, female-aligned hormone balance has taken effect. Restrooms, changing rooms, showers, women's shelters... each has its mundane purpose.
    In Europe (or at least continental Europe) there is practically no restroom issue. Even though many places have gender-marked restrooms, there is seldom any "outrage" when a person perceived as male uses a female designated room. So anyway, customs differ from culture to culture. Still, i would say that every modern culture has some sort of "women's space" that is taken seriously. In America women's restrooms are taken seriously enough that i think it unlikely the presence of people with beards in them will go unchallenged... however much the bearded person may feel that they are female or that gender doesn't really exist. Granted the bearded person in question might in rare cases be a cisgender female and in that case the challenge will be withdrawn (and hopefully with apologies). Similarly, it seems unlikely that women's open showers and changing rooms where there is nudity are going to be welcoming to persons having male organs whether functional or not. None of these things would bother me in particular though they might surprize me because they would be unusual occurances. I'm not, however, talking about me. I'm talking about the great majority of American voters... which overwhelming means cis-people. Certainly, I don't think they are ready for showers yet and that such a move is politcally impossible and will remain so for some time. Many colleges have compromised by making "special arrangements", which to my mind is a pretty reasonable ad hoc solution.
    Regarding restrooms, I know that this sort of thing is commonly used by right-wing groups as a scare tactic... and it is commonly linked with the idea that such masculine-appearing people who are inclined to use women's restrooms are sexual predators. The evidence for this correlation is zip, and that is where the commercials are out-and-out lies and slanders. But the fact is if we don't define in some manner who is allowed in women's restrooms and under what conditions, then we have in fact eliminated them as formal "women's spaces". Perhaps that's not a bad thing. Is that true for all women's spaces?