The worst assimilation of all: How modern-day drag hurts trans women and achieves little or nothing of value

1. A many-sided debate

It’s been almost two weeks since the publication of our open letter regarding Calpernia Addams and Andrea James, and I feel it’s had quite a useful impact. My goal in this was to present a loud, powerful, and broad-based protest against what would otherwise be unopposed transphobia by two women who are perceived as community “leaders”. And this chorus of opposition consists of none other than those most affected by this: trans women and transfeminine people ourselves.

I’m very pleased that this has helped to force a long-simmering and much-needed conversation about the continuing tensions between trans women, drag queens, and the cis people who mistakenly conflate these two groups. That conversation has since elicited a variety of reactions:

  • RuPaul’s Drag Race agreed to discontinue using the word “shemale”, as previously featured in their “Female or Shemale” and “You’ve Got She-Mail” segments. RuPaul himself later made numerous references to George Orwell and Animal Farm.
  • Andrea James suggested that her own attendance at the GLAAD Media Awards was more important than the dissenting views of hundreds of other trans women, promptly made friends with Cathy Brennan and praised her for “speaking up for what you believe in”, and then touted the number of Facebook likes received by an article defending the use of “tranny” and “shemale” by drag queens. (For reference, the number of signatories to our letter currently stands at 389 trans women. This is roughly 1 out of every 900 trans women living in the United States, and approximately the number of trans women you would expect to find in a city the size of Buffalo, New York – est. population 259,384. But I don’t believe it’s especially difficult to get thousands of likes from cis people who want to be told it’s okay to say “tranny”.)
  • Calpernia Addams wrote an op-ed describing trans women who object to transmisogynist slurs as “conservative” and “producing nothing themselves”, while criticizing the word “cisgender” as “weaponized terminology”; she also bragged of her superior social media reach. (I should note that our letter’s signatories included politicians, attorneys, GLAAD board members, leaders of numerous trans organizations, veterans and active duty servicemembers, and authors of LGBT policies for the executive branch. I’d further add that Calpernia’s social reach isn’t much to brag about.)
  • Former Drag Race contestant Alaska Thunderfuck produced a graphic video in which he appeared to shoot and kill a trans woman (caricatured as having a wig and mustache) for objecting to certain language used by drag queens. Andrea James called this “perfect”. While the Huffington Post initially publicized this video, they later took it down and acknowledged that it was “patently offensive to many people”. One trans man decided to stop writing for the Huffington Post due to their publication of the video.

 

2. The impact so far

If there had been any doubt that James, Addams, and many names connected to Drag Race are overtly hostile toward trans women who disagree with them, they seem to be doing their best to dispel any traces of that doubt. It was already difficult to believe that any of them truly had the interests of trans women at heart, and now it’s practically impossible.

Even as James herself seemed to take credit for reaching out to Drag Race and asking them to stop saying “shemale”, she didn’t seem particularly apologetic for attacking hundreds of trans women who sought the same thing, or for cozying up to Cathy Brennan (someone who has directly contacted trans women’s doctors and attempted to interfere with their medical treatment). And when a Drag Race contestant’s response to all this is a symbolic murder of trans women who simply dislike slurs such as “tranny”, it’s pretty clear that productive discourse isn’t what they’re going for.

I never had much hope that our letter would persuade James or Addams that they had acted inappropriately – this seemed unlikely. More than anything, I felt that this was a display for the benefit of others, primarily cis people. Cis-run major news outlets might choose to amplify the voices of one or two select trans women – I’m looking at you, Boing Boing – and in doing so, give their cis audiences the impression that these women can speak for all trans women. What they might not have realized is that beyond this handful of cis-approved big names, there are hundreds and hundreds of everyday trans women from all walks of life who find these particular individuals to be unrepresentative of their own views.

Trans women are far more numerous and diverse, more dignified and accomplished, than two “leaders” who are content to tell cis people that anti-trans slurs are really just some kind of meaningful and subversive artform. Inducing James, Addams, and Thunderfuck to escalate their aggressive prejudice to a point that almost anyone would find unacceptable, in contrast to our own humanizing and well-articulated objections, may have actually been the best thing we could’ve asked for.

 

3. Competing meanings of “transgender”

What did stand out among all this was a more nuanced critique by Will of Queereka, who examined the history and limits of the word “transgender”, and thankfully didn’t feel the need to express this via the visual metaphor of shooting anyone in the face. That’s definitely something I can appreciate after the past couple of weeks.

Will first explores one conception of “transgender” as a broader, umbrella-like term. He cites Susan Stryker’s definition of the word as more generally “the movement across a socially imposed boundary away from an unchosen starting place”, as well as the National Center for Transgender Equality’s definition, “people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth”.

Working from these definitions, he notes that drag performers could potentially be considered transgender, and observes that drag and transness were historically not treated as distinct categories of identity. He contrasts this with a contemporary usage of “transgender” that’s more constrained:

Another view of “transgender”—and one that seems to be a historically recent narrowing of the broad umbrella term usage—is a person who lives their everyday lives as a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth. … Clearly drag queens are excluded from the category “transgender” in Jones’ usage due to the fact that most drag queens do not try to live out their daily lives presenting as women.

Finally, he frames these differing usages as a battlefield of the competing interests of assimilation or liberation, which he describes as follows:

In many ways, this divide reminds me of the same sorts of liberationist vs. assimilationist arguments in the gay and lesbian communities that were especially tense in the 1970s and 1980s. I can’t help but think that some of the more outlandish responses (such as the person calling for the “delegitimizing” of drag on Zinnia Jones’ petition) have come from people who may be classified as assimilationist, or seeking to integrate trans* people into heteronormative society through normalization of “transgender.” And some of the responses from people like Our Lady J could be seen as more liberationist with their calls for unfettered freedom for people to identify however they wish and use language however they wish without regard to the potential harm caused by such language.

 

4. The umbrella that lets in the rain

I’ve never really been a fan of the so-called “transgender umbrella”, and I’ve had some pretty annoying experiences with it that have helped illuminate its shortcomings. Years ago, before I considered myself to be trans at all, I was often faced with people who watched my YouTube videos and assumed that I must be trans. At the time, I made sure to clarify that I didn’t see myself as trans – not because I felt there was anything bad about being seen as trans, or because I saw this as some kind of affront to my identity, but simply because I didn’t want others to think that I could speak for trans people.

trans-umbrella-1

Back then, I didn’t feel that my identity or my experiences were similar enough to trans people that I could legitimately speak as one of them, rather than just doing my best to advocate on their behalf. Clearly my situation has changed since then, but if it hadn’t, I would still hold that to be true. No, really – I used to talk about “passing” with no critical analysis, utilized cliché soundbites like “comfortable in their bodies”, and generally had an oversimplified, cis-like concept of transness rather than the kind of deep understanding that comes from experience. Yet after I explained that I didn’t regard myself as trans, something interesting (and obnoxious) happened: people started telling me I was wrong.

trans-umbrella-2According to them, it was an undeniable fact that I was trans, by definition. Why? They explained that “transgender” is an umbrella term – and by their estimation, I fell under it because of the gendered aspects of my appearance relative to my assigned sex, and/or because I didn’t feel strongly about having any particular gender. I still didn’t feel like any of this was sufficient grounds to label me as trans, and when I looked into this umbrella definition, I realized that the gap between our respective notions of transness was even larger than I first thought.

trans-umbrella-3What I found were many explanatory charts and infographics – predictably featuring an umbrella motif – of the same variety that Will linked in his post. These umbrella models included people whose identities or expressions are “not consistent with conventional standards for masculine or feminine behavior or appearance”, as well as “butch”, “femme”,  “masculine women” and “feminine men”. All of these were defined as being “transgender”.

The inclusion of those descriptions really made me question the value of such an expansive definition. Masculine women, feminine men – masculine or feminine by what metric? Are butch, female-assigned, female-identifying lesbians now transgender? How do you define “butch”? Are women who wear pants transgender, too? Can people only be considered cisgender if they adhere to the 1950s-era stereotypical gender roles and presentations of their assigned sex, with anyone else falling outside of cisness even if they identify fully and exclusively with their assigned sex?

Obviously this definition was broad enough to include me even years before I thought of myself as trans. But could it actually mean anything useful? Someone just deciding to classify me as “transgender” did nothing to persuade me-of-2011 that my experiences were anything like those of people who considered themselves a gender other than the one expected of them, or lived as another gender in everyday life, or altered their bodies to reflect this.

At that time, I wouldn’t have been comfortable walking up to such a person and saying “hey, I’m transgender too!” It would have felt incredibly presumptuous, and I’d fully expect them to tell me that I know nothing about what being trans is like for them – because, back then, I didn’t. Switching labels around isn’t the same thing as actually changing the substance of what’s being referred to. Today, my own placement within all of this may have shifted, but my assessment of the situation has not. As it turns out, now that I’m rather firmly trans, I do indeed find it presumptuous and just plain inaccurate when people such as cisgender male drag queens are defined as “transgender” alongside someone like me.

Anyone is free to cobble together such umbrella definitions in whatever combinations they like, but that doesn’t mean these definitions will provide clarity rather than just more confusion. Insisting on clumping such disparate groups together, and referring to them with the same term, means emphasizing their similarities while also disregarding their differences. When those differences are substantial and relevant, and have widely varying implications for the everyday lives of these distinct groups, glossing over this can be a disservice to everyone – both the many groups who are now seen as fused into a single mass, and the people on the outside who are trying to understand who and what we are.

 

5. What is gender expression?

“Gender identity, expression or behavior”, as used by the National Center for Transgender Equality, is an ambiguous concept. A gender-related expression, such as dressing in drag for the purpose of a performance, is not necessarily the same as an expression of a person’s gender. Choosing to enact a gendered expression, especially when this is temporary and for entertainment, doesn’t mean that this expression actually reflects some facet of their gender. It may not be an instance of their gender expressing itself at all.

Not Calpernia Addams.

Not Calpernia Addams.

When Jared Leto played the transgender character Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club, or when Lee Pace played Calpernia Addams in Soldier’s Girl, these were certainly a kind of gender expression. But that doesn’t make this an expression of Jared Leto’s or Lee Pace’s gender. Identifying as female is not a part of Leto’s or Pace’s gender – they appear to identify as male, consistently and exclusively.

One might respond that they are actors, and that they represent a special case, as it is their job to play a variety of roles that do not at all reflect on who they are. I would agree with that, and I would further argue that this also encompasses cisgender male drag queens. They likewise devote themselves to playing a role, and regardless of the visibly gendered and exaggeratedly feminine aspects of that role, this does not necessarily mean that their gender must be anything other than male. Drag may be a “gender expression”, but that doesn’t make it an expression of that person’s gender.

I’ve had some experience with this general concept, although I’ve never been involved in any sort of drag culture or performance. When I was 9, I volunteered to be dressed up in a wig, makeup, and a girly shirt with balloons stuffed in it, because some organizers wanted this to be a part of a school pep rally. Sure, this was a gendered expression, but was it an expression of my own gender? I didn’t think so – afterward, I was content to go back to my regular outfit for the next decade or so. (I never really gave much thought to the subject of my gender until my 20s.)

Later, on YouTube, I’d sometimes wear a full-length red leather coat and feather boa for my videos – or for surprise interviews of Westboro protesters. Was that an expression of my gender? Not really, it was more of an expression of wanting to irritate homophobes and fundamentalists. Now that I’ve transitioned, I think I have a pretty good idea of how I express my gender as a woman – and it’s not like that.

Will does have a point when he notes that some trans women initially discover their gender through participation in drag. (To clarify, the reference to cis male drag queens in the open letter was not intended to imply that all drag queens are cis men, but only to specify those drag queens who are cis men.) My own creative explorations of gender expression certainly helped me learn more about myself, and cleared a path to my eventual decision to transition. But performing as a drag queen, and simply existing as a trans woman, are still very different things. For example, here’s a drag queen, Courtney Act from Drag Race, in and out of drag:

courtney-act

And here’s a trans woman, in and out of her everyday attire:

#nomakeup #nofilter

#nomakeup #nofilter

Can you think of any reasons why trans women might not want to be confused with drag queens?

 

6. This confusion is intentional, and harmful by design

If a cis person is told that drag queens are “transgender”, what are they going to think of me when I tell them I’m transgender? This is a situation where collapsing these very different phenomena into one word directly affects me in a way that’s more than just theoretical or philosophical. Will they take this as meaning that the entirety of my appearance is just an elaborate artifice – a fragile shell that falls away the moment my clothes come off? That, underneath, I’m still just another cis guy like Courtney Act?

This is a common misconception, and it’s been exploited by conservatives and other transphobes in their campaigns against basic nondiscrimination protections for trans women. Their strategy is to depict us as dangerous, predatory “men in dresses”.

  • The Family Institute of Connecticut, in opposing one such bill, described trans women as “men that dress as women” and “men – sexually attracted to women (with all the aggression and physical strength of men)”.
  • A Republican delegate in Maryland voiced her disapproval of a similar bill, saying “if you happen to see a guy in a dress in the restaurant bathroom, you’ll know the bill passed and that I voted NO!”
  • Fox News reporter Todd Starnes has raised the spectre of “big burly men in dresses” using the women’s restroom.
  • Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government previously protested a bill that they claimed would “allow cross-dressing but biological males in your daughter’s school locker room.”
  • Activist Peter LaBarbera has likewise asked “whether federal female employees will be protected from transsexual men wearing dresses who demand to use ladies’ restrooms”.
  • The Traditional Values Coalition and the Family Research Council have used images of drag queens in their publications opposing hate crime and employment protections for trans people.

It’s a long-running trope that’s guaranteed to be trotted out whenever trans people might obtain some measure of legal protection. So does it really seem like such a good idea to go ahead and start using “transgender” to refer to people who actually are cis men in dresses?

And in the midst of all this, what stands out the most to me is that cis male drag queens are hardly affected by the politics of transphobia at all. They aren’t the ones confronted with the daily dilemma of which restroom is safest for them to use, if any. They don’t face the threat of possible arrest just for going to the public bathroom that aligns with their gender. They also don’t have to contend with the legal issues surrounding:

  • Having our identifying documents updated to reflect our gender
  • Having transition procedures covered by healthcare plans
  • Being recognized and treated as our gender in schools
  • Being recognized and treated as our gender in homeless and domestic violence shelters
  • Being housed according to our gender in prisons
  • Receiving necessary transition-related medical treatment in prisons

Drag queens and other cis people have the self-accorded luxury of trying to define drag queens into “transgender”, while they themselves never have to deal with the repercussions of this. They don’t have to worry about how to get an accurate ID that doesn’t out them, or if they’ll still get their hormones if they’re ever imprisoned, or whether they’ll be placed with the wrong gender in a homeless shelter.

They have nothing at stake here – and meanwhile, trans people are the ones who pay the price for cis male drag queens’ willing embrace of the toxic confusion sown by transphobes. If cis male drag queens are defined as “transgender” alongside us, then their experience of being “transgender” still bears very little resemblance to ours. And if this umbrella concept is promoted to cis people as the definition of “transgender”, then it becomes all the more understandable that they would question why actual men should be allowed to change the gender on their ID, or be placed with women in prisons, or use women’s restrooms.

 

7. Selling assimilation as “liberation”

So, what of Will’s contention that trans women who take issue with certain aspects of drag are “assimilationist” and “seeking to integrate trans* people into heteronormative society through normalization of ‘transgender’”, while those who’ve recently defended these elements of drag are “more liberationist with their calls for unfettered freedom for people to identify however they wish and use language however they wish without regard to the potential harm caused by such language”? I’d posit that this is almost perfectly backwards. There is nothing “liberationist” about harming trans women – and encouraging and participating in such harm serves as a way for cis male drag queens and certain trans women to gain acceptance and assimilate into a society where harming trans women is already normalized.

If drag is to be grouped under “transgender”, then it is perhaps the safest, most unchallenging and non-confrontational element of that so-called umbrella. Drag is prepackaged entertainment with no serious commitment required of anyone involved. Cis men put on an outfit for a time, and when they’re done, they continue to be cis men and go back to their everyday lives – this temporary engagement, this lighthearted dabbling in extravagant costumes, has done nothing to change who they actually are. Other cis people are free to stay away from these nightclub acts in a part of town that they already avoid anyway; at worst, they get the opportunity to have their once-a-year whinefest about how some kids might see a drag queen in a parade.

Trans people, on the other hand, are not just safe entertainment. We do challenge deeply-held notions of the supposed permanence and immutability of gender and physical sex – we’re living proof that these fundamental aspects of who you are can indeed change. And we’re not hidden away in some corner of a bar, where cis people can easily avoid us. No, we’re everywhere. Cis people aren’t likely to encounter a drag act at their workplace, at their school, or at the grocery store. But they will encounter us. Cis people can always choose whether they want to go see a drag show or not; we don’t offer them such a choice. We ask for more. For this, we’re treated like garbage: harassed and attacked just for going outside, fired from our jobs and immediately rejected by potential employers the moment they see us, denied even basic medical care, endlessly mocked in all media, and then depicted as rapists when we just need to use the bathroom.

Who, here, seems to be most assimilated into cis society? And who seems to be most in need of liberating? Assimilation implies changing who you are in an attempt to make yourself more palatable to society, and Will suggests that some trans people would go about this by cutting drag performers out of the transgender “umbrella”. But for that to make any sense as a strategy, it would have to be the case that trans people have more social acceptance than drag performers do – that, in isolation, we as trans people would clearly be recognized by cis people as the “good ones”. This is clearly not so; if anything, society broadly considers us to be far worse.

Does that mean it would be more effective for us to assimilate by consciously aligning ourselves with drag performers? No – because we’re not trying to assimilate in the first place. The very reason we face such violent, pervasive hostility from society is because we won’t change who we are. Instead, we ask society to change, to accept us, and to stop hurting us. What we ask for is liberation.

What does actual assimilationism look like? It looks like Andrea James. It looks like Calpernia Addams. It looks like Alaska Thunderfuck. In fact, it looks quite a bit like Will’s idea of “liberationists”. Liberation implies being freed from some previous constraint or hardship. But when has there ever been a widespread taboo against cis people saying “tranny”? Who had been preventing them from speculating about whether a woman is a “shemale” for all this time? It’s not as if cis people are being “liberated” into a new era where they can suddenly feel free to throw around transmisogynist slurs whenever they please. They already do this.

This is an existing norm, and James and Addams are doing their best to assimilate into cis society by defending this norm. Much of James’ “activism” for trans women has been dedicated to the goal of being invisible at any cost – literally. Now, she publicly attacks any trans women who object to the use of “tranny” and “shemale” by cis people. This is assimilation: she’s showing cis people that she can be just like them, that she’ll never ask too much of them, that she’ll never protest their transphobia, and indeed she’ll join them in tearing down any other trans women who dare to speak out.

Calpernia Addams enables, facilitates, and then defends stereotypical depictions of trans women in major films, telling cis people that this is totally okay. After that, she mocks any “nutty trans hacktivists who had been ‘triggered’ by the buzz generated when Jared Leto thanked me in his Oscars acceptance speech”. She frames herself as one of the “good ones”, someone who’s safe for cis people and will give her stamp of approval to how they treat trans women – and if it comes down to it, she’ll side with them against trans women who demand to be respected.

Alaska Thunderfuck, a cis male drag queen, made a “humorous” video of himself shooting a trans woman in the head for disagreeing with him. In doing so, he’s symbolically putting trans women back in our proper place, and affirming to cis people that he’s capable of just as much enthusiastic violence against trans women – especially outspoken trans women – as any other cis person. Andrea James endorses this.

That’s assimilationist.

When asking for respect gets us nothing but another cis man joking about murdering trans women, don’t try to tell me that I’m for assimilation and he’s for liberation. What kind of liberation is that? Were cis men not doing that already?

Addams, James, and the drag queens they’ve aligned with are acting in the most assimilationist fashion imaginable. They’re the ones misguidedly chasing acceptance by choosing to tolerate slurs, and joining the chorus of cis people who don’t want to be told to stop calling us “shemales”. They’re changing who they are to be more palatable to cis society, but to do so, they have to try and silence us as well. For the sake of this false acceptance, they are the ones trying to cut us away so they can pursue cis approval, unhindered by our inconvenient insistence on our own humanity.

But we are not assimilationist for simply wanting to go about our lives without being insulted, attacked, cast out, treated like rapists, and seen as “men in dresses”. For that, we need liberation.

Open Letter: 350+ Trans Women and Transfeminine People Stand Against Calpernia Addams and Andrea James

Trans Women Oppose Recent Attacks by Calpernia Addams and Andrea James

We, the undersigned trans women and trans-feminine individuals, are appalled at recent attacks on trans woman journalist Parker Marie Molloy published by Calpernia Addams and Andrea James on the Huffington Post and Boing Boing. Addams’ and James’ hit pieces exhibit a pervasive hostility to young, queer trans women, and indeed any trans woman who is uncomfortable with the use of transmisogynist slurs by cisgender drag queens like RuPaul. They display homophobia, transphobia, ignorance, dishonesty, and hatred throughout.

We believe that these pieces should not have been published, and that they are not representative of the views of trans women as a community. Calpernia Addams and Andrea James do not speak for us.

 

1. Absence of good-faith arguments

James variously describes trans women who take issue with RuPaul as “hecklers”, “shut-ins” who “spend their waking lives online”, “victim cultists”, “self-haters” engaging in “attention-seeking behavior”, “elitists”, “the language police”, “finger-wagging schoolmarms”, “fucking stay-at-home transactivists”, and “trans separatists” with “internalized transphobia” who “transition from male to female with the zeal of a religious convert.” Unlike James, we do not believe that objecting to transmisogynist slurs makes someone any of these things. We also find it doubtful that James genuinely seeks to “resolve this dispute like professional journalists”, as her column exhibits very little sense of professionalism at all. If, as James says, “experienced activists seek to build bridges and establish empathy”, we are skeptical of her experience.

 

2. Misleading personal attacks

Addams and James have chosen to focus on an individual trans woman and personally attack her at length. In doing so, they give the impression that opposing the use of transmisogynist slurs by cisgender drag performers is an isolated and marginal position held by, as Addams puts it, “nutty trans hacktivists”. In reality, the conduct of RuPaul and others has been widely criticized by vast swathes of trans women. This is not a new critique that has only arisen due to a lack of experience among young queer trans women. It is a long-standing and well-supported objection, one which has been articulated by trans women of all ages and sexualities. Addams and James ignore this in favor of needlessly inflammatory rhetoric, a regressive defense of gay and lesbian transphobia, and unmitigated contempt for the gender and sexuality of queer trans women. Their columns do not contribute to this discussion in any meaningful way.

 

3. Traditionalism and ageism

We reject Addams’ portrayal of young trans women like Molloy as “newcomer[s] to transition and lesbian/trans issues”, a description which suggests young trans women are less informed, less competent, and less qualified to argue their viewpoints on these topics. To the contrary, young trans women can offer a fresh and contemporary perspective to balance the traditional and stagnant views of those like Addams and James. Whatever decades of experience with trans issues that Addams and James have had, it has not served them well in these recent columns.

 

4. Misgendering and accusations of “privilege”

We find it completely unacceptable that Addams would accuse queer trans women of being “conditioned to bully and take by a lifetime of white, heterosexual, male privilege”, using “the gains and habits of this privilege”, and having “lingering ‘cis-het privilege.’” It is baffling and incomprehensible to imply that an out queer trans woman is somehow capable of wielding heterosexual, cisgender, male privilege to her advantage. This isn’t a new tactic – it is commonly used by transphobes to misgender trans women and dismiss anything we say as coming from a place of supposed “maleness”. Here, Addams has done exactly that. This is not a meaningful argument; it is only more of the same classic transmisogyny.

 

5. False hierarchies of trans women

We oppose Addams’ and James’ oversimplification of queer trans women’s sexualities, unique personal histories, intersectional experiences, and self-understandings. Addams describes her own “feminine and soft nature” and experiences of being “rejected from participating in heteronormative culture”, while claiming that queer trans women “presumably lived most of their lives with the tacit approval and support of a society that viewed them as heterosexual, white men”. Her presumption is unwarranted, as is James’ description of these women as “newly-minted queers”.

If a trans woman is attracted to women, this does not mean that she always lacked a “feminine and soft nature” (whatever Addams thinks this means), that her sexuality was never called into question by others, that she was not “a participant in LGBT culture”, or that she was never attracted to men. Many queer trans women who are attracted to women share these experiences – their queerness is not “newly-minted” by any stretch of the imagination. Addams’ and James’ false dichotomy uncomfortably echoes the long history of straight trans women being judged as more legitimate in their womanhood and more “feminine” than queer trans women. This constitutes the same kind of implicit misgendering as Addams’ claim that queer trans women possess “lingering” privilege, while Addams herself supposedly does not.

 

6. Hypocrisy and feigned offense

While any use of “drag queen” to deny or delegitimize a trans woman’s gender is obviously unacceptable, we decry James’ hypocrisy in taking offense to the accurate description of Addams’ history as a drag performer. James herself notes that trans women have a history of “working alongside drag performers”, and that there “was no separation of drag and trans” in “pre-Stonewall Manhattan LGBT social life”, but then claims that “drag queen” is a “transphobic slur” when referring to Addams’ involvement in drag performance. This is, at a minimum, inconsistent. It is absurd that James would denounce this accurate statement of fact as “transphobic”, while she and Addams promote false generalizations about queer trans women and implicitly misgender them with accusations of “male privilege”. We particularly note the hypocrisy of Addams’ call to defend “trans people who choose to… associate with gay and lesbian people”, given her own hostility toward queer trans women.

 

7. Siding with mainstream prejudice

Contrary to James, we do not accept that drag performance is itself a valid excuse for cisgender people to use transmisogynist slurs. James believes that “taboos around language” – language such as “shemale” – are “practically begging drag queens and kings to violate these taboos”, and that drag is an “art form with countercultural subversion at its heart”. Such a rationale is nonsensical. When a word becomes so closely associated with open hostility toward a marginalized group that it is widely considered a slur by the group it targets, this is not itself a justification to continue using this word. It is rather obviously a compelling reason not to use it.

Cis people using transmisogynist slurs are not violating a taboo when the use of such slurs is already broadly accepted among cis people. Most of society does not consider it taboo to refer to trans women in these terms – there is no taboo to break. Repeating a one-word distillation of a culture’s hostility to trans women is neither countercultural nor subversive. It is mainstream. In light of this, James’ commitment to “siding with offensive artists” is hardly a laudable choice.

 

8. Disingenuous conflation of “transgender” with drag

We reject James’ classification of RuPaul as transgender, as well as any implication that cisgender male drag queens are therefore entitled to use transmisogynist slurs. Cisgender male drag queens are assigned male at birth, and they neither consider themselves to be women nor live as women in their everyday lives. Unlike trans women, they are not the ones who regularly face the consequences of widespread transphobia and transmisogyny, and they are not confronted with the fallout of normalizing transmisogynist slurs. Likewise, Addams’ statement that she “hate[s] the term ‘cisgender’” shows a lack of understanding of the importance of this distinction.

 

9. Hiding behind “homophobia” to defend transphobia

We further reject Addams’ argument that trans women’s criticism of the use of transmisogynist slurs by cisgender drag performers is a form of “homophobia” or “hatred or derision for gay and lesbian culture”. Trans women’s objections to transphobia do not become any less legitimate when that transphobia comes from “gay and lesbian culture”. This transphobia is no more excusable – it is equally deserving of scrutiny. While Addams recognizes that “being trans is not a free pass to be transphobic or homophobic”, she appears to believe that being gay or lesbian is indeed a free pass to be transphobic. We do not share this belief.

 

10. Elitism and exclusion of queer trans women from queer culture

Addams attacks trans women who object to RuPaul’s slurs as “hate-filled, angry and inexperienced folks” who “hop the fence at this late stage and try to dictate our culture rather than learn and build and participate in it”. We believe that trans women have every reason to be angry at the mass media legitimization of transmisogynist slurs by cisgender men, and we question the value of learning from this culture or participating in it, let alone building upon it. It is no point of pride to tolerate a transphobic culture. Accusing young queer trans women of trying to “dictate our culture” implies that they have less of a claim to gay and lesbian culture than Addams, and lazily dismisses legitimate objections to the harms of this culture and the attitudes it has normalized.

 

Our aims

We ask that Calpernia Addams and Andrea James refrain from publishing further columns exhibiting this variety of homophobia, transphobia, transmisogyny, misgendering, ageism, and unwarranted hostility toward other trans women. We further ask that Huffington Post, Boing Boing, and other outlets refuse to give a platform to any columns endorsing such prejudice, whether by Addams and James or by others. As Addams notes, “you choose your community’s voices and heroes.” We reject Calpernia Addams and Andrea James as voices of our community.

 

SIGNATORIES

  • Lauren McNamara, defense witness, United States v. Manning
  • Amelia June Gapin, software engineer
  • Thorin Sorensen, activist and writer
  • Katherine Prevost, software developer, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Anne Cognito, activist and author
  • Kat Haché
  • Andrea Borquez Brito, law school graduate
  • Sarah Brown, politician and trans woman
  • Kristina Foster
  • Teri Dawn Wright, student, activist
  • Lauren Voswinkel, software developer
  • Bobbi Joseph, activist
  • Dr. Mirah Gary, physicist
  • Vivian Doug, public speaker and systems analyst
  • Breanna Clayton, web content strategist
  • Danielle White, SAS Platform Administrator
  • Rachel Ripstra, software engineer
  • Jessica Reardon Smith
  • Kimberly Horne, software developer
  • Josephine Doggett, artist
  • Dr. Aoife Emily Hart, lecturer
  • April Daniels, writer
  • Morgan Smith, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies student and activist
  • Sabine, activist
  • Chelsea Tera Boyhan, field support engineer
  • Fallon Fox, Mixed Martial Arts fighter
  • Sarah Foreman, activist and software developer
  • Josefina Vineyard, graphic designer
  • Rebecca Hargate, software developer, University student
  • Schell Carpenter, Vice President of Engineering
  • Kayley Whalen, trans activist
  • Carol Holly, Scientist and Global Business Development Manager
  • Erika Sorensen, software developer
  • Laurelai Bailey, journalist for TransAdvocate.com
  • Emily L Kwolek, activist
  • Adele Sheffield, social media manager, web editor
  • Winter Hardin, student
  • Skye Arixe
  • Melissa Savage, activist
  • Dana Lane Taylor, TransAdvocate.com, University of Pennsylvania
  • Rhianne Stevens, lecturer, activist and Transgender Support Group Officer
  • Willow Dobmeier
  • Katie Anderson, software engineer
  • Chelsea Richards, emergency medical responder
  • Emily Prince, Esq.
  • Morgan Rose, artist
  • Casey Coughlin, student
  • Zoe Gagnon, software engineer and activist
  • Kathryn Anna Fortunato, IT systems administrator and activist
  • Rebecca Putman
  • Ellie Green, artist
  • Coda Gardner
  • Jayska Teag
  • Eleven, filmmaker and writer
  • Alisha G, information technology
  • Greta Gustava Martela, software engineer and TGSF board member
  • Nina Chaubal, software engineer
  • Annetta Gaiman, trans feminist
  • Diane Tejera Monaco, scientist and educator
  • Alex Ray, web admin
  • Claire Siegely
  • Ally Clarke
  • Aria Smith
  • Devi Smith
  • Bethany Turner, market researcher and webcomic author/artist
  • Cristan Williams, Senior Editor for the TransAdvocate
  • Madison Turner, singer/songwriter
  • Rabbi Emily Aviva Kapor, author and activist
  • Amy A. Dobrowolsky, trans feminist geographer
  • Autumn Sandeen, Editor for The TransAdvocate
  • Christina Ann-Marie DiEdoardo, Esq., criminal defense attorney
  • Melissa Jensen, sex worker
  • Octavia Reising
  • Naomi Ceder, IT director, Pythonista, advocate
  • Kris Simon, disability, gender, and sexuality activist
  • K.L. Tremaine, author and publisher, Artemis Flight Books
  • Kelli Anne Busey, contributor TransAdvocate, blogger planetransgender, activist
  • Serana Storey
  • Kylie Brooks, gender, disability, race and sexuality activist
  • Amber Dawn Redman, International Media / Commercial Aviation / Communications / Equality Journalist
  • Reverend Erin Fish, Professional Twitterer
  • Sarah Noble, transgender and equality activist, university student
  • Paige Sullivan, software engineer, trans* activist, wife, and parent
  • Amélie Erin Koran, Executive Office of the President of the United States (Detailee) & President of U.S. Department of the Interior GLOBE
  • Morgan Mullaney, software engineer
  • Lisa Harney
  • Meryl Scarlett Fortney
  • Dani Pettas, videographer/advertising creative
  • Forth Sadler, queer transwoman
  • Ayasha Pope, writer and musician
  • Sara Ross, activist and game developer
  • Kylie Jack, ux designer, activist
  • Kathryn Long, technical artist and software engineer
  • Kaitlyn Richardson, system administrator
  • Hannah Cutler, archaeologist
  • Miranda Lukeman
  • Karin Engström
  • Harriet de Kok, student, aged care personal care worker
  • Freja Falson, student, writer, and trans feminist
  • Shadi Petosky, creative director
  • Jennifer Kitney, student chef
  • Megan Danielle Turcotte, software developer
  • Annie Mei Shen
  • Lauren Moffatt PhD, Professor of Physics
  • Rani Baker, destroyedforcomfort.com, noise musician/freelance artist
  • Amy Wilhelm, trans activist, network engineer
  • Amoreena Crees, interior design
  • Zoey Marie Bedenbaugh, student, writer
  • Dominica Deal
  • Eva Odland, IT worker/author
  • Mara Emily
  • Phoenix Lee
  • Katherine Cutting
  • Cassidy Drake
  • Drew Stroud, web and game developer
  • Amara Sugalski, geneticist
  • A.J. Hunter, activist and writer
  • Rhea Vichot, graduate student
  • Trinity Pixie, blogger
  • The Right Honourable Max, Lairde Harmony
  • Dr. Myriam J. Johnson, physicist
  • Charley Matz, trans lesbian artist
  • Jess Rowbottom, IT consultant
  • Zoė Alexandra Adams, physics student and trans woman
  • Frida Viñas, Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya architecture student
  • Sabrina Kane, Elections Project Officer
  • Maria Ramnehill, transfeminist
  • Addie C.
  • Rebecca Turner, software engineer
  • Caelyn Sandel, indie games developer
  • Anathema Jane McKenna, journalist and poet
  • Stephanie Springflower, self-employed bookkeeper
  • Michelle Emily Cloud, student, poet & lyricist, musician
  • Julie Rei Goldstein, Actress / Voice Over Artist
  • Samantha Llywela Thornton, photo technician, student
  • Alice Wilde, drafter
  • Erin Susan Jennings, trans liberation activist
  • Jessica Ferguson, Sr. Information Security Manager
  • Alison Chan, advanced networks researcher, uni student, LGBT student leader
  • Jessica Fay Speed, artist/postwoman
  • Henry-Katherine H., student
  • D.J. Freedman, MSW, queer social worker
  • Michelle Spicer, BA, Writer/Activist
  • Jennifer Lavender Winn, seamstress
  • Alyssa C. Smith, student, activist
  • Alice T., comedian
  • Aurora Michelle Danes, activist and nursing student
  • Jenna Stewart, student
  • Sarah Spohn, system administrator
  • Jasmine Erricka Glenn
  • Alexie Scanlon, activist 
  • Christina Kahrl, sportswriter and activist
  • Amy Rebecca Boyer, Software Architect
  • Dee Emm Elms
  • Androgyne Partridge, noise musician, graphic designer
  • Emily Joh Miller, student/writer/musician
  • Chloe Skedgell, web developer
  • Stephanie Wilson, retired, civil engineer, program manager
  • Natalie Roman, web developer, LGBT youth mentor
  • Rowan Davis, student
  • Chris Malarky, IT professional
  • Laine DeLaney, transwoman, author, columnist, activist, and community organizer
  • Maddy Love, podcaster and clinical laboratorian
  • Marja Erwin
  • Danni Shochet, Director of Information Systems, Vice Chair Raleigh Transgender Initiative
  • Clare Davis, bookkeeper
  • Jane Natoli, Financial Crimes Consultant
  • Amy Roberts, writer, game designer, software QA
  • Danielle Burgess, web developer
  • Sophie Taylor, aerospace engineer
  • S. Allen, charity worker
  • Elizabeth Rossiter, software engineer
  • Emilie Geary, trans advocate
  • Sarah Savage, activist and writer
  • Julie Harper Lynch, registered nurse
  • Roberta Joanna Manners, software engineer
  • Rachel S. Adelhyde, writer and activist
  • Cadence Valentine, board member of Transgender Leadership Council, co-chair and lead organizer of Transgender Leadership Summit, Program Coordinator for Transsafetycounts, secretary of Transgender Service Providers Network
  • Johanna Wolf, game developer
  • Alexandra Robin Clodge, software engineer/activist
  • Juli-Ann Richmond, Kind Hearted House Sitting, pet and plant services
  • Abby Malson, software developer, transgender woman
  • Allison Lara Keene, software developer
  • Janet Logan, software engineer and transgender woman
  • Katherine Norcross, molecular biologist and artist
  • Alison Edwards, writer and educator
  • Rachel Determann, musician, data journalist and engineer
  • Nicole “Nicky” Roberts, activist, 2013 JCF grantee
  • Jamie M. Kerrigan, Sales Associate
  • Kara Johnson, animal rights activist
  • Finch K., Research Analyst
  • Margaret Laughlan, Residential Social Worker
  • Harper Sylvia Sanford, software QA
  • Victoria Solís Quintillá, student, activist
  • Alexandra Pitchford, writer, game designer
  • Skyla Marchel, activist

  • Ashley Wells, library technician and artist
  • Zoey Bartlett, research chemist and legal activist
  • Gemma Seymour, Sorciére Itinérant, Writer, and Activist
  • Jennifer Mason
  • Donna Levinsohn, attorney and activist
  • Elizabeth Flanagan, Trans/Geek Feminist
  • Madison Rae, HIV Outreach Educator of the Transaction program
  • Kelley Sullivan, Sales Representative
  • Nina Yorty, freelance caregiver
  • Tommilynn Janelle Travis, Customer Support and Sales
  • Jessica Ottowell, software engineer, small business owner, PR officer for the British Liberal Democrat party
  • Rye Silverman, comedian and writer
  • Christina W., Software Engineer
  • A. Mani, Researcher (Math, Logic, Rough Sets), Trans Feminist
  • Sara Hughes, college student information systems analyst and project manager
  • Erica Jones, software developer
  • Michelle Jené Wedge, Writer / Activist
  • Danielle Newberry, author, culinary engineer
  • Nuala Shields, retired network engineer, trans activist, human being
  • Lily Connor, Pagan priestess and nursing student
  • Miranda Radik
  • Charlie Hale, student and author
  • Aisling Fae, college student, physics
  • Gina Grahame, businesswoman
  • Laila Villanueva, United States Army Nurse – currently silently serving on Active Duty
  • Ryan Alana McLaughlin, artist, blacksmith, former Special Forces medical sergeant, activist, and feminist
  • Ellen Faye Harvey, Sales Specialist
  • Mica Hind, storyteller/historical interpreter
  • Claudia Jean Adams, Online Community Manager
  • Nancy Scott Burke Williams, Associate Professor of Chemistry
  • Kelsie Brynn Jones, ILGA Advocate
  • Lara Boons, Belgium, a little bit a solo activist on disability, hit by PTSD
  • Allison Andrews, software engineer
  • Aleshia Brevard
  • Anne Rowlands, librarian and pagan
  • Alena Bruening, model
  • Eli Erlick, student, activist, and director of Trans Student Equality Resources
  • Vera Vartanian, writer
  • Alex Sennello, student and cofounder of Trans Student Equality Resources
  • Tina Kent, truck driver
  • Dawn Alderman, systems engineer
  • Lynn Cyrin, student, activist
  • Nic Llewellyn, cleaner and musician
  • Aubrey Schaefer, writer
  • Bella Bellucci, writer, activist, entertainer
  • Lilith Barri Routh, network engineer
  • Lilith Annabelle Rios, Customer Service Representative and Trans Feminist/Activist
  • Laura Watson, Singer/Songwriter/Musician
  • Kathryn Isaacs, software developer
  • Jena Lewis, trans* diversity educator, community activist, feminist
  • Jade Juhl, trans advocate
  • Lily Wolf Solomon, owner of Greenpath Transcripts
  • Gwyneth Yeh, Artist at ArenaNet
  • Samantha Hypatia Thompson, librarian
  • Dr. Joelle Ruby Ryan, Women’s Studies Professor
  • Veronica Garrett, Nuclear Professional
  • Emma Bready Larson, student, library worker, and activist
  • Morgan Sea, Tranzister Radio
  • Sierra Kinney, owner of Lone Star Laser
  • Sena Riley, blogger/programmer
  • Caitlin Howarth, student
  • Christina Williams, IT manager and newbie trans advocate
  • Kendall Cunningham, pastry chef
  • Miranda Rae Lunabel, barista and musician
  • Alexandra Bard, medically retired Marine
  • Chelsea Allens, Artist/Student
  • Drew Deveaux, queer porn star, feminist, sex educator
  • Julie Danielle Barnett
  • Coraline Ada Ehmke, Software Engineer and Activist
  • Isabelle Jones, law student
  • Gwen Carlson, student and activist
  • Lisa Severn, IT Architect
  • Helen C. Walther, Chat Administrator, Susan’s Place Transgender Resources, Executive Director, Southern Tier Trans Network
  • Jody Toomey, sci-fi author and musician
  • Eleanor Amaranth Lockhart, university lecturer and researcher
  • Cristin Meravi, student
  • Alys Elbe, student
  • Erin Dean, queer trans* woman of color and radical intersectional activist, blogger at Glitter of Revolt
  • Ellie Morris
  • Crystal Frasier, author
  • MC Tanuki, musician
  • Eva Allan, Revolutionary socialist and Trade Union Activist
  • Elizabeth Izatt, software engineer
  • Bitmap Madelyn Prager
  • Veronikka Edmunds, Waste Management Consultant
  • JoVan Wilson, Healthcare Communicator
  • Natalie Russell, civil engineer
  • Ellie Howard
  • Eleanor Robyn Carson II, author, photographer, video game reviewer
  • Tylyn S. Anson, filmmaker and MFA student
  • Alex Richards Childs, student of Metallurgical Engineering
  • Bobbie Jo Conner, maintenance worker
  • Jessica K. Nichols-Vernon, writer
  • Rachel Evil McCall, writer
  • Sophia Gold, performance artist
  • Kathryn Cowie, writer and editor
  • Johanna Marseille, graphic designer
  • Kori Evans, student
  • Morgane Oger, small business owner
  • Amanda Melody Barna, student and pizza delivery driver
  • Rachel Collier
  • Michelle Jane Perez, writer
  • Lauren Gartrenlaub, Case Manager at a social service agency
  • Robyn A. Montgomery, student
  • Vikki Valimir
  • Alyson McManus, Staff Writer at Persephone Magazine
  • Ryder Goodwin
  • Ash Shields, artist, student
  • Stephanie Wallace, Wine Professional, Software Developer
  • Johnnie Ramona Peel, College Instructor and Blogger
  • Rebecca Dobie-Watt, Helpdesk Analyst
  • Sarah Robinson, IT Tech
  • Bridgett Josephine Waxman, student
  • Dana Ashleigh Goodyear, LPN
  • Tali Gaither, trans*femme Disability justice activist, feminist, queer writer
  • Trina Hanson, IT support/web developer
  • T. Walpole, trans officer, Goldsmiths LGBTQ
  • Maya Martinez, US Army Infantry
  • Christina Lynn Johnson, studying for a Paramedic certification
  • Jasmine Doherty, Air Traffic Controller
  • Cheryl Ann Davidson, advocate/hotel front desk clerk
  • Jacquelyn Kjar-Meyer, student
  • Corinne McCreery, Customer Service Representative
  • Tara Franks, student
  • Joli Shempert, university student
  • Antoinette Coles, Information Technical Professional
  • Julia Kreger, systems engineer, photographer, support group meeting facilitator, retired alternative lifestyle community leader
  • Mackenzie Jade Compton, artist
  • Vanessa Kindell, IT support
  • Tori Amanda Foote
  • Lily Lambda, leathergirl
  • Jayna L-Ponder, Podcaster, Educator
  • Alexandra Williams, Licensed Nurse’s Assistant
  • Emilia Lombardi, Professor, Public Health
  • Lexi Kamen Turner, musician/student
  • Petra Mullooly, student and freelance writer
  • Jale Queen, IT Practitioner and Produce Worker
  • Jacolleun “Chrissy” Madron, actor/director/producer
  • Catherine S Hopkins, Airline Captain
  • Alison Stevenson, student
  • Jamie Lynn Armitage
  • Shay Fabian
  • Alice Beaty, DJ, Mixed-media artist, Kaotee
  • Christianne Benedict, illustrator, writer, cartoonist
  • Kiera Beltman, student
  • Dr. Jadis A. Smith, Postdoctoral researcher
  • Allison Kelly
  • Rebecca Adomaitis, accountant
  • Kerri Green, senior staff nurse
  • Willa Riggins, Information Security Professional
  • Stephanie Lawless, retail accounts management, feminist, trans* support facilitator
  • Shelby Green, student, trans activist / educator
  • Jemma Nelson, Bioinformatician
  • Wren Tobi Stein, college student, cashier, real estate owner
  • Marissa du Bois, Programmer Analyst
  • Joanna Blackhart, Musician, Activist, Educator
  • Anna, Former Huge Calpernia Fan, Former Recommender of Finding your Female Voice
  • Wenda Rhiannon Rose, writer, producer, artist, and proud trans lesbian
  • Alicia Artemissian, programmer, writer, caregiver
  • Morgan Thorp, student, occasional Youtuber and Twitch streamer, and further proof that trans lesbians exist
  • Kristen Haven, student, web developer, volunteer
  • Susan Lewis, Social Care
  • Roberta Proença de Gouvêa, Flight and Aeronautical Engineering Student
  • Ashley Davis, software development
  • Willow Gallagher; transfeminist, community leader, trans activist
  • Auriana Danielle Fabricatore, student and pornographic actress
  • Alice Summer
  • Nata Murray, MilTrans advocate who transitioned a decade ago, still in uniform after over 27 years service
  • Evie Ovalle, Healthcare Worker
  • Amber Planting, Air Force Veteran
  • Jenifer Divine, musician, writer – Koh Lanta, Krabi, Thailand
  • Bethany Hill, trans activist and graduate student
  • Danielle Church, software architect
  • Chelsie Scott, writer
  • Sylia Gray
  • Elen Parker, student, queer historian, and trans dyke
  • Hayley Anthony, marketing planner
  • Ada Nicole, mathematician/teacher
  • Robynn Penelope Mussell, transwoman and owner of Robynn Penelope Game Design Studio and co-founder of Know Where To Go QCA
  • Nicola Romanski, draftsman – electrical engineer
  • Nicola Clubb, freelance 3D designer
  • G. Searer, engineer
  • Victoria Kaye, Mechanical Design Engineer
  • Adina Lynn Levy, Software Development Supervisor
  • “Storky” Duncan, professional poker player
  • Zoe Steinfield, Program Media Assistant at the MSU LBGT Resource Center
  • Danielle Krassner, Systems/Network Admin
  • Alyssa Herzog, trans*woman and DevOps
  • Wren Gayle Romano, doctoral candidate and activist
  • Tetyana Swan, Co-Founder, Co-Owner, San Francisco Sleep Diagnostics
  • Megan Faulkner
  • Eloise, scientist
  • Rava Soler, trance music producer, trans feminist blogger Akntiendz Chik (in Spanish)
  • Jeannie Lynn Robert, IT professional
  • Corinne Green
  • Cynthia Pauline Jones, Trans woman and Poet
  • Renata Luisa Sdao, Photographer/Artist
  • Dawn Stacey Ennis
  • Barbara Campbell, MSgt, USAF (Ret)
  • Rebecca Miriam

 

If you are a trans woman or otherwise trans-feminine and would like to sign this letter, please email Zinnia Jones at zjemptv@gmail.com with your full name and occupation. This letter will be updated regularly.