Yes, the Right to Vote

Over on Pharyngula, PZ has a post up unequivocally supporting trans* persons equality with any other human where rights are concerned. As PZ and many, many others have put it: Trans rights are human rights.

In the thread, helpfully titled, “Arguments are closed, I’m not going to argue with anyone about trans rights”, someone showed up who wanted to argue about trans rights. You’ve really got to hand it to some folks, y’know? And on the one hand, this person (so far) doesn’t seem remotely as bad as some others who have commented on Pharyngula opposing trans* persons human rights. On the other, did they even read the post title?

I mean, seriously.

Nevertheless, aspleen did want to condemn the use of the phrase “trans rights are human rights” and also to ask, what is up with all these so called “rights” trans* persons want. Surely, aspleen asserted, it’s not like any normal human rights have ever been violated when a trans person was attempting to exercise them. In the midst of this comes the relevant excerpt:

I have no idea because no one here has actually bothered to list even one right that applies to trans people in particular. It’s not like it’s the right to vote, surely.

I listed a number of rights in that discussion. I  probably shouldn’t have. The post specifically says “arguments are closed”. There’s a good case to be made that regardless of my particular stance, this was not the thread to make any arguments about trans* persons’ human rights, that in that moment in that thread the valuable thing to do was to simply treat our rights as beyond question. Nonetheless, I took the bait and wrote about the phrase trans rights are human rights.

What I didn’t do is make it personal. aspleen may or may not find me credible, and I’m just a voice on the internet with no way for aspleen to judge my credibility (I might, after all, be a cisgender Black South African who has been lying to everyone about living in Cascadia and has no knowledge of trans persons’ experiences whatsoever). So I wasn’t interested in putting my personal story up for display there, but I do think it’s important to recognize that trans* rights are and have been for decades (if not longer) routinely denigrated and often denied.

So here I want to say that this bit that aspleen thought so ridiculous that it just couldn’t happen? The denial of voting rights to trans* people? Yeah, that was so rampant in the 80s and early 90s that when I came out older trans* people specifically told me that I needed to register to vote absentee so I wouldn’t have to face prejudiced poll workers convinced that I was a man in women’s clothes trying to commit voter fraud.

And yet, I didn’t take that advice right away. But during the spring election in 1996 a poll worker did turn me away. I waited several hours and then returned to the same polling place. I ended up speaking to a supervisor because the worker who turned me away had recorded some kind of note or asterisk warning people that someone was trying to fraudulently vote under my name. Yes, I was ultimately able to vote that day. In legal terms, my right to vote was disparaged. But I was lucky, I was persistent, and I lived in liberal Portland, Oregon. Many people who warned me about this problem had been entirely denied from voting in earlier years, and in the same year but in other countries or other states my persistence might have been more likely to result in arrest than successful voting. With how widespread the opinion was that trans* people should register to vote absentee, it’s impossible that people weren’t frequently denied the vote in the mid 90s, and however much better it’s gotten since (and Oregon has moved to entirely mail-in ballots so this isn’t a problem there anymore) I’m sure it still occurs.

While one of the better responses to my new ID after changing legal gender and legal name was from the woman who helped me change the name on my voter registration, this is another site where violations of voting rights occur. If someone registering you to vote believes your registration is suspicious, it may be held up or denied for fear of fraud. Changing a name from one overtly gendered feminine to one overtly gendered masculine (or vice versa) will easily arouse the suspicions of the bigoted. While I’ve done no research on this topic, I find it implausible to believe that no trans* persons voter registrations have been held up or denied in this way.

To make a long story short, the violation of right that aspleen considered impossible has in fact been common, and even more commonly have trans people been dissuaded from voting, either entirely or merely dissuaded from participating in the public ritual and forced to vote absentee.

There may be some rights which you might hear discussed in relation to trans* persons more frequently, such as public accommodations in the context of public restrooms, but the violations of right are systemic. People have been denied food stamps and other public benefits because officials thought it suspicious that a single social security number was associated with both a feminine and a masculine name. Literally any exercise of right that requires showing ID has been threatened and abridged on account of trans status, experience, or appearance.

Some issues become more prominent in some moments or some political contexts, but if you find yourself imagining that some form of discrimination simply doesn’t affect trans* persons, you really need to think again.

And if you have a personal story to tell about having your rights violated on account of trans* status, experience, or appearance or about witnessing that happening to another person, please feel free to tell that story in the comments so that readers can have an idea of just how many different ways trans* persons rights are violated. aspleen’s failure of imagination should be taken as a rallying cry for ever more and ever better education.



  1. says

    Somebody who wanted to commit voter fraud would choose a name that’s as non-suspicious as possible and matches the gender they visually appear to be. Nobody would purposefully try to impersonate a person of the opposite gender for the sake of voter fraud. The whole notion is silly.

    And if you have a personal story to tell about having your rights violated on account of trans* status, experience, or appearance or about witnessing that happening to another person, please feel free to tell that story in the comments so that readers can have an idea of just how many different ways trans* persons rights are violated.

    I was denied access to healthcare —

  2. says

    Traveling while trans is a huge one that Mr. Spleen should give some serious thought to.

    That has all the fraughtness of anything that demands an ID, plus a host of its very own special sauce, starting with the fact that the rules for fixing the gender marker on a passport are generally a bigger pain in the ass than the ones on other forms of ID, and that increasingly insane border people who think their job is to ‘eject undesirables’ do not react well to anything they consider anomalous.

    I’ve personally experienced a whole bureaucratic jerking around with the passport (and birth certificate) forcing me to spend several years with DIFFERENT INFORMATION on my passport and driver’s license, and also everyone’s big airborne favorite, being sexually assaulted by the TSA because my body sometimes confuses their magic bigotry machines, I mean backscatter scanners.

  3. says

    BTW, that passport fuckery didn’t end because of anything I was able to do, but as a result of the good work of activists on the other side of the country: I was only able to get everything fixed when my province of birth changed their birth certificate rules from one of the most regressive in the country to possibly the most progressive. So for me, it was something I had to live with and hope nobody would hurt me with, until suddenly it went away by pure luck.

  4. says

    Since passport problems were already mentioned, I’ll add some extra complaints about the same problem. Andreas isn’t my legal name. My legal name is a female name, and I cannot possibly change it.

    In Latvia legally female people are obliged to have female names. Local laws define female names as anything ending with letters “a” or “e.” My country would allow me to call myself “Andrea,” but not “Andreas.”

    In order to change one’s legal gender, you have to obtain every imaginable surgery out there (and even them some bureaucrats will object that a person is still the gender they were assigned at birth). Even if I took testosterone or got rid of my breasts, the state would still insist that I must be female (I have no plans of ever getting a phalloplasty). People themselves aren’t allowed to choose what gender they want in their passport or driver’s license. Instead doctors and bureaucrats are expected to decide what gender some person is.

    And speaking of legal names, even a stupid website like Facebook discriminated me because my real name (how I prefer to call myself) differs from the legal name that is written in my passport —

  5. Allison says

    I was following the discussion over at PZ’s blog, but eventually I gave up.

    There’s something incredibly draining, demoralizing, and soul-destroying about watching your very existence treated as a topic for high-school-style debate. Oddly enough, reading the defenders is almost as demoralizing as reading the transphobes. I had to go and read some CN Lester and some TG stories just to get my spirits back up enough to go back to working at my job.

    I think there’s a point in there about how living in a society where one’s right to exist at all is an active political question slowly and painfully grinds away one’s desire to continue living, but the self-protective part of me won’t allow me to focus on it long enough to put it together. It’s kind of like living your entire life on death row.

  6. Allison says

    How about the right to not be murdered?

    In most states in the USA, “trans panic” is considered a valid defense when someone (always cis, it seems) murders a trans person. This seems to apply even when the murder is several days after the murderer finds out that their victim is trans. AFAIK, if someone murders a cis person, there’s no “cis panic” defense.

    (This is something trans people have in common with African-Americans — simply being a black male seems to be considered to be threat enough that a reasonable (= white) person can be excused for feeling the need to “defend” themself with deadly force.)

  7. says

    Allison @#6

    There’s something incredibly draining, demoralizing, and soul-destroying about watching your very existence treated as a topic for high-school-style debate.

    Yep. “Draining, and demoralizing” goes for me as well. The difference is that for me hearing all this crap invokes anger. It’s not “soul-destroying,” I have never doubted my self-worth, nor have I gotten sad, instead I just get angry and feel hatred towards the transphobes.

    Oddly enough, reading the defenders is almost as demoralizing as reading the transphobes.

    This is where I differ. For me it’s comforting to know that at least some people support human rights for trans people.

    the self-protective part of me won’t allow me to focus on it long enough to put it together

    Yep, this is why nowadays I live in a self-selected media bubble, interacting only with people who are fine with who I am. I have partially isolated myself from the general society, I stay away from places where I can expect somebody to question my sanity yet again. Isolating myself risks loneliness, but that still is better than being perpetually angry at all the people I would otherwise encounter and have to confront.

    The alternative would be tiring, exhausting even. I don’t fear conflict and yet another exchange of insults. I can argue just fine, I’m good at debating (or yelling at people). The problem is that having to do so regularly is exhausting.

  8. Marja Erwin says

    Not for being trans, but possibly for being neurodivergent.

    I had a doctor’s appointment several years ago. I had travelled to the apointment, and had signed in, and had collapsed struggling with the sensory pain-bombardment in the waiting area, waiting, waiting, waiting, and it was getting farther and farther past my appointment time, so I went up to ask what was going on, was there some delay, and they explained that I had missed my appointment. I explained that I had arrived an hour early, as requested, and had waited in severe pain for the whole hour. So they explained that I had not signed in. I explained that I had signed in when I had arrived. They offered to resechedule everything if I could come in tomorrow. I explained that I would be need to recuperate for at least the next few days.

    Even when staff are helpful, the health-care system is inaccessible at every step.

  9. woodsong says

    How about the right to privacy?

    One of my cousins (FTM, call him Bob) told me about using public men’s rooms, and having other men follow him into the bathroom, and peek over the stall while he was using the toilet. That’s pretty messed up right there!

    I’m a cis woman, and I can sympathize.

  10. says

    I don’t want anyone to feel pressured to respond, but if I can do anything to make my defense less difficult to watch I’m happy to consider it. Oddly being politically flexible in confrontations and conflicts seems to be something I like to do. Tourette syndrome seems to have to do with it and I’m currently practicing and adding new things.

  11. woodsong says

    abbeycadabra @14, WTF indeed! My reaction to Bob’s described experience was “holy shit!”

    If I remember right (it’s been a few years since that conversation), Bob was saying that on occasions when he had shaved off his beard, this kind of thing happened. Which implies to me that there are a significant number of men out there who think their curiosity is more important than a potentially-trans* person’s privacy. (I say potentially because there’s enough human variation that you really can’t know for certain without asking, and someone else’s private parts are none of my business, so I won’t be asking.) Bob told me about that after I expressed my opinion on the idiocy of the “bathroom bills”, and remarked that I don’t care who is in the stall next to me in a public restroom, or what equipment they have in their pants, I care whether they’re minding their own business or intruding on mine. Bob was quite emphatically in agreement with that.

    Marja @10, that sounds horrible! Did they not even read their own sign-in sheet???

  12. says

    Women who change names upon marriage would never be denied their right to vote, nor would a male who change legal names for whatever reason (e.g. Dim Donald’s ancestor Drumpf, Tonya Harding’s co-conspirator Jeff Gillooly).

    I’m not on HRT nor had surgery, so the only thing different about me – if I were an american – is my appearance (clothes and makeup) and legal name once changed. If my chosen name were ambiguous (e.g. Tracy, Sandy) and I went dressed in “male” clothes, nobody would say a word. This is naught more than a pretext for denying people’s humanity.

    Stephen Harper denied me the right to vote for over a decade (just got it back), but that applied to anyone living abroad for several years. If the Clowns were targeting anyone, it was white collar and educated people with the experience of living abroad, i.e. people more likely to be informed and enlightened, not likely to be a rightwingnut.

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