I’m Not Your Candy Darling, You’re Not My Maury Povitch

“Exploitation Cinema”… it’s all in the name, isn’t it? One of those rare instances in which bigotry and kyrarchy brazenly names itself. And we, collectively, brazenly accept it as a legitimate aspect of our cultural discourse regardless.

How, exactly, is it that white male hipsters can go around describing themselves as fans of “exploitation film” and get a pat on the back for their “good taste”? Where the racism and misogyny of filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino is accepted as “genius” so long as it remains filtered through “contextual” qualifiers of “retro-aesthetics”, “irony” and its allegedly “empowering” nature for whosoever is the target of the exploitation? [Read more...]

Sophistry And Semantics

Of the various reservations people express about transgender discourse and trans-feminism, or the justifications they provide as to their resistance to such conversations, one that I find notably frustrating is the idea that it’s primarily just sophistry, jockeying for relative intellectual status and empty debate over semantics and terminology.

I understand where that perception comes from. Admittedly, a great deal of the discussion in trans-feminism centers on terminologies and narratives, the means by which we articulate our identities and stories, and which identities and stories are given the greatest degree of visibility and “legitimacy”. But this isn’t empty debate of semantics. It’s very meaningful debate of terminology, voice, representation and narrative.

There’s frequently an element hypocrisy to it as well: the same people being so dismissive of trans-feminist discussion of the problems inherent to terms like “passing”, “en femme” or “post-transition” would likely be infuriated if someone were to describe their pronoun preference and gender identification as “mere semantics”, after all. Is there a difference there? Even a difference of degree of importance? And who are any of us to externally say which terminologies are “legitimate” for someone to discuss or prefer or reject, and which issues are to be dismissed as “mere semantics”? [Read more...]

Transgender Day Of Remembrance

I have nothing to say today. But I do have a point to make. I, and women who look me, are not the kinds of people you should be looking to today for understanding the significance of this day of mourning… its politics, its tragedy, its implications, and its exploitation. The voices heard should be the voices of those living with the specific forms of violence that have defined Transgender Day of Remembrance. The people we mourn every November 20th, far more often than not, were not victims of a generalized, abstract, evenly distributed transphobia, but victims of the intersection of how human beings are subjugated through gender and through race. If we continue to look to white trans women, or even more disturbingly, white trans men, to be the voices and representatives of these victims, we have absolutely no right to claim that today is about respect for the dead.

Please read the following, as a starting point:

The Speech I May Yet Give

Nihil de Nobis, Sine Nobis: Trans Women of Color and Remembering Your Dead

On Trans Day Of Remembrance, A Proposal

Doing Justice? Intersectionality In Queer Politics

Houston: Remembering Our Own, TDoR Event

 

Toldot: Voices and Transgender Day of Remembrance

I’ll try to add more links throughout the day, as I find them.

 

The Radical History Of Transgenderism

Nearing her death in 2002, Sylvia Rivera, no less outspoken and uncompromising in her old age, expressed a wish to see the current generation of queer activism “destroy” the Human Rights Campaign, which she had come to regard as highly emblematic of the kind of exploitation and backstabbing of trans people by the wider queer community that she had experienced and fought against her whole life (such as jumping on stage to condemn Jean O’Leary’s hateful comments about the trans women and drag queens in the audience at a Stonewall rally in 1973, pointing out how the event they were supposedly commemorating was largely the actions of trans women and drag queens).

Rivera had been on the very front lines of the Gay Lib movement, and queer-rights activism, from the very beginning. And over and over again, she saw herself and other trans women used, exploited, dismissed, whisked out of the public eye whenever it was necessary to keep up appearances, and erased, with our rights being repeatedly used as bargaining chips to be compromised on behalf of less “extreme” requests of the queer community. The life and activism of Sylvia Rivera paints an intensely tragic (and damning) portrait of this history of betrayal. She gave herself utterly to the cause of queer rights, only to be silenced and pushed aside whenever the discussion turned to her own liberation.

And one of the organizations she saw as being unforgivably complicit in that history of betrayal was the HRC. [Read more...]

Down

Trigger warning for fairly obvious reasons. This was written primarily for the purpose of catharsis. Please take this warning seriously if you’ve struggled with addiction, especially opiates, and aren’t fully confident in your ability to handle evocative descriptions of such experiences, or if you’ve had traumatic experiences related to a loved one who was or is dealing with addiction. This is not meant to “glorify” heroin addiction, but is intended as an honest and personal account of certain aspects of its pathology, as I experienced it. “Down” is the common slang for heroin in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

There’s a reason that generally, people refer to themselves as “recovering addicts”. Not recovered addicts. Not ex-addicts. Recovering.

Initially I kind of resented this, and I wasn’t the only one, thinking of it as mostly being a construct and a bit of a con set up by twelve step organizations, as part of the overall cult-mentality with which they’re run. It would keep the addict’s identity perpetually inseparable from the addiction (“Hi, my name is Natalie, and I am an addict”), hamstring their ability to move on with their lives, and keep them emotionally dependent on the groups and meetings. But in that initial distrust of the language, I was leaning into an assumption that there was some sort of “post-addiction” state, a place you could arrive at where you had in some real sense “moved on with your life” such that it no longer was in any meaningful way an aspect of yourself.

I’ve since learned that that assumption was a mistake, and at least for many people, no matter the distance you place between yourself and the addiction, it never stops being meaningful, or stops demanding attention. Once it’s there, it’s there, and you don’t get to forget.

At least for me. [Read more...]

Five Ways Cis Feminists Can Help Build Trans Inclusivity And Intersectionality

The title kind of says it all, I guess.

Lately, I’ve come to notice a kind of annoying trend amongst many cis feminists who profess themselves as allies to trans people and trans-feminism. Far too many such allies (I think “ally”, like “social justice”, is a term that I no longer consider benign, and have come to regard as a bit of a red flag) seem to take an approach whereby they implicitly (though perhaps unconsciously and unknowingly) treat feminism’s ongoing issues with cissexism, cisnormativity, cis-centrism and transphobia as being trans people’s job and responsibility to solve. As though the onus is on us, the victims of feminism’s tendency towards privileging the needs of cis women, to “solve” the problem and make it right, rather than the responsibility of cis feminists themselves to, you know… not do that shit in the first place.

It’s never the job or ethical responsibility of the victims of oppression to end it. In fact, oppression operates in exactly such a way that even if it were the victims’ responsibility to end oppression, they wouldn’t be empowered to do so. The obligation (and power) always rests on the shoulders of the oppressor and those privileged by the oppression to end it. The victims may fight against their oppression, sure, but the oppressors’ responsibility isn’t simply “don’t fight back”; it is also “fight on the side of the victims”.

It’s also not the job or ethical responsibility of the victims of oppression to educate their oppressor as to how to not be an oppressor. That said, I’ve decided to opt to offer some suggestions as to how cis feminists who are interested in ultimately creating a trans-inclusive, intersectional feminism can help do so (cis feminists whose interest in this is hopefully not motivated by cookies or the ability to claim ally status, but instead because it’s the right thing to do and, as the saying goes, “my feminism will be intersectonal or it will be bullshit.”)

So, if you’re more keen for intersectional feminism than you are for bullshit feminism, it’s time to stop sitting around waiting for trans feminists to make everything better. It’s time to engage yourself, and here are some pretty simple, easily-applicable starting points. [Read more...]

Transition As Transaction: “Passing” And The Commodification Of Womanhood

Very early in the film Transamerica, the trans woman protagonist, Bree, is seen practicing along to a “Finding Your Female Voice” video, from Deep Stealth Productions. Deep Stealth is partly owned and operated by Andrea James, who acted as a consultant for the film.

I’ve never been quite able to shake the sense of this as being far more an act of commercial product placement than an attempt at verisimilitude and accurate representation of trans women’s experiences. [Read more...]

On Detransition

Note: This post owes a great deal to the contributions and input of a friend who had lived through relevant experiences. While they wish to remain anonymous, I want to express gratitude for their help and lend credit where credit is due.

Last week a story broke in the British press concerning a young trans woman, Ria Cooper, who at 17 had been the youngest patient to ever receive hormone treatment for gender transition under the NHS. Ria was now considering “detransition”, that is, the choice to eschew her scheduled lower surgery, discontinue the use of exogenous hormones and anti-androgens,  and return to living and presenting as male, within general cultural concepts of male-ness.

Obviously the often notoriously vicious and transphobic mainstream British press seized on the story, providing as it did an apparent “confirmation” of the initial fears and doubts that the cis public had expressed when Cooper first sought treatment: their outrage at the idea of “kids being given sex changes!”, the idea that at 17 she was “too young” to make such a decision, the distrust of the NHS funding gender transition at all, let alone for “unconventional” patients like trans youth, the idea that it was a frivolous and risky expense of the NHS’ public funding, and the general “gatekeeping” mentality: cissexist or cis-centric biases that lead to the idea that medical gender transition is something that demands an especially extraordinary amount of caution, evidence that the patient is “sure” and capable of being “sure”, and evidence that the patient is “really” trans. Cooper’s (immediately publicized) choice to detransition offered an almost irresistible narrative for everybody in Britain who had expressed outrage, disgust, unease or even mild suspicion that it was a “bad idea” to “allow” her to be treated. It offered them all a chance to feel smug, collectively shrug their shoulders and sigh “I told you so”.

Naturally, this was how the story was spun. It was also intertwined with additional tut-tutting to allow the general cis-centric consensus to feel very proud of its initial suspicions, such as hitting on a note of “wasted tax dollars” (a sentiment that would be considered in extremely poor taste if the medical issue in question was chemotherapy failing to prevent a cancer from coming out of remission, or medications failing to slow the progression of HIV into AIDs, or a heart transplant being rejected by its recipient despite an expensive immuno-suppressant regimen), and the misogynistic explanation that female hormones had in and of themselves “caused” Cooper’s mood swings, depression and eventual suicide attempts. This latter explanation did far worse damage than simply being a trite and sexist simplification designed to confirm the pre-existing biases of the general public, however, in that it also buried the lead, buried the real story, and buried the complex and tragic truth of Ria Cooper’s experiences since their transition. I’ll return to this momentarily.

Worryingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the reactions of The Trans Community, and the discussions that ensued, weren’t any less callous, simplistic or centered on the affirmation of pre-existing biases than those of the cis public. While it’s entirely understandable to be very frightened about what affect this story might have on how gatekeeping procedures and medical access to transition-related treatment are done in the UK and under the NHS, particularly for British trans youth, it’s appalling how many trans women have laid the blame for this risk on Ria Cooper and her supposed “recklessness” or “bad decision-making” or “selfishness” rather than on the press (for how the story has been presented), the cis public (for their biased reactions), and the NHS (for being all too quick to prioritize the cissexist biases of the public over the needs of transgender patients). [Read more...]

Trans-On-Trans Oppression Is Still A Cis Problem

The Trans Community is not a healthy thing.

I’ve taken to capitalizing it as such, because there isn’t, exactly, one single monolithic trans community. There are many, many trans communities, some as small as just circles of friends who happen to share that particular aspect of gender together. But The Trans Community is something else. The Trans Community is the dominant culture that has emerged from the shared identity “trans”. It is the support groups, the published memoirs available at big-box bookstores, the “how-to” websites that pop up when someone young and confused first googles what “getting a sex change” actually entails, the most prominent web forums, the most visible branches of trans activism, the vocal “leaders” who are consulted and interviewed by the mainstream media, the organizations to which people are referred by their doctors for help and information when first exploring medical transition, the organizations to which doctors are referred for information, the people who put together Transgender Day of Remembrance events, the consultants for Hollywood, the people who issue the press releases that state how “the trans community” feels about any given issue, the people who control the publishing, the websites, the organizations, the media, the books, who control the information and discourse, the people who, more or less, get to define what “trans” means for the mainstream culture, the people who get to speak for us, collectively… and all of us caught up in this, and our relationship to it. That’s The Trans Community.

And it’s a broken thing. [Read more...]

The Personal Politics of SRS

I’m afraid I have to collapse the wave function on the whole Schroedinger’s Genitals thing I had going for awhile: I’ve not had lower surgery.

Hopefully, that won’t encourage any creepy love-letters (yes, something I’ve actually dealt with. More than once).

The reason I’m mentioning that very personal, and very uncomfortable-to-mention, information is that it’s important for the context in which I’ve been navigating a lot of complex issues lately. A few weeks ago, I was contacted very unexpectedly and out-of-blue-ishly by the people who handle the assessment process for those in the Vancouver/Victoria area of British Columbia who are pursuing vaginoplasty (aka SRS, GCS, lower surgery, bottom surgery, etc.), and they were asking to set up an appointment for the in-person interview part of the assessment. [Read more...]