Planet Fitness and Cis Tears

CN: transantagonism, discussion of hypothetical sexual assault/rape10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_n

The internet has been abuzz over this thing that happened:

[…] a Planet Fitness gym in Midland, Michigan revoked the membership of a woman who complained that the trans woman she was sharing a locker room with looked too much like a man.

Of course, this event has stirred up a bunch of conversation around whether trans people (often trans women) should have access to certain gendered spaces, namely bathrooms and locker rooms. Trans people and allies are basically of the opinion that it’s no big deal to let people pick the bathroom that’s appropriate for them and cis people need to shut the hell up about it. The opposition centers around how it can make (cis) women uncomfortable, and how there’s a chance that (cis) men could dress as women any time they wanted to gain access to these spaces and maybe attack the cis women.

It occurred to me recently that if a cis dude wanted to dress as a woman to enter a gendered restroom, he would have to a) pack the clothes and change into them right before entering the bathroom, risking detection by anyone paying attention, or b) wear the clothes out in public on the way to his dirty deed of peeking or whatever. (Which–if peeking is what you’re worried about–would mean that any cis women attracted to women would also not be allowed in the women’s room. Just saying.)

Does anyone realize that cis men would have to be willing to put themselves in the position of a trans woman in order to accomplish this particular act of subterfuge? If they walked around dressed as women but still visibly male, they would literally be putting themselves at risk for the kind of violence that trans women face, just for the sake of gaining access to a women’s room. They would also be even more likely to be stopped before entering the restroom, or to have someone contact management about their presence since they wouldn’t have been doing any of the regular feminizing routines that many trans women maintain.

It also occurs to me to mention that, though I’m not a criminal psychologist, I suspect the type of guy who would attack women in a public restroom would probably just walk in and do it without the preamble of dressing as a woman. And claiming to be a trans woman isn’t going to nullify those sexual assault charges anyway.

On that thought, there are trans women who rape people. There are also cis women who rape people. Making public facilities accessible to trans people isn’t going to generate rapists where there weren’t any, no matter what their gender is. Not to mention that most rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows personally, not random strangers in bathrooms.

Trans women are at risk for violence just like cis women are at risk, let’s not forget. Preventing trans women from using women’s restrooms is going to force them to go into men’s rooms, where they will be at greater risk of harassment or violence. I don’t mean to diminish the fact that violence against cis women from cis men is a huge problem, but cis men are not trans women, and taking away trans people’s access to certain gendered facilities isn’t going to stop or even deter that violence. It’s just discriminatory and othering, and is going to put more trans people at risk of harassment and possibly arrest since so many places are trying to codify laws restricting restroom use.

Bringing this back around to the Planet Fitness thing, the cis woman who complained did so because she thought there was a man in the locker room. The trans woman was reportedly wearing leggings and a baggie t-shirt, but she acknowledges that her body appears masculine from behind. Although, she has breasts and was carrying a purse… Point being, I’ve seen people arguing “But how can we tell if they’re trans and not just a dude in the ladies’ room if they aren’t wearing hyperfeminine clothing and haven’t been taking hormones?” To that I say, fuck you. Hormones cost money, and so do those feminizing routines I mentioned earlier. Let’s not pretend that standards of attractiveness aren’t being used to gatekeep trans women from accessing women’s spaces.

And to anyone who thinks that Planet Fitness responded too strongly by revoking the cis woman’s membership, I give you this:

She returned to the gym Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday “to get the word out” to other women that they “let men in the women’s locker room,” she said.

“Every day I said ‘just so you know, there’s a man they allow in this locker room and they don’t tell you that when you sign up,’ ” she said.

And also this:

Cormier said she then got a call from Planet Fitness’ corporate office telling her that she was violating their “no judgement” policy. She says they asked if she was going to stop talking to other women in the locker room and she said she would not.

Cormier said the representative told her she was no longer welcome at the gym.

This cis woman was aggressively returning to the gym specifically to ‘warn’ other members of the gym that Planet Fitness allows people to use the locker room suited to their gender identity. She was causing a disruption and creating an unsafe environment for trans people. Planet Fitness prides itself on being a no-judgment zone and she was clearly creating a judgmental environment by enflaming her fellow cis women. It makes perfect sense that they revoked her membership. And now she’s suing Planet Fitness for something like $25,000, so we’ll see how that goes.

In trying to come up with solutions to these bathroom debacles, some people have proposed making additional facilities for trans people or making all single-stall bathrooms gender-neutral, or even making all bathrooms gender-neutral, period. Here’s a Laci Green video talking about some of that:

I agree with Laci that making separate facilities for trans people is kinda separate-but-equal-y. Which is not good. I see no reason why all single-stall restrooms shouldn’t be gender-neutral, and I have seen “family” restrooms available, which seems perfectly reasonable. I’m also not particularly opposed to having all multi-stall restrooms be neutral as well, except for having cleaned men’s bathrooms before and they are.. not pleasant. Maybe we’d need to simultaneously introduce the concept of cleaning the bathroom after ourselves, like they do in French airports.

Ultimately, we need to collectively mind our own business and let people determine for themselves which bathroom they need to piss in. FFS.

Skepticon 7 was pretty fun!

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nBefore I go on about my weekend, just wanted to take a second to acknowledge that Darren Wilson is not being indicted for shooting and killing Mike Brown. Which is super shitty and terrifying. And now, back to being privileged…

So, yes! This past weekend, Skepticon happened. It’s the second one I’ve been to, the first being back in 2012. Apparently I took no pictures except a couple selfies of me being pretty before the prom Saturday night, which is classic Me. XD

The venue was different than the last Skepticon I went to. The Oasis Convention Center via the Ramada is a pretty nice place. The tables for various groups were constricted to a relatively small hallway thing though, which was sometimes less-than-comfortable, but otherwise the hotel experience was lovely. (My hubby and I actually stayed across the street, but w/e.)

There were lots of amazing talks and workshops, some of which will be available to watch on the internets. There are only four at the time of this posting, but time inexorably marches on. I didn’t see all of them, but I did thoroughly enjoy the ones I caught. [Read more…]

Defending the use of labels (aka adjectives)

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nI really feel like I shouldn’t have to justify this, but since it’s such a common argument that we-who-choose-to-use-labels come across on the internet, I figured it deserved some actual attention. Quick note: the labels that usually come under fire are ones specifically geared to describe gender and/or orientation.

It goes like this: “I don’t get why people are so obsessed with using all these labels. Why can’t you just be, like, a human being? Aren’t you just creating more division by making up all these categories? Blah blah blah, special snowflake, blah.” (I was going to add more to that, but it kinda sounds like that to me after a while. You get the point.)

Well, to start, it shouldn’t matter to you what language people use to describe themselves. If someone asks you to use certain pronouns or something, respect that. Apart from that, your involvement is not needed.

Here’s the main thing. To quote Anita Sarkeesian: “I know it sounds super basic — Comm Studies 101 – but having the language to name things in the world is really powerful.” Sarkeesian is talking about naming certain tropes in media, but it seemed like a statement which perfectly matches this argument. [Read more…]

White House Response to Non-Binary Gender Petition

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nDon’t get too excited, folks. The response was about as disappointing as you might expect.

Thank you for your petition requesting that the executive branch legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.

We know how important this issue is, and we understand the profound impact, both symbolic and otherwise, of having official documents that accurately reflect an individual’s identity. These documents play an essential, functional role, but also demonstrate the measure of dignity and respect afforded to our nation’s citizens. We cannot overstate the care and seriousness that should be brought to bear on the issue.

We recognize the importance of gender identification in particular and the Obama Administration is working to modernize federal policies in this area. For example, in 2010, the U.S. Department of State made it easier for individuals to update the gender marker in their passports. And last year, the Social Security Administration followed suit by simplifying the process for individuals to change the gender marker on their social security cards to reflect their identity accurately.

As you can imagine, there is considerable variance across agencies and levels of government. And so while the Obama Administration wants to make sure that official documents reflect the identities of the Americans who hold them, we believe proposals to change when and how gender is listed on official documents should be considered on a case-by-case basis by the affected federal and state agencies. However, that consideration must be informed by best practices and a commitment to honoring individuality and ensuring fairness.

Thank you again for your petition. We appreciate your input and the opportunity to convey our shared commitment.

It really just strikes me that the person who wrote this response (Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant to the President for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity in the Domestic Policy Council) doesn’t have an understanding of non-binary sex, much less gender. Like how babies are born with “ambiguous” genitalia and there’s no legal option for designating their sex as something other than strictly male or female. (Not to mention the many inherent problems with designating sex at birth anyway.)

The original petition wasn’t worded super well anyway.

Legal documents in the United States only recognize “male” and “female” as genders, leaving anyone who does not identify as one of these two genders with no option. Australia and New Zealand both allow an X in place of an M or an F on passports for this purpose and the UK recognizes ‘Mx’ (pronounced as Mix or sometimes Mux) as a gender-neutral title.

This petition asks the Obama Administration to legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary (such as agender, pangender, genderfluid, and others) and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.

So yeah, an expected disappointing response. I’m glad there’s a way for us to engage our government more directly and show our numbers, but I had hoped for more.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns Rant

IMG_20140209_080947Ohey, it’s me!

This is a bit ranty, and I’m not sure if there’s going to be much direction to it or a “point”, but it’s going to be full of words. Talk of misgendering and such ahead.

I stumbled onto a rather unpleasant blog post written about a suit filed by a gender-neutral employee in regard to having coworkers repeatedly go against their wishes by referring to them with feminine pronouns and pet names like “miss” and “little lady”. Actually, the link I provided (the original source material) is the only un-biased, not-super-condescending thing I could find before having to abandon that mission. I won’t be linking to any of the hateful sites because no one needs that triggery shit.

A former catering worker who identifies as neither female or male is suing Bon Appetit Management Co. for $518,000, claiming co-workers referred to the employee as a female though repeatedly being asked to stop.

Valeria Jones alleges in a lawsuit that co-workers repeatedly called Jones “miss,” “lady” and “little lady” despite explanations that Jones “was not a female or a male and that the term was unwelcome.”

Workers also directly said Jones looked like a woman and made female celebrity comparisons, the suit states.

(Emphasis mine.)

I don’t even know where to start with this. Setting aside for a moment that this has anything to do with gender, everything about this qualifies as harassment. The coworkers were asked to stop referring to Jones with feminine terms (terms which I think we can safely deem “hurtful” since it caused emotional distress) and they didn’t. The company didn’t do anything because there aren’t provisions for trans* recognition in the workplace. The coworkers go on to tease this person. Making comparisons to Ellen (“female celebrity”) is a) very, very old and b) extremely rude when you’re talking to someone who clearly doesn’t want to be grouped in with women.

There is so much condescension surrounding this issue that binary-minded people don’t seem to even register that we’re talking about harassment here, regardless of the gender of the recipient. It seems pretty simple to me: If someone asks you not to call them something, you don’t do it, regardless of how harmless it may seem to you.

Since the existence of non-binaries is a totally new thing for most people, I can see how ignorance runs rampant. Many of the sites that have talked about this story seem to think Jones wants everyone to use some “made-up” word to refer to them. I don’t know why, but this freaks people the hell out. (Unfortunately, the small vocabulary of invented neutral pronouns hasn’t made it to the general populace yet.)

I kinda-sorta understand discomfort with trying to adopt alien vocabulary–it’s part of the reason I haven’t personally chosen to use any of the invented gender-neutral terms like “ve”, etc. But, English-speakers use a neutral pronoun all the time with “they/them/their”. It’s used so casually that we don’t even notice it happening.

This whole thing is really thorny for non-binary people because you have people telling you that your gender isn’t even real because there are only two gender options. You have people freaking out about using “made-up words”, then you get others who won’t use “they/them/their” because “It’s plural”.

Segue into the lovely conversation I had with someone on Facebook*. (You’ll spoil the surprise** at the end of the post if you read the full convo right now, btw.) My comments are paraphrased/edited down, M’s are copy/pasted as-is:

Comments:

M: http://genderneutralpronoun.wordpress.com/ Though it’s such a foreign concept to intentionally adopt made up words into my vocabulary, I’m willing to try.

Lux: What I’m pointing out is that people often assume that gender-neutral terminology requires use of newly-coined terms. I’m actually just turning a mirror on the fact that people use “they/them/their” without thinking about it. I prefer they/them/their to the new terms because people already use those easily and naturally in everyday speech.

M: But then the question presents itself, how to refer to someone in a personal pronoun. Without these new terms all we are left with is “one” and “it” and I doubt you’ll like either one of those. Him or her shouldn’t be insulting, I refer to you as her because your my friend’s wife, not because I only percieve you as a woman.

Lux: We use “they” to refer to hypothetical people we don’t know, like the drivers of other cars. It’s somewhat of a transition to start using it to refer to someone personally, but I also found that pretty easy to do when one of my friends requested gender-neutral terms be used to talk about them.

To clarify: I’m not insulted by gendered pronouns. It’s more a matter of hurt feelings. I’ve tried to make myself “okay” with “being a woman” and being referred to as such, but I don’t really have a choice about the fact that it makes me feel bad. It took a lot of courage to change stuff online to reflect who I feel I am, and to ask people to switch pronouns. In reality, I almost never ask people to switch, even people I trust, even though it hurts me (out of my control) to be called woman-related terms.

M: No like, I’m not gonna ask: “Hey Chris how’s they/them/their?” I can say: “How’s Lux? Or how’s the wife?” But the English vernacular doesn’t allow for a nongenderized version of him/her. I can use they/them/their when it applies in proper form. But from now on ill ask Chris: “How is they?” See what I mean? Not as simple as it seems, there is no personal nongenderized pronoun.

Lux: How are they. It’s fine to use the plural verb since the context implies that you’re referring to a singular.

M’s first comment proved my point that people’s initial conclusion is to think of the invented pronouns and not the ones we use every day. Then, they made the assumption that I’m insulted by the use of feminine pronouns and immediately told me that I shouldn’t feel insulted because they don’t mean what I think they mean.

Then we see a little more of the imagined issues with using “them” to specifically refer to a singular person, such as switching verb conjugation, which is completely unnecessary. Another commenter pointed out that we juggle singular/plural verb use every day with the word “you”.

Why do people seem to think it’s okay to trample all over people’s gender-related preferences? It seems like every trans* person will deal with someone deliberately misgendering them at least once in the name of “you shouldn’t be offended, it’s not like I’m using slurs or anything”. There are cis people in our lives who seem to feel entitled to choose our labels for us. (And, of course, there are larger structures in place which enable people in power to ignore the requests of people in comparatively disadvantaged positions more generally.)

I do want to call attention to something I mentioned in my Facebook comments: I actually don’t ask people to switch pronouns in my AFK interactions. Online, all of my bios are written with gender terminology and my genderqueerity is one of my primary identifiers in internet interactions; I just sort of expect people to pick up on it and use those terms without my having to say anything. I will occasionally correct people misgendering me online, but usually only because they managed to upset me.

I pretty much never ask people I have face-to-face interactions with to use proper pronouns for me. Even if it hurts my feelings to be misgendered all the time, even though some people misgender me out of ignorance and others out of spite, even though it’s simply incorrect to refer to me with feminine terminology, I don’t ask people to switch.

Why? Because my gender is an important part of who I am and it’s hard to explain and easy to misunderstand. It’s a very vulnerable, raw thing that I’m not interested in submitting to potential injury by lack of understanding or malice. I’m not interested in risking having an integral part of me rejected and/or scoffed at, so only certain people even get to know that I’m genderqueer in my AFK life.

Plus–and this is actually kind of sad–I’m concerned about being imposing by asking people to switch pronouns. I understand that if you’ve never switched pronouns, you have to reprogram your brain to think of gender as a plastic thing in the first place and then train yourself to use the proper ones. You have to retrain the way you think about the person whose pronouns have changed. All those difficulties are tripled when the person requests gender-neutral terminology. I recognize those difficulties, and they weigh in heavily when I’m deciding whether to inform someone of the proper terms to use.

TL;DR

If there are any lessons to be learned here, let it start with: Don’t assume you know what other people are thinking. It’s condescending and rude. Telling someone that they shouldn’t be insulted implies that you have some insight into what they’re thinking and that you know better than they do what does or should upset them.

Further, if you are aware of a trans* person’s pronoun preferences, use them. If you don’t know and you really need to know for some reason, ask them privately. If you have any amount of respect or care for them as human beings, you will do what you can to minimize their marginalization and suffering, and affirm their gender. It’s really just basic recognition of an integral part of their identities that almost every other human being gets to have validated. (Or not integral, in the case of some agender and other people.)

 

*My tweets forward to Facebook. This format was easiest since I didn’t want to take a screencap from Facebook. I’m lazy, sue me.

**The surprise is that I used absolutely zero gendered pronouns in this post. Did it in any way detract from the information provided that you didn’t know M is a cis man?