While I Was Away


I’ve come to realize that I must be a woman of enormous power, influence and importance. Do you know how I know this? Well, during this brief period of time where I found myself without a platform for my blogging, a flurry of abuses of trans rights took place. Clearly, they saw that I was no longer writing, and thought they could get away with it without being viciously excoriated by my mighty pixels! Well they were wrong.  *hardass squinty face*

The first such opportunist was a disgruntled Girl Scout who had the rather poorly thought out idea of initiating a boycott to protest the Girl Scouts policy of acceptance and inclusion of transgender girls (children who had been assigned-male-at-birth but who presently identify as female). She posted a video, written up by my lovely former colleague Elyse Anders and commented upon by my friend Veronica at WeAreSkeptixx, complaining about GSUSA’s policy of trans-inclusivity, mangling her terminology, and exposing herself as a hateful, callous transphobe. Or maybe an innocent child who had been indoctrinated into such bigotry (note the repeated references to “my family” and their beliefs). I suppose I’d prefer to believe the latter, since I dislike the idea that children can learn hatred so young. But my own experiences and personal history remind me they can.

Fortunately, the video and an associated site (Honest Girl Scouts) with a PDF depicting reasons to oppose the Girl Scouts inadvertently sparked a counter-boycott, and turned into one of the best ad campaigns Girl Scout Cookies have had since Wednesday Addams. I, for one, didn’t exactly need any extra reason to buy a half-ton of caramel de-lites this year, nor did my waistline, but like many I’m definitely going to take the opportunity to demonstrate my support for the Girl Scouts and their policy of inclusion and non-discrimination. Through gluttony. Though I certainly would recommend that everyone deciding to buy extra cookies this year also send a letter to the Girl Scouts letting them know the reasons for your support, and that you back the right of transgender girls to be included in the organization. Given the appallingly high risks of homelessness, bullying, depression and suicide, trans youth are in dire need of places where they can feel accepted and loved.

Defeating bigotry with cookies and love. What more could you ask for in a counter-protest?

As for the girl initiating this failed boycott: Perhaps she can go ahead and sign-up for the proudly hetero-normative Boy Scouts, whose anti-queer bigotry hasn’t stopped them from permitting girls to join their affiliated Venture Scouts and Sea Scouts.

Sadly, not all of the news stories from the past two weeks have had such an optimistic undercurrent. In Tennessee, Representative Robert Floyd has proposed instituting legislation, the “Bathroom Harassment Bill” (thanks for the demonizing doublespeak, Bob) to deny transgender people access to gender-specific facilities such as public restrooms and changing rooms.

He went on record as saying “if I was standing at a dressing room and my wife or one of my daughters was in the dressing room and a man tried to go in there — I don’t care if he thinks he’s a woman and tries on clothes with them in there — I’d just try to stomp a mudhole in him and then stomp him dry.” The phrase “stomp a mudhole” is in Southern dialect an explicit threat of physical violence, the implication being that you’ve beaten someone so ruthlessly that they’ve been rendered incapable of pulling themselves up out of the mud. Given the actual degree to which trans women are routinely victims of exactly that level of violence, if not worse, it’s a pretty chilling remark. One can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been if such a threat had been made towards the senator himself, or towards the Christians of Cranston, Rhode Island.

But trannies? Who cares! Freaks and sinners, the lot of them.

Floyd admitted that his decision to implement such discriminatory legislation was motivated largely by a recent incident at Macy’s, where an employee had been fired for denying a trans woman access to the women’s changing room. This triggered the usual responses… overreactions in regards to a hypothetical risk of rape or voyeurism should “men in dresses” be permitted access to women’s changing rooms, the typical desire to punish trans women for the potential crimes of cisgender male attackers, the notion that the Macy’s employee was being “persecuted”, “oppressed” or “discriminated against” for her religion on the grounds that she was not being permitted to persecute, oppress and discriminate against trans women for allegedly religious reasons (can someone please point me to the Bible passage that says trans women aren’t allowed to use women’s changing rooms?), enough misgendering and vicious insults towards the trans woman in question to last a lifetime, threats of boycotts, comical misunderstandings of what “open door policy” means, and various statements that the entire moral fabric of the United States of America will come crumbling to the ground should we not make sure that trans women are treated like dirt at all times.

More from Representative Floyd: “Don’t ask me to adjust to their perverted way of thinking and put my family at risk. We cannot continue to let these people dominate how society acts and reacts. Now if somebody thinks he’s a woman and he’s a man and wants to try on women’s clothes, let him take them into the men’s bathroom or dressing room.”

You know what would happen there, in the men’s room, Mr. Congressman? We’d get stomped dry. And tragic lols at the implication that trans women “dominate society.” I am so sick of the Bizarro World up is down mentality of this kind of rhetoric.  It is not persecution or oppression of your religious beliefs to ask you to leave us be. Having encountered this topsy-turvy tactic numerous times, such as the “persecuted straight men” on r/mensrights accusing me of being blinded by “trannie privilege” (I would have posted a long, angry response, but I was in the middle of a deep-tissue massage provided by my Chamorro manservant, and my pile of baluga caviar wasn’t going to eat itself), I can’t help but feel the tactic is simply an inversion of the language they see their opponents effectively using. To them, “privilege” is being “allowed” to speak up for equal rights, and “persecution” is being asked to not bludgeon discriminated minorities with your beliefs.

Also, I’ve said this before, but I’d like to again make it clear, for my new readers: there is absolutely no credible evidence to suggest that policies permitting trans people access to appropriately gendered facilities carries any increased risk whatsoever.

Amongst the legislation being proposed by Floyd was the idea that if her gender was questioned a woman would need to present her birth certificate in order to receive access to a restroom or fitting room. And this is about protecting the privacy of women, somehow? And yeah, I’m absolutely sure that TN will relax the restrictions on obtaining an updated gender marker on your birth certificate to accommodate the new laws…

But things were even worse elsewhere in the world. During all this, reports began coming in about widespread police abuses towards trans women in Kuwait. The Human Rights Watch issued a 63-page report entitled They Hunt Us Down For Fun: Discrimination And Police Violence Against Transgender Women In Kuwait. Empowered by an amendment made to the Kuwait penal code in 2007, criminalizing the act of “imitating the opposite sex”, police have been committing vicious acts of harassment, institutionalized discrimination, and extreme physical and sexual violence towards trans women for years, with the tacit approval of Kuwait’s government and people.

The policies that permitted the arrests (and subsequent abuses) to be made were purposefully vague, entitling a police officer to make a judgment call more or less on a whim whether or not to target someone for having committed the “crime”, completely regardless of their actual presentation or attire at the time. For instance, simply having soft skin or speaking in a “feminine” voice could be interpreted as an infraction of the law. These laws were also used to blackmail trans women into providing police officers with sexual favours. Threats of further violence and abuse additionally silenced the victims from being able to speak up about the mistreatment.

But Kuwait is one of those scary “third world” countries populated by an Exotic Oriental Other™ that are hardly to be expected to actually protect the rights of their citizens, though, right? No such institutionalized discrimination against trans people could be occurring in the civilized “first world”, such as those European nations long held in high esteem for their record of human rights and social justice, yeah? Like the consistently praised nations of Scandinavia? Well…The Swedish parliament recently chose to maintain a law requiring the sterilization of trans people in order to be eligible for a change of legal sex.

Now, most of my friends and those with a generally left-leaning disposition acknowledge the importance of reproductive rights, but it seems that a lot of cisgender people have somewhat misunderstood this story, or failed to see the actual issue, or why this is a problem. For instance, many cis people assume that transition naturally entails the loss of fertility anyway, so what exactly is the harm of the law?

The first important clarification would be that Sweden also does not permit transgender people to cryogenically bank sperm or ova for future use. This effectively completely denies any reproductive rights for all trans citizens (if they wish to have their sex legally recognized, anyway). It means there is literally no option for legally transitioning while still maintaining the option of having children.

The second clarification is that not all transitioners choose to undergo sexual reassignment surgery or sterilizing procedures and treatments. It isn’t a matter of course that sterilization is part and parcel with transition. There are numerous different ways in which gender dysphoria manifests, many different kinds of relationships an individual may have to their body, many different preferences one has in how to transition, many different priorities an individual may have in terms of that process, and many, many, many different paths an individual may take towards feeling comfortable with their sex.

There are numerous reasons why a trans person may wish to forgo surgery. Not everyone is healthy enough to undergo SRS, hysterectomy or orchiectomy. Not everyone can afford it, the related expenses, or the time off work. Not everyone feels those procedures are necessarily worth the pain, risk, hassle or, indeed, loss of fertility. Some feel the present surgery is not adequate to meet their desires or needs (this is especially common amongst trans men). Some trans people even feel perfectly comfortable with their genitals as they are, even if they felt that transition was extremely important in other regards. Those are all perfectly reasonable decisions for someone to make for themselves, and it is highly inappropriate that a government should make those decisions for its citizens. Our bodies must fundamentally be our own, along with our reproductive rights.

It’s also worth noting that fertility can be preserved through a transition. I even have a friend who is a non-op trans woman who recently conceived a child with her partner after many, many years of having lived fully transitioned. The baby is beautiful and healthy. That her baby would have been forcibly denied her by such a policy is an appalling concept to me.

The law carries many dark echoes… eugenics, abortion law, and even genocide. It’s archaic and a deep violation of the fundamental rights of a class of human beings. What’s more, the majority of Sweden’s parliament do indeed oppose the law, but due to the structure of their parliamentary system, a minority conservative party (highly religiously affiliated, surprise surprise) has been able to block any change to the law. A petition is currently being distributed to hopefully sway Sweden’s prime minister to make some kind of executive decision that could override the parliamentary process. Please sign. Like anyone else, we have the right to have children if that’s our decision, and we should be permitted to make our own choices about our own bodies.

A sad realization I have, regarded the sarcastically self-important hyperbole of my first paragraph here (naturally none of this actually has anything to do with me) is that this actually hasn’t been a particularly extraordinary two weeks. This wasn’t a sudden change of pace, or a shocking, unprecedented sequence of events. This is the usual. The same kind of thing I would have come back to report upon after almost any two week break. The typical set of attacks and tragedies we face over and over again, against which we try so hard to maintain faith and fend off exhaustion and apathy. This is the way things are for us, for the trans community, and the way things will continue to be for a long time. There’s a lot of fighting left to be done

Comments

  1. thaismcrc says

    Glad to see you back to blogging, even if it is about such incredibly depressing (though entirely unsurprising) news. Keep up the good work.

  2. Praedico says

    I think there is one positive thing to take away from the last week: these sorts of incidents seem to be getting more widespread, supportive attention. Or I’m just noticing them more…

    I realise “cis people are starting to notice that your rights are routinely violated in the most inhuman ways” isn’t the greatest ray of hope, but I had to focus on something good, because… ugh.

  3. karmakin says

    I always thought “stomping a mudhole” was about beating someone up so much that you’d literally be caving in their body creating a mudhole in them. The more you know I guess. (Not that one is any better or any worse than the other)

  4. danielrudolph says

    I can get the fear about letting transwomen in bathrooms. It’s based on one-sided consideration grounded in speculation instead of fact, but I can at least see why someone would speculate that way and plenty of people are too selfish to consider that other parties have needs to be considered as well and don’t think through the practical consequences.

    What I don’t get is changing rooms. Those are generally single-occupant and connected to hallways visible to everyone. What is exactly is the hypothetical threat being combated here?

    • says

      That fear is ridiculous, offensive, and in reality, deeply sexist. It suggests that on the one hand all men are sexual predators, and that all women are sexual prey to be protected at all costs.

      Of course, the concern is also founded on the erroneous assumption that trans women are all really men. Considering that we are women, and that women do not exist solely as prey for the sexual appetites of men, I don’t really see how the fear makes any sense whatsoever.

      • freemage says

        Given the broader construction of their post, I believe danielrudolph was saying he “gets” the objection in the sense of, “I at least can follow all the applications of ignorance, fear, misogyny, transphobia and religious delusion that goes into” the objection to transwomen going into the ladies’ restroom. The changing-room concept, on the other hand, requires something even beyond all that, since of course, most changing rooms wouldn’t really accommodate a voyeur or rapist–it’s not like you have them all in one large open area.

        • danielrudolph says

          That’s what I meant. The argument is based on bad premises, but does at least follow from its premises. Changing rooms, not so much.

      • F says

        No, it doesn’t make any sense. But noting how people may erroneously get from bad assumption A to stupid conclusion B gives you a tool with which to address such people if they don’t have a deeper motivation like being religiously offended. I could easily have been such a person as a child.

        Some people are easy, you just have to point out where their fear is silly as based on completely ridiculous assumptions. And these are the people whose minds you want to change, because it helps to combat the idiots whose minds are set on bigotry.

        Offensive, yes it is. Keep speaking out. You are very articulate.

      • Rabidtreeweasel says

        A good point, and one which believe supports the notion that it has more to do with hatred of a man “choosing”(like it’s a choice) to give up male priviledge and act in any way feminine. It is a way to force transsexual women into life threatening situations and perhaps discouraging other “uppity” transsexual women from expressing themselves.

    • janeymack says

      Well, they aren’t common but apparently there are some stores where the changing rooms are just big open areas with a lot of mirrors and racks to hang the clothes on. Maybe a chair or two. I’ve seen one in my entire life–so not common. But that being said, Senator Tennessee is simply suffering from gross stupidity. He not only doesn’t know anything about transpeople, he clearly does not wish to know. That’s way more offensive than anything any transperson out there is doing.

  5. ZenPoseur says

    In fairness, Representative Bob Floyd is just tired of transgender people demanding special rights, such as the right to not be beaten to a pulp for existing.

  6. Zinc Avenger says

    Whah, if one o’ dem black wimmins come usin’ mah whaat waaf’s bathroom, Ah’d stomp a mudhole in ‘er.

    Elected representatives threatening physical violence against a persecuted minority? Whoooo freedom! U!S!A! U!S!A!

    BTW, Hi from Tennessee. We’re not all like that! Just *sigh* enough of a majority to ensure most of the elected representatives are.

  7. says

    I’d heard about the bathroom thing and was disgusted, but forced sterilization? I…I mean…that…how….

    English frankly doesn’t have sufficient vocabulary to cover how much that disturbs me, on so many levels.

    Oh, and welcome to FTB! I have a couple of trans friends, so it’s a topic of interest to me. I’m always interested in talking about sexuality, gender, culture, etc., so I look forward to reading your posts :)

    • Anders says

      Sweden has a dark history of sterilizations and lobotomies of sexually ‘atypical’ people, people with epilepsy and the mentally retarded. Much of today’s knowledge about dental cavities, for instance, comes from experiments on mentally retarded people in the 1940s and 1950s (look for “Vipeholmsanstalten”). And for those of you lening to the left when it comes to politics, I can add that these all these policies where put into place by the socialist government for ‘the good of society’. None of the parties in parliament had any objections to them.

      Apart from that I just want to say hello to Natalie, who may remember me from the SGU boards. We still love you, Natalie!

  8. says

    As a former Girl Scout, I love how often the Girl Scouts seem to make the news for pissing off the right people. I am already unable to pass a booth sale without buying some cookies, but I will definitely buy extra this year.

    My husband is a former Boy Scout, and it makes him really sad to see them continue to discriminate against atheists and LGBT participants.

  9. says

    On behalf of my country* I would like to say that most people either think the sterilisation is atrocious and/or ridiculous, or they don’t care either way because they have no idea what it’s about and they’d just like to get back to watching tv already and why are you bothering them with this anyway?! Unfortunately we do have a couple of conservative parties in our ruling body, and the rest apparently think that transsexuals are such a small and invisible group that they can be fed to the disgruntled Christian Democrats. Anyway, point is, we’re working on it!

    * Well, I do not currently have the mandate to speak for all of Sweden. My plans for world domination were set back a few years due to being distracted by World of Warcraft.

  10. otrame says

    Welcome to the pit.

    I like that so many atheists do more than demand that atheists be treated like human beings. We demand that EVERYONE be treated like human beings. As sad as some of the stories you mention are, consider that even a few years ago, they would not have been considered news. Progress is slow but I truly believe the day will come when nobody will give a rat’s ass about whether or not that Y chromosome of yours gets social recognition.

    When I was a teenager back in the late 1960s one of my best friends was transgendered. She (she still self-identified as a female because she had no idea that there was an option) told me she was a boy in a girl’s body and that she couldn’t understand why God would do that to her. Because of her, I knew about transgendered people long before the general public did (even though I didn’t hear the term for many years). The reaction of people I told about her in later years has always amazed me. Why would it make you angry? Why would you get a disgusted look on your face? Why would it matter to you at all, except to feel sorry for her misery?

    *sigh

    Anyway, welcome, Natalie. Looking forward to reading your work. Kick their narrow-minded, bigoted, mean-spirited asses. I’ll hold your coat.

  11. michaeld says

    This is like the borg waiting till Sisco was off in the badlands before launching a second invasion. Only when their most dreaded enemy was away did they feel comfortable enough to strike. The only obvious solution is to have you blog 24/7/365 to keep everyone at bay. It’s a tough assignment but someone has to do it :P.

  12. Besomyka says

    This is a little off topic, but I subscribe to the FTB RSS feed as a whole, not individual blogs, but I haven’t received any of these posts yes. I got Cromm’s welcome post which brought me over.

    Are they just delayed, or is something not set up… or is it me?

  13. Rawnaeris says

    And once again I find out how little I actually know.

    Thanks, Natalie, I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  14. Anat says

    Glad to see your blog, Natalie!

    Why is there a need for gender-specific bathrooms anyway as long as all bowls are in enclosed stalls? When people use bathrooms at private homes (their own or other people’s) do they care about the genders of the people outside the bathroom door? Or vice versa?

    • freemage says

      There’s some sense to it, coupled to some less-sensible things:

      1: In general, especially in the U.S., public nudity/exposure to the opposite gender is considered shameful/embarrassing, as are, ah, ‘bodily noises’.

      2: Public men’s rooms usually feature urinals, which have minimal or no ‘side barriers’ for privacy. The fact that this helps the bathroom process more “customers” (because wall-mounted urinals take up far less space than toilets in stalls) during busy periods is considered enough of a plus to justify the arrangement.

      3: Likewise, the stalls often have gaps at the doors that could permit ‘peeking’, and of course, the walls never go to the floor or ceiling, so sound gets out regardless (and the average toilet bowl tends to serve as a magnificent acoustic amplifier).

      4: Unfortunately, rape is a real part of our culture, and there have been rapists who deliberately stalk women’s bathrooms in order to get a victim who is vulnerable and isolated (because of the taboo in point 1, many bathrooms are also designed to specifically muffle noises from inside in the area outside). This has led some areas (mostly municipalities) to pass laws mandating ‘gendering’ of public bathrooms.

  15. GenghisFaun says

    Welcome to FtB, Natalie!

    I just wanted to point out that the idiot from Tennessee is a representative in the state government, not a congressman. Also, he’s not from a district that represents that many people. None of that makes his view any less appalling, but at least this bozo isn’t in Washington, DC.

    Like Zinc Avenger, I am also in Tennessee and second the notion that we’re not all like that.

    Looking forward to more of your posts! Cheers!

    • freemage says

      The columnist at You Are Dumb (an extremely acerbic look at US politics and culture) generally gets best material from state legislators. There’s ~always~ a few morons rattling around in them, even in states that are mostly sane. That said, I know he gets a LOT of material from Tennessee.

  16. janeymack says

    At my son’s karate class tonight, I noticed one of the other mothers with what looked like a Girl Scout cookie order form–I know she and her daughter are active in scouting. Normally I would have ignored it, or maybe if approached I would have ordered a box out of some sense of obligation. As it was, I all but ripped the order form out of her hand and put my name down for 3 boxes. And if I see any little peddlers outside my local grocery store–some of them still do it that way–I will probably buy more. I’m very willing to support good behaviour like the Girl Scouts have shown, and if it means a little damage to my waistline, well…them’s the breaks! :)

  17. embertine says

    Great to see you on FtB after reading your posts on Queereka. BTW, I only just made it through your review of Work It without clawing my own eyes out. No idea how you managed to actually watch the damn thing, but if there was a medal for TV-related heroism we would be hanging it round your neck right now. Dear sweet Eru that sounded dreadful.

    • says

      That’s a post admonishing cross-dressing, not the use of women’s fitting rooms… and the question of course comes up as to whether trans women are or are not men.

      Also, I’ve heard that most scholarly and rabbinical study of that passage indicates it pertains not to the maintenance of gender roles but instead the concept of menstruation being “unclean”. The law was supposedly written to help keep men from accidentally donning garments that had been worn by women during menstruation and therefore “tainted” / “impure” / “unclean”. I think in the culture and place were deuteronomy was written, there weren’t even that many significant differences in the clothing of women and men. Robes are robes. :p

      I’ll write a post going into this in more detail soon. Probably next week. If you want to point me to any research on the passage and its implications, though, I’d definitely appreciate it! :)

  18. says

    I am so sick of the Bizarro World up is down mentality of this kind of rhetoric. It is not persecution or oppression of your religious beliefs to ask you to leave us be.

    To them, “privilege” is being “allowed” to speak up for equal rights, and “persecution” is being asked to not bludgeon discriminated minorities with your beliefs.

    This, exactly!

  19. says

    “…turned into one of the best ad campaigns Girl Scout Cookies have had since Wednesday Addams”

    Yep. But mostly I just wanted to comment before finishing, to say how much that analogy made me smile.

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