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Jan 24 2012

In Memory Of Another Natalie

One week ago, a young woman I knew from a trans support forum took her own life

She had been traveling through Kimball, TN on her way from Atlanta, where she had been staying with another trans couple (met through the same support forum) after having been disowned by her family. She was due in Illinois for an arraignment on drug charges. She found herself initially unable, emotionally, to take the trip, and had nearly killed herself the night before, but was convinced to go by the couple who had been helping her, given that if she didn’t a warrant would be issued for her arrest. When she stopped in Kimball for gas, she found her debit card missing, presumably forgotten at the scene of the earlier suicide attempt. Without it, she had no way of getting gas to either complete her trip or make it back to Georgia, and was more or less stranded in Kimball. The couple from Georgia had no way of getting to her, and she turned off her phone. Presumably this was just one last thing too many, and she chose to leave.

I don’t blame her. How could I? If the path of transitioning to a genuine, liveable self seems hopeless, the idea of transitioning from life to death starts seeming like a pretty damn reasonable compromise. I’ve often said, in absolute sincerity, that I’d rather die than detransition. I’m never, ever exaggerating when I do. At least she’s no longer trapped in a male body. And in her case, transition was only one of  many difficulties in her life.

Her name was Natalie, too. The newspapers didn’t print it as such, however, nor did they refer to her as female. As is often the case in the death of a trans person, her true identity and what she had been fighting so hard for was cast aside, so as to pay respect to a costume, to mourn a version of her that never really existed, and she had been desperate to escape. It’s sad that in death we so often have to suffer these final acts of erasure and denial.

I wish that the reminders of our situation, and the degree to which it needs to be improved, didn’t come so frequently and so severely. It seems like I’ve never had much of a chance to forget that our lives are being lost, that we are one of the most vulnerable and least protected groups of human beings in our entire culture. 41% of trans people attempt or commit suicide… and those are only the ones we know about. Many, I’m sure, succeed before ever having an opportunity for their gender identity to become known. That would have been the case if I’d succeeded in my own attempts, and in every “so what prompted you to finally transition?” conversation I’ve been involved in, at least half the stories typically involve suicide attempts or other forms of self-destruction.

We are several hundred times more likely to be murdered than cis women of comparable demographics. 1/5 of us end up homeless. 1/5 do survival sex work. 97% experience harassment or discrimination in the workplace. 26% have lost a job due to gender identity. Rates of domestic abuse, addiction, depression, poverty, sexual assault and violence are all just as grim, as disturbingly outlined in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.

It feels I’m not often permitted a chance to ignore this or put it out of my mind. This ends up in stark contrast to the perspectives, mentality and experiences of the cis people around me. What I often find, even amongst allies, is that the concept of us, of transgender people, is typically treated as a somewhat abstract, intellectual or academic question. The conversations and questions are typically well-intentioned, but repeatedly I come across the same discussions, or am asked the same questions (“out of curiosity”)… what’s the relationship between transgenderism and transhumanism? If someone offered you a pill that could give you a male identity would you haven taken it instead of having to go through transition? Don’t you think that transition sort of confirms social concepts of gender roles, like, that if we didn’t have a binary, you wouldn’t have needed to? When is a trans person, ethically speaking, supposed to tell a partner? Isn’t it kind of deceitful to have sex with someone without telling them? So… would you guys feel comfortable using the restroom with a TG person? Should gay men and trans men be allowed to say “tranny”? Does liking chicks-with-dicks porn make me gay? Are trans women who are lesbians, like, getting off on themselves or something? Should trans women be allowed in women’s spaces like domestic violence shelters? Are trans people holding back the gay rights movement? Would you have sex with a TG person, if they were attractive enough? (attractive enough… *wince*)

And so on. Forever and ever.

We do get exhausted.

And yes, what frustrates me perhaps the most is that for the people asking, or engaging in the discussions presumably amongst themselves (simply assuming that trans people can’t possibly be present to see or overhear is itself a pretty glaring act of cissexism), it is a matter of curiosity, an intellectual exercise, a contemplation of the nature of gender and identity. A thousand fucking theses have been written by cisgender students on us. We are forever being forced in the position of educator, subject, object of study, etc. and often several of these roles at the same time. What gets lost in this, in the treatment of it all as this big academic, intellectual, fascinating question is awareness of the actual harsh realities we live with.

The realities that left Natalie dead in her car in some arbitrary town, Tennessee.

These are our lives. Our experiences. What’s an interesting sub-topic for you is for us an inescapable constant. When we discuss it and think of it it’s not because we find it fascinating, but because it’s a necessary aspect of our survival. I’m not into gender theory, really. I’m just doing my best to get through an often extremely difficult existence. The question of its relative interestingness, or the theoretical implications of our existence, are irrelevant. I could be bored out of my damn mind with discussing the ethics of trans disclosure, or why gender is neither a social construct or bio-essentially innate, or whether or not we should be permitted access to The Michigan Fucking Womyn’s Fucking Music Fucking Festival, and it wouldn’t matter one bit, because I’d still be left facing these questions, and these discussions, again the next day… and more importantly, I’m still going to be trans. I’m still going to wake up tomorrow being trans again, and facing my trans life, my trans body, and the same risks. The same threats to my life. The same questions of privacy. The same legal hassles. the same health issues. The same poverty. The same ridicule. The same discrimination. The same dysphoria. The same absent friends.

I live this every day. And every once in awhile, that life is punctuated with another tragedy. Not for one moment am I able to forget why this is important, why it matters, and why things need to change. I don’t get to forget about the blood on the hands of the beliefs, bigotry and misconceptions I try (perhaps hopelessly) to fight.

What I wish is that cis people, those with both a vague passing interest and those who are committed allies, would try to remember too. Try to bear this in mind when discussing us and our lives, our implications. Try to remember what we face and what we’ve been through, the friends we’ve lost and the friends we’ll someday lose. Please try to be respectful of the fact that this is much more than a question of privilege, gender theory and socio-cultural concepts or constructs… we are in the midst of a silent, abstracted genocide.

Please, consider us beyond your own curiosity.

Please, remember Natalie, and those like her.

Please help build a world more welcoming to those who come after her, a world that more than 59% of us will find worth sticking with.

66 comments

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  1. 1
    Emily

    I’m not sure I can properly convey my thoughts on this. Stories like these are a scary reminder that come way too often. I’ve been pretty damn lucky in my transition so far, and it’s scary to think about where I would be without the support of my friends and family. I have managed to find a pretty darn safe place. Transitioning at UW Parkside has been safer and easier than what most deal with. My professors have been supportive, and my boss for my part-time job is LGBT Safe Zone trained.

    I don’t know. I think at the moment I’m doing an alright job helping other transpeople. I helped a transwoman come out to herself and get to a therapist to get started just by being out and remaining positive.

    And now I think I’ve rambled more than anything in this comment.

    1. 1.1
      Life In Neon

      Fellow UW system (UWO) trans woman here. I got equally lucky transitioning with a superbly supportive environment. I haven’t been lacking in opportunities to help others, either (including assisting a coworker come out to our employer as a trans man).

      Still, stuff like this comes up, and even though I am one of those people who is willing to indulge any number of these questions, and even though I have had a relatively “comfortable” transition experience, I am still incredibly close to that line because let’s face it, we all are. While the transition is still “in progress”, it’s easy to have all hope of things getting better yanked away in a flash.

      A lost job, an angry parent, a failed class, a loan denied, a car failing, a divorce, a death in the family, a drug relapse, choosing hormones over bipolar meds . . . I’ve seen every one of those turn a comfortable, “privileged” transition into a paycheck-to-paycheck “ten year plan” or worse for someone this year. Even when it doesn’t end in death immediately due to bigotry, it can still end there due to loss of hope.

  2. 2
    DJ Nash

    Well said.

  3. 3
    cathrynsmith

    This is so sad. It’s horrible that she felt she had no other alternative.

    Thank you for reminding us of what is important.

  4. 4
    Pteryxx

    I wish I had any hugs sufficient to this. I wish any hugs EXISTED sufficient to this.

    For what it’s worth… is there an allies’ support network somewhere? Because I’ve driven through Kimball TN. It would’ve been, not trivial, but straightforward, for me to drive up there. And I’m furious that someone only two internet-degrees removed from me died when I could’ve maybe helped.

    1. 4.1
      Natalie Reed

      I don’t think any of us really could have helped. She’d turned off her phone. At that point, I think she was just past the point of feeling she could continue. She’d dealt with a tremendous amount of hardship, and I think she just wasn’t able to take on any more, even the difficulty of just allowing someone to come help her.

  5. 5
    Eternally Learning

    Hi Natalie,

    I’m glad you’ve found a new home here. Hope it works out for you! I’m not quite sure how to say this well so I’ll just lay it out there; After talking with you elsewhere and reading this post, I’m honestly not sure in what manner you’d like someone like myself to interact with you.

    I’d like to be respectful of your personal privacy not knowing you IRL and all, so I feel it would be inappropriate to ask you about the dark times in your life related to being trans, but it appears you find this personal topic to be one overlooked by cispeople whom you talk to.

    I have no problem avoiding the topic of transgenderism altogether and talking with you about any number of other topics, but it seems like it would make me out to be ignoring your hardships. It also seems to be what most of your articles and posts are about, meaning you’re interested in talking about it.

    I would love to talk with you about transgenderism (either abstractly or as it pertains to you), but I have felt like any ignorance on my part is met with disdain and if the conversation is not one among equals who are interested in exchanging knowledge, experience, and perspective then what’s the point of having the conversation?

    It seems the unstated assumption behind your article is that those who ask you academic dispassionate questions or about transgenderism are somehow unsympathetic with the hardships people in your position go through every single day. I can of course only speak for myself, but that is not the case with me. Just talking with you online as for as brief a time as I did was extraordinarily eye-opening for me. I feel bad that trans people are treated the way they are, and that it is such a painful and difficult disorder to have. I also want to understand (knowing of course, that I never fully will) what kinds of things trans people go through just trying to live, and what I can do with what little influence I have to make a positive impact. Reading this article in context with our other dealings though, I have no idea what I can do which will not make you think I’m ignorant, bigoted, insensitive, and/or tactless.

    I guess what it boils down to for me is the question of what you hope to get out of the conversation with cispeople like me. Is it to educate us free from any questioning? Is it to spark a conversation among equals? Or is it something I’ve simply not thought of?

    -EL

    1. 5.1
      Natalie Reed

      Based on past interactions, I think you’re over-thinking things, and taking things much too personally.

      There’s no specific set of demands or guidelines I’m proposing. Just care, attentiveness, empathy.

      I remember when you sent me an apology message after I said I was a bit too exhausted to continue discussing a particular topic. In response, I explained it wasn’t personal, that I didn’t hold it against you, and at-length described why I preferred that certain conversations be in private and why I dislike going over the same subject repeatedly. A little while later, behind my back, you ended up criticizing me for, in your interpretation, being too “squeamish” to discuss trans topics. I had explained my feelings and position at length to you already, but you apparently disregarded that explanation or didn’t understand it in favour of one that put the accountability on my own shoulders and cast it as my obligation to answer anyone’s questions about trans issues whenever the hell they want. That’s not my job. I have other shit to do besides go around educating cis people at their whim. I will often choose to help and answer and discuss things and raise awareness, but it’s not my obligation, and deciding that I’m too “squamish” about it for your tastes after I’d gone to great lengths to explain my position was pretty messed up.

      I do not think you’re a bigot, and I certainly don’t think every cis person ever is a bigot just because they end up approaching these issues from a position of dispassionate curiosity. Relative to how you’re worried I may perceive you, consider perhaps how my life is defined by constantly needing to worry about how others are perceiving me.

      Interpreting this like that is a case of turning my statements into something personal and hostile, and making them about you. Trying to make me I guess feel guilty for pointing this issue out?

      We’re not equals. Relative to me, you are in a position of extreme social privilege. That dynamic needs to be considered in these conversations.

      Maybe you ought to ask yourself what you intend to get out discussing trans issues with someone like me, asking your questions, or reading a blog like this?

      I’m sorry if this message sounds a bit harsh, but I’m not quite in the mood for the kind of response you wrote here. I’m asking for greater consideration of our position, and seeing it met with a cis person demanding that I put more consideration into theirs kind of rubs me the wrong way.

      1. Eternally Learning

        I did nothing in my post to demand anything of you save perhaps letting me know just what it is you want as every tact I can think of to join in the conversation besides telling you that you are 100% right in whatever you say just won’t work or hasn’t worked. You claim I speak from a place of social privilege and of course you’re right to say that, but what does that really imply for how you want or demand me to interact with you? Does that mean you think you should get added privilege to what; be right all the time? To be never questioned? How exactly do I take my privilege into account when talking to you?

        Perhaps the word “squeamish” (not sure how that was behind your back on a public site BTW) carried more implications than I intended and for that I apologize, but the idea that you seem ill-at-ease with talking about such things still rings true to me. The idea that your current blog is sub-titled “Critical thinking on gender, sexuality, and other human matters,” your last blog called, “Queereka,” and that you’ve made it your niche to talk about such things contrasted with comments to the effect of not having time to educate anyone on the basics, or that you have better things to do than to educate cispeople seems to not line up. I mean, who exactly is your audience; only people who already agree with you? What point is having a goal of critical thinking if you cannot stand talking to people with whom you disagree? If you don’t allow for anyone to make you take a second look at even those beliefs and feelings held most dearly or firmly, then what good is it?

        What I want to get out of discussing trans issues with someone like you, asking my questions, or reading a blog like this is knowledge and perspective with perhaps the enjoyment of having an open conversation about topics with which I’m not overly familiar. I posted what I did, because I currently feel that this is impossible for me without knowing what you want out of it so that I can meet you there. I’m flexible, I’ll do my best to talk how you want about what you want if it means we can just talk.

        1. Natalie Reed

          First of all, I think you’ve strongly overreacted to every time I’ve ever made a point about certain issues of tact if you think “everything but totally agreeing with me” has always failed. Either you’re overreacting, misreading or you’re engaging in an extreme level of hyberbole, anyway.

          One takes one’s privilege into account by not assuming control of the discourse, not speaking about things primarily in terms of how they effect you, recognizing that the social dynamics effect context and implications, trying to understand the perspective of the person with whom you’re interacting while simultaneously being aware of those aspects you never will be able to understand, not speaking from a position of entitlement where you feel you are owed explanations, etc.

          Again, in this situation, you are asking me to spell this out for you when the information is readily available. That is itself another act of entitlement, and treating me as obliged to teach you all about the nature of transgenderism and cissexism.

          Here:

          http://youarenotyou.tumblr.com/post/7236714808/why-youre-not-owed-an-explanation-long-but-bear

          I am happy to discuss things, here and, before, on Skepchick and Queereka, and am not at all ill-at-ease with the subject matter itself. But I reserve the right to discuss them on my own terms. Please refer back to the original explanations I PM’d you in the original interaction we had. Otherwise, if again this is something you’d rather I provided, and again are insisting that I do this all for you, I could go try to find them in my own inbox (if they’re there…you would have had to have quoted them back to me in your reply for them to be available).

          The “can’t handle disagreements” thing is a distraction, clearly unrelated to this discussion, and REALLY pisses me off. My simply responding to disagreements, or articulating my objections to certain positions or tactics, does not mean I can’t handle them or am trying to “stifle dissent”. This tactic is getting really, really old, and I’ve been seeing it A LOT in the skeptic community lately, as a means of people insisting on their “right” to derail, undermine and silence various discussions of social issues that make them feel uncomfortable… the issue of sexism within our movement, for instance.

          If you really can’t figure out what a basic request for empathy and understanding entails, well… how about you look around at how other people who wish to be allies handle themselves in these discussions and take your cue from there? I can’t provide you a step by step guide to how to never ever say anything insensitive. All I can do is suggest general principles, and the rest is your responsibility. I’m sorry, but that’s really all I can offer.

        2. Natalie Reed

          Also, as an example, you might wish to consider a Doctor. Just because they work three days a week in a clinic doesn’t mean they want to spend their time at every party they go to having people describe their symptoms and giving them recommendations. :p

          The main take-away point is probably the “on my own terms” one. That’s all I’ve ever really been asking, EL. I also went out of my way to explain this to you, that I didn’t mind questions, and also that I didn’t hold anything against you or resent you personally. I don’t know why you ended up not understanding that and have decided to make these passive-aggressive comments here, in a pretty inappropriate context for them…

          1. Eternally Learning

            I’ve tried not to veer into this territory, but honestly I think misinterpretations about each others’ positions are likely on both sides. I know that the way you’ve characterized me is inaccurate at any rate. I’m not being passive-aggressive at all (well, I suppose I was a little miffed in my last post) as I earnestly meant every word I said and until now I’ve taken nothing you ever said to me personally. You say you want to dominate the conversation and dictate terms, and I don’t see how that’s any different than what I laid out. I guess what I’m realizing now is that the kind of conversation you want to have is not one I’m interested in participating in. I may still read your work, but you’re not worth talking to when you refuse to even consider the other person as an equal. You say you consider me privileged and I’m certainly privileged in some ways over you, but that label you so easily slap on someone you don’t even know is your privilege. Now I cannot talk. Now I must follow your terms or risk being perceived as not an ally any more.

            You ask me to look at how other allies respond to you, and I’ll I see is agreement and sympathy. While I may agree with you on a great many things and while I most definitely sympathize with you, I am not prepared to restrict myself to just nodding in agreement with you. In real life, it’s a different story as we can share other things together, but online I’m looking for some engagement; some earnest discussion.

            No need to respond. I’m sure you’re not happy with me, but I’m equally as sure that there’s nothing to be done about that at this point. I wish you the best.

            -EL

          2. Natalie Reed

            FFS, EL. I’m not saying I wish to dominate conversations or dictate the terms of the conversation (that’s a different definition of “terms”). I’m saying that when discussing trans issues or subjects that are of personal significance, I reserve the right to do so in ways that are comfortable for me, to engage in advocacy on my terms (terms in this sense referring to context and time/place), and to decline to participate in certain discussions under certain conditions if it makes me uncomfortable… I don’t owe you anything and I have no obligations to speak when I would prefer not to. I don’t see how that’s so hard to understand, or why you think I’m supposed to provide you with whatever explanations or answers you want, whenever you want them, in whatever tone you prefer, on your terms. I have the right to define my own boundaries. If that’s something you can’t respect, fine, don’t engage me. Ciao.

          3. F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

            If I may…

            Eternally Learning:

            Learn. Do what it says on your label. Do you want to understand a bit more about privilege (and I really think you should), look it up. You’ll find more addressing white male privilege than privilege in other terms, but it’s a place to start. I am no authoritative source on things trans or genderqueer or anything else you specifically ask about, but here:
            http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/?s=privilege
            http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2009/09/race-sex-atheism-2.html
            http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2010/01/feminism-101.html
            http://blackfemlens.blogspot.com/2010/10/american-terror.html

            These are semi-random, and the immediate texts may not directly apply to transgender topics. But there is a picture here that you are missing and maybe you’ll get some clues at these links, and the links from those pages. Also, there are quite a few people who comment on FTB posts who are deeply knowledgeable. Stick around and listen for them and to them.

            You say you want to dominate the conversation and dictate terms, and I don’t see how that’s any different than what I laid out. I guess what I’m realizing now is that the kind of conversation you want to have is not one I’m interested in participating in. I may still read your work, but you’re not worth talking to when you refuse to even consider the other person as an equal.

            You are quite off your rocker. Neither Natalie nor anyone else is some kind of resource for you to access. You want instant definition, instant gratification, and the transgender community doesn’t exist to serve you. What makes it less likely that you’ll ever get what you want is that you seem to lack reading comprehension.

            Now I cannot talk.

            It’s all about you, isn’t it?

            I am not prepared to restrict myself to just nodding in agreement with you.

            Headdesk.

            Best of luck to you.

    2. 5.2
      Xanthë, Amy of my threads

      EL, when I look at this thread I’m seeing walls of tl;dr text. Natalie told you, “There’s no specific set of demands or guidelines I’m proposing. Just care, attentiveness, empathy.” What is so difficult about treating her with respect? Sure, on-line blogs and comment discussions aren’t an exact replica of real-world social interactions, but I’m fairly certain if you turned up to a public lecture and demanded answers from the speaker to educate you, mixed with five-minute long discursive blather, the other attendees would view you as massively selfish for hogging the limelight.

      What’s even ruder of you is cross-posting this comment (the one which I’m replying to, not your subsequent defensive ripostes) across at the SGU forums in order to hold a parallel discussion, where you’ve got a nice little coffee klatch of fellow cis-sexist know-it-alls pronouncing their wisdom in such authoritative terms as: “I’m of the opinion that sex reassignment is a mistake.” (Andrew C. Lunn) and:

      “I feel natalie’s problem is that she get’s frustrated because she takes her beliefs about gender for granted and get sick of having to explain them. But they are so contrary to people’s intuitions that she has to just accept that she needs to keep explaining them if she wants to be a blogger.” (‘Super Dave’).

      Yes, because our fucking lives and problems can be easily dismissed as ‘mistakes’ and ‘contrary to [unthinking cis-] people’s intuitions’.

      *slow clap for EL*

      1. Life In Neon

        Oh, good fuck. I clicked that link.

        So much very serious handwringing about something they have no perspective on. And no discernible desire to actually learn, just spew opinion.

      2. Natalie Reed

        Dave’s not a bad guy. I think he didn’t mean that comment in the sense that there’s anything wrong with my own understandings of gender, but just in the sense that cis people don’t quite “get it”. Still it’s an odd way of phrasing it, since I definitively DON’T take gender for granted, and am pretty much unable to. Taking gender for granted is like Cis Privilege Number One.

        Definitely not going to click the link. Participating at the SGU forums was pretty much the most masochistic internet experience I ever subjected myself to. I never, ever want to go back there.

        Clunn in particular has some SERIOUS issues with understanding gender. Once went on a big rant about how he refused to refer to me by female pronouns because it was “dishonest”.

        This is a big part of the context behind EL’s comments… I became very reluctant to want to openly discuss trans topics at that forum because doing so inevitably meant dealing with a number of very ignorant or hostile people, most of whom seemed to be convinced that they understood the nature of transgenderism better than I did. So I wanted to avoid the subjects, but they kept being raised over and over, and brought up in completely unrelated threads if I happened to be there. I made a statement that I didn’t want to keep discussing those things all the time and being treated like I was obliged to answer everyone’s questions and address the topics whenever they came up, and I got very, very exhausted with being so consistently barraged with them. I asked that generally, I would prefer potentially inflammatory trans-related topics, ones that were personal, ones that could attract hostility or cissexism, etc. be asked in private rather than publicly. People got confused about my motives and interpreted my wanting to set particular boundaries as being an issue of “squeamishness” with discussing trans topics in general, which end up seeming inconsistent with my willingness to discuss them on Skepchick, Godless Bitches, etc.

        But it all ended up moot when various fucked-up things (like a gigantic argument on someone’s “right” to use the terms “tranny” and “shemale”, how I should “just get over it” and stop being a “drama queen” and not “choose to be offended”, etc.) resulted in my deciding to ditch the place. Even more fucked-up things happened in the wake of that, and I honestly don’t regret leaving in the slightest.

        Web forums are generally pretty awesome places, IF you happen to be highly privileged and don’t have any socio-cultural vulnerabilities.

        1. Anders

          “I would prefer potentially inflammatory trans-related topics, ones that were personal, ones that could attract hostility or cissexism, etc. be asked in private rather than publicly.”

          Is it the same here? I mean, you’re still the 1% on this board and not in the good sense… so if I have questions should I direct them to your mailbox or ask them in a thread?

          1. Stephanie Zvan

            Well, unless the answers to those questions are something you need to function on a day-to-day basis, you could always try reading along for a bit at the rate at which Natalie is comfortable putting out information. You could then think about what she wrote and see whether it answered your questions without you having to derail another topic–you know, like the grief and exhaustion brought about by a suicide in the community. If that never happens, then you could wait for a time when Natalie says she is up for answering random questions and pose yours. If that also never happens, if your idle curiosity isn’t appeased by reading and Natalie never says she wants to assuage it, then perhaps you can deal with that on your own.

            On the other hand, if there is something you need to know so you can deal with your own transition or that of someone close to you in a responsible manner, Natalie has said she’s open to private messages. I doubt that someone paying attention to the boundaries she’s set is going to upset her.

        2. freemage

          Oh, gods, I hate the thrice-damned “rights” thing in this context. I’ve finally resorted to a default response: “Of course you have the right to [insert objectionable behavior here]. What you do not have the right to do is expect to get away with [ditto] without some folks pointing out that you’re being an incredible asshole. See, that’s one of ~our~ rights.”

  6. 6
    Luna_the_cat

    Some of the awkward, stupid questions are because it’s hard to know how to deal with an experience not your own; it’s like, when speaking to someone bereaved, it’s difficult to think of something to say that doesn’t make you sound like a moron. (By “you” I mean people like me, obviously.)

    I’m sorry. I’d like to help. I’ll mostly just listen, since there’s a lot of it I don’t understand.

  7. 7
    Sivi

    Well, hell. Think I’ve done this a couple times (though some of my non-cis friends are into discussions of gender theory, but still). It’s easy for someone like me to abstract and intellectualize stuff like this, a lot of the time.

    Out of curiosity, since this is your space, do you object to readers tearing into other commentators (say, for example, when it seems another reader hasn’t actually read the post, or are being passive aggressive or splainy), or would you rather we backed off and tried to be civil?

    1. 7.1
      Sivi

      Or you could do that yourself :P

      1. Natalie Reed

        It’s fine, as long as a basic level of respectfulness is maintained and things don’t turn into flame wars.

        1. Sivi

          Shall keep that in mind. And will try not to do too much of the “over-helpful look what a good ally I am I should have a cookie” thing.

          1. Natalie Reed

            It’s really okay as long as the “can I have a cookie?” part doesn’t factor into things. I honestly appreciate help, since I’m not usually a big fan of going after people, and would prefer to generally assume a more hands-off approach. :)

          2. Emily

            What? No cookies? Darn :P

          3. setar, too lazy to log in on his blackberry

            Cookies? The idiots are the cookies.

  8. 8
    interrobang

    I’ll admit I’m firmly in the “gender needs to go away, now” camp, but that’s because I’m neither cis nor trans; if I had my way, my gender would be listed as “conscientious objector.” (I have no particular problems with my sex, but I object like hell to the notion that my sex should dictate what I get to wear, how I should talk, what I should eat, how I am supposed to walk, what I’m supposed to like, what personal characteristics I’m supposed to have, and all that, but it so completely does.) Opt out option, please! At least if we’re going to do the social control schema thing, could we do more than two choices? Like five or six maybe?

    What do you say to someone who feels that gender itself is a “costume” they need to put on every day?

    1. 8.1
      Pteryxx

      What do you say to someone who feels that gender itself is a “costume” they need to put on every day?

      How about “You’re not alone there.” ~;>

    2. 8.2
      Miri

      I take no issue with anyone who wishes to identify outside the binary. By all means do so, and I will call you “ze” or whatever you wish, and fight for your right to have a neutral (or whatever you feel appropriate) gender listed against your name. Everybody is entitled to identify in whatever way they feel best fits them.

      But, what I do take issue with is the idea that a gender binary does not exist, or that it somehow needs to be destroyed. The fact is, I identify as female, not “not male”, or any other thing. I would find it equally abhorrent for the existence of gender to be denied to me as I do for one that I do not identify as imposed upon me. However, I do agree that one’s sex, or even one’s gender, or lack thereof, need not dictate one’s style of dress, of speech, of walking, and so on. Gender presentation is a separate category, which can be totally independed from sex or gender identity, and it’s entirely possible for one to have a presentation they feel comfortable with that society feels in incongruent with the other parts of their identity. But what society thinks doesn’t really matter (although it does, really, because it tries to make itself matter), because only you are the final arbiter on who you are.

      So, I would partially object to the idea that gender is a costume. This is definitely true when one is portraying a gender that is not their own. However, when I make changes to my presentation that match the gender presentation consider female or feminine, I feel much more like I am removing a facade, than putting one on.

  9. 9
    VeritasKnight

    I wish that someone could have found Natalie and told her it was going to be okay. Correspondingly…I wish that we could actually have made it okay.

    I’m sad today. But wiser for it. Is that not always the case?

    Thank you for this beautifully moving post.

    1. 9.1
      Life In Neon

      This is the dark side of the “It Gets Better” project: sometimes it doesn’t, even when it’s “supposed” to.

      Society is harsh on women’s bodies, and starting with a mostly male one and trying to meet even a level of acceptable treatment by strangers is impossible. Sometimes good options just don’t exist for a person to choose from.

  10. 10
    ladydreamgirl

    Don’t you think that transition sort of confirms social concepts of gender roles, like, that if we didn’t have a binary, you wouldn’t have needed to?

    I’ve pondered this question myself and even, rather clumsily, attempted to ask it once. I have since come to the conclusion that it, as with certain other hypothetical style questions relating to gender identity, sexuality and the like, in a certain sense isn’t worth asking. The only way to get any sort of answer to this question is to embark on the great social experiment of breaking down the gender binary and seeing what the resulting society and individuals composing that society are like.

    1. 10.1
      Miri

      I think that what I wrote elsewhere the other day has some relevence here, and reiterates largely what Natalie said in response to that particular question:

      “For some people, it is true that their bodies need not conform, or conform as much, to society’s views of gender, however I would question any line of thinking that suggests that bodies need not conform to one’s own sense of gender identity. I know what discomforts me about my body, it’s not society telling me that I should be one way or another. Even if I were to be stranded alone of a desert island with no chance of rescue for the rest of my life, I would still want the same physical characteristics that I do now.”

      Even if there were no binary informed gender roles or behavioural stereotypes, or even expectations of form, there would remain at least an assumption of sex based on certain characteristics. It is impossible to remove this assumption, it is hardcoded into us, because it is necessary for the ongoing existence of our species. Binary identified individuals who experience a fundamental wrongness in their body, feel this from within themselves, independent of external stimuli, and would continue to do so regardless of societal expectations.

      1. ladydreamgirl

        I propose the experiment of breaking down the socially imposed aspects of the social binary as something good in and of itself. I still expect that there will be people who wish to change their bodies to conform to their sense of gender identity and I support those individuals in doing so. It seems to me that individuals who ask the question (and I include myself when I had considered it a pertinent question to ask) ask it without considering that the implications of the question for the asker are that they consider (for admittedly transphobic reasons) a world with less of a gender binary better.

        I suppose the core of what I’m trying to say is that I’d rather individuals who think that breaking down the gender binary will ‘fix’ trans* people went out and worked to break down the gender binary rather than pestering trans* people with such questions.

  11. 11
    beardofpants

    That story is heartbreaking. :( I hope you know that you have this cis-person’s support. I am just happy to have “met” you, and look forward to getting to know you as a person through your blog. I know that this isn’t what you signed up for, and I know it must get tiring having to be an educator all the time. I sometimes find myself having to educate too, and *I* find it exhausting, and it’s no where nearly as stark for me (as a cis-woman) to be stuck in that role.

  12. 12
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    Thank you for this post.

  13. 13
    Chirico

    As someone who deals with gender identity/expression and self-image issues myself, I can only imagine what it must be like for people who actually do make the transition. But as far as this is concerned,
    “The same absent friends.”
    I would be honored to be friends with an intelligent and thoughtful person like yourself. That you and people like you should be persecuted for being yourselves is something that makes me want to cry.

  14. 14
    Quietmarc

    I consider myself an ally, and I really, really hope my actions stand up to scrutiny. If not, I’ll do my best to do better.

    I’m sorry that this happens. I’m sorry that the world is shitty, and I’m especially sorry that people who should be natural allies (I’m looking at you, Queer community) treat trans people so poorly. I’m angry, and can only imagine how angry you must be when you hear these stories.

    It’s not right that people are forced to endure so much indignity and abuse that their best option is opting out, and even one death or suicide is too many. Thanks for posting this.

  15. 15
    Anders

    So… what should we do, we allies, when a major shitstorm breaks loose on a forum? I still wonder about when you chose to leave the SGU Forum. Did I do all I could? Could I have prevented it?

    It’s difficult to know. If I go in guns blazing it’s in a topic I don’t know about, a topic I can’t know about. But if I do nothing I become a bystander, an passive observer of an injustice. I don’t want to be that. Maybe I should PM them and ask what to do? But their inbox is probably already full. What should I do?

    Can you answer that, Natalie? Do you understand that my difficulties, while admittedly chickenfeed compared to yours, are still real enough to leave me paralysed?

    1. 15.1
      Pteryxx

      I’d suggest:

      - Learn as much as you can
      - Listen as often as you can
      - Intervene in good faith
      - Take corrections, even harsh ones, in good faith.

      This sort of thing happens with allies on any axis of standing up for others’ humanity. I bet we’ll all be getting a lot of experience shortly.

    2. 15.2
      Natalie Reed

      What Pterryx said, pretty much. :)

      You’ve always struck me as a good person. I don’t know if that helps or counts for anything, but don’t think that I personally feel anything negative towards you.

    3. 15.3
      Xanthë, Amy of my threads

      Anders,

      seeing as you started the SGUF thread which I linked to up-thread, I’d hope you’re prepared to be somewhat responsible for keeping that discussion on-topic and respectful of Natalie. I did a quick google just now, literally on the words “how to be a good ally”, which returned these as the top two results, which are both pretty good starters. For example, the first of those links has this:

      8. Do be willing to stand up to bigots. Even if all you do is tell a friend that the thing they just said about X marginalized group is unacceptable, you’re doing some of the actual work of being an ally.

      For example, digging around on the SGU forums I quickly found a couple of thread clusterfucks where the bigots openly posted transphobic bigotry without being called out on it to any great extent, except by Natalie and one or two other posters; incredibly, one of the moderators even posted in one thread to defend the use of bigoted slurs. As a trans person I can see no reason why I would want to join a community which clearly doesn’t care about addressing bigotry against minorities – and even if “not all of us are like that”, there aren’t enough decent people to call out bad behaviour for what it is: compare the reaction to Rebecca Watson’s recent criticism of a 15-year-old girl’s appalling treatment on the r/atheism Reddit, where denial of sexism was rampant.

      Yes, there are a few people there on the thread saying good things but their voices are liable to be drowned out by the bigots. And I got the impression, somehow, that the moderators really don’t care about that, after all, it’s only hurting one poster who was easily offended, amirite?

      1. Anders

        My problem is that I hate conflict so I tend to avoid such discussions when possible… that’s why I seldom post in the Politics area. *sigh* But I guess you are right, that damn thread is my responsibility.

        As for the moderator’s tone – I think you’re wrong. The SGU forums have chosen a very high level of tolerance and set the bar equally high for all groups. That may be wrong in and of itself – I think US law speaks of especially threatened groups (or something like that) and maybe the boards could benefit from that kind of thinking.

        Anyway, as master Yoda says “Meditate upon this I shall.” Hear from me again, you will.

      2. Sivi

        Can we do up some kind of Pharyngulite-esque atheist/skeptic social justice army, and swarm threads full of privileged bigotry? Because I would totally be down for that. Had to turn to non-atheist tumblr friends on that ableist “Why I Am An Atheist” post a while ago, and I hate having to outside the community to find people willing and able to call things out.

        1. Dave Churvis

          I would totally be up for that as well. An Avenging Atheist Acceptance Army swooping down upon the ignorant, spreading education and information across the Internet!

          I think I just gave myself chills ^_^

          1. Anders

            Count me in. Although we have to do it in a way so we don’t spread the meme “All who support transpeople rights are trolls.”

            I don’t know. Maybe I’m concern trolling. ATM I can’t tell. But I’m willing to join such a squad.

  16. 16
    dogeared, spotted and foxed

    Please help build a world more welcoming to those who come after her, a world that more than 59% of us will find worth sticking with.

    Will do. Thank you for the ongoing insight on how to go about it.

  17. 17
    gemmaseymour

    Thank you, Natalie. That’s about all I’m capable of saying right now, after reading that. Strength to us all, sister…XOXO, Gemma

  18. 18
    Grimalkin

    It really is a shame that the papers wouldn’t call her by what she was :/ Atleast she’s remembered here with the gender that she would have wanted.

    This post is incredibly sad, really, but it does serve as a nice reminder about how much shit trans people have to put up with just to live a normal life.

    For what it’s worth, I consider your writing incredibly influential. You should be damn proud of how brave you are to write so openly, because it’s part of what is slowly making the world better for LGBT folks of all sorts.

  19. 19
    beardofpants

    And per your other article today on Zinnia Jones speaking out on whether it’s reasonable/realistic to try to measure up to the mythical Jesus, I did a search on Zinnia to find out more about her, and found this:

    http://dailybbg.blogspot.com/2010/04/zinnia-jones.html

    Depressing. I don’t know her history, or when she transitioned. Maybe this was pre-? I don’t know. In any case, the comments are pretty depressing. :(

    1. 19.1
      Natalie Reed

      Well, given that her main medium is YouTube, Zinnia has had to bear the absolute worst comments imaginable. But she’s developed a pretty thick skin. It’s certainly depressing to see, but… so it goes.

      Also, if I understand things correctly, she’s not completely binary-identified (like I am), so the pronoun question is a little more complex. I, in fact, might be being a bit rude and presumptuous in assuming feminine ones. :p

      1. Ace of Sevens

        Has anyone done any research into why YouTube commenters are the dregs of humanity? They seem to all be frightfully obtuse (such as complaining that magic trick videos are “fake” as if they expected David Blaine to actually tear a woman in half) or willfully bigoted (such as the recent spate saying Gabrielle Giffords wants to live of the government without working, as they would expect from a liberal.)

        That’s not even getting into the rampant sexist comments women will get for being too attractive and/or not attractive enough or that hate swarm you for disagreeing with a popular idiot. You see this to some degree with ordinary blogs (look what happens when Ta-Nehisi Coates mentions Ron Paul, or Orac mentions Andrew Wakefield or PZ Myers criticizes a popular sexist), but YouTube is an order of magnitude worse.

  20. 20
    cag

    It was about ten years ago that we were all assembled for a presentation by Human Resources. It was for sensitivity education. At the end of the session, we were informed that a colleague who had been away for about a year would be coming back, this time as a woman. I felt that the group took it well.

    When she came back, I gave her a hug and mentioned that my oldest brother, who, while hetero, was dissatisfied with his life. I mentioned that she had chosen the correct option, my brother the wrong one.

    I never asked her any questions. There were things I was curious about but given the circumstances, felt it was not my business. Vancouver is probably one of the best places in North America (even if that is not saying much) for tolerance of differences.

  21. 21
    Praedico

    I don’t really have anything intelligent to say here (what else is new?), but I just wanted to express the heartache I feel over that story.

    I don’t think I will ever understand the hostility to trans people. I get the sociological/psychological concepts about discomfort with others ‘violating’ the gender binary, but I simply can’t comprehend how someone gets to the sheer level of hatred required to disown their own fucking child for something they have no control over.

    Words fail me.

  22. 22
    Dave Churvis

    My best friend James is a transman. A while back he was involved in one of the local activist groups, which was planning its annual Transgender Day of Remembrance activities. This particular year, the trans group was teaming up with another group that was primarily gay- and lesbian-oriented in order to supposedly broaden its outreach. The other group was complaining during the planning because the TDOR activities were “too somber”. They suggested that instead of reading the names of those who had died, perhaps the groups could strike a more positive tone to “reach more people”.

    Of course, the trans activists were flabbergasted, and so was I when I heard about it. People really don’t get how dangerous it is out there for transpeople, and when confronted with the problem, they’d rather stick their heads in the sand than deal with it. I have two older friends – transwomen – who are about to lose their house because they lost their jobs two years ago and have finally depleted their savings. They are both competent, intelligent, skilled workers, but of course all the jobs they interviewed for seemed to go to the other applicants. Another friend was fired from her job specifically because she was trans. She was lucky enough to win her lawsuit, but I know that most aren’t.

    I’m certain that there are aspects of transpeoples’ lives of which I will never be aware. I realize that being a cisgendered male, I have a great deal of privilege. I’ve never had to struggle very much with my identity. I’ve never known what it’s like to deal with rude looks or someone saying “I think you’re in the wrong bathroom…” I can only imagine what it must be like. I do try to imagine it, but of course that can only go so far.

    I’m an ally. I feel more of an affinity with trans issues than I do with gay and lesbian issues these days, but I would never be so presumptive as to try and co-opt your cause or claim that I feel your pain, because I don’t. I’m a cisgendered gay white male with a decent job in a big city who’s never faced any kind of discrimination. I can’t know what it’s like to be a homeless young black transwoman who has nowhere to turn. But I try not to turn a blind eye to it. I cry every time I hear about something like what happened to the other Natalie. I get angry every time I hear about some idiot politician trying to ban transwomen from the women’s bathroom. And I’m happy every time I hear even the slightest glimmer of hope that things might be getting better.

    You’re not a curiosity to me. You’re a friend I’ve never met. Thank you for writing this.

    1. 22.1
      Miri

      You anecdote about the TDOR is quite a common example of even our allies not really getting it. Over here, I think last year, a rally for same-sex marriage was planned for the same day as the TDOR. While same-sex marriage is an important issue that I thoroughly support, the rally could have really been held on any day. We have one day in the year that is about us and those we’ve lost, and our voices are so small that we can’t afford to overshadowed by much more high profile events, arranged by those in supposed solidarity with us.

      1. Anders

        But what if these friends were (probably unwittingly) right? In rhetoric there’s something called decorum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decorum), which can be loosely translated as “a sense of the fitting, of what is appropriate to say).

        I think you are fighting against the realities of the human nervous system. When we have an unpleasant experience we tend to avoid whatever triggered that experience. Hearing about people who suicided is unpleasant for all emotionally healthy individuals. So if transpeople trigger those emotions, they will avoid transpeople (and anything associated with transpeople)… which is probably not the goal.

        Please let me clarify that I’m sympathetic to the cause, I just think that the methods are counterproductive.

        1. setar, too lazy to log in on his blackberry

          By that logic we should celebrate Remembrance/Veterans’/Armistice Day with war re-enactments.

          Day of REMEMBRANCE. Seriously -.-;

          1. Anders

            Ok, sorry, missed that.

  23. 23
    Miri

    Thank you for posting this Natalie. I had thought of writing something myself, but you’ve done a far better job than I ever could, and made this into an important message, as well a remembrance of someone who should still be with us, had the world been a different place.

  24. 24
    Almulhida

    Thank you for this.

  25. 25
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    I’m not curious, as such. I am reading to learn, and I offer any sort of support that I have to give. I care, but will probably do it wrong at some point, and so await correction.

  26. 26
    carolw

    This is a heartbreaking story. There’s nothing sadder than when a friend feels like they can’t take any more. (hugs)

  27. 27
    setar, too lazy to log in on his blackberry

    -sigh- Nothing says “modern gilded age” like transpeople. This shit is only further evidence of that.

    I walk around downtown whenever I am there and just think and look around. I find myself more often turning over the perceived beauty and good things and thinking about how they could and should be improved but won’t because of a combination of excuses and rampant stupidity. How do you put up with that knowledge?

    And how do you put up with the knowledge that the current trend is for things to get -worse-, not better, thanks to said excuses and rampant stupidity?

  1. 28
    A Trans Girl’s Guide To Gotham | Sincerely, Natalie Reed

    [...] if I said that I didn’t have to fight Mirror myself, in the wake of Welby’s death. Or Natalie’s. Or every time I hear about yet another murdered trans woman (of colour… always of colour). [...]

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