Thursday, April 30, 2009

We matter

Also cross-posted over at Shakesville.

Yesterday was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me.

I took grim satisfaction that the Library of Congress was ordered to pay Diane Schroer nearly $500,000 in what is the largest award in transgender job discrimination case. (Short version: Schroer, a former Army Special Forces commander, was widely agreed to be the most qualified applicant for a job as a terrorism analyst, but when the woman who offered the job found out that Schroer was transitioning from David to Diane, she had a blatantly transphobic freak-out and yanked the job offer the next day. We're still waiting to see if the Obama administration will appeal the decision.)

I was pleased to see the U.S. House of Representative once again passed a bill expanding anti-hate crimes laws to include both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. (The real test will be when the Senate votes on it.)

I was ecstatic when the New Hampshire Senate unexpectedly passed a marriage equality bill, making that state poised to become the fifth one to allow same-sex marriages.

But there was also some news you probably didn't hear about. That same morning, the New Hampshire senators unanimously -- let me repeat that, unanimously -- voted to kill a bill that would have extended housing and employment anti-discrimination protections to trans people.

This came after the fundamentalist haters used a campaign of bearing false witness lies to portray it as a "bathroom bill" -- a nickname picked up and used by the local media -- that would allow male sexual predators in dresses into women's bathrooms. (Never mind that there's been no bathroom incidents in the 13 states that have similar laws. Or that trans people are already in bathrooms, because you know... sometimes we have to pee too.) Now evidently there was some sort of political maneuvering behind the vote, since even the sponsors voted against their own bill. One of the sponsors said that passing it now would only worsen the situation for trans people because of the way the bill was portrayed. (I guess they had to destroy the village to save it....) But whatever the good intentions, the 24-0 vote wound up sending the message: You don't deserve the same rights as everybody else. You don't even deserve a valient-but-losing effort. You just don't matter.

It was yet another Prop. 8-like moment for trans issues, particularly given the contrast to the same-day marriage equality vote. I feel the same sort of bitter aftertaste to sweet success that I felt on Election Night. I'm beginning to feel like we trans people are human shields, taking the brunt of the anti-LGBT hatred out there while marriage equality is becoming mainstreamed. We're "those people," the ones who can be demonized, the ones who by comparison make the shiny, happy sex-same couples waiting to walk down the aisle looking ever so "normal." Because after all, they're the ones who matter.

You probably didn't hear about the vote, not even in the LGBT media/blogosphere. I guess having a ghost at the banquet is a bit of a downer. (FYI, I know a number of these sites knew about the story because I personally alerted them to it.) The thing is, it's just latest incident in their all-too-frequent deafening silence when it comes to trans-related issues and news. Schroer's victory was also MIA today. A week ago, a jury in rural Colorado took less than two hours to convict the killer of Angie Zapata of first degree murder and committing a hate crime -- the first U.S. hate crime conviction ever in the murder of a trans person. It was the trans communities' equivalent of the Matthew Shepard murder and attracted hordes of attention from the mainstream media. The gay and lesbian media... not so much (with a few notable exceptions) -- even on the eve of the federal hate crimes bill going to a vote. Because apparently the T in LGBT doesn't seem to matter.

But I wouldn't give the MSM a cookie either. All too often their coverage began: "A man who claimed he snapped after discovering a transgender woman was actually male..." -- repeating as fact the exact same self-serving "trans panic" defense, the same "deceptive tranny" victim blaming, that the jury specifically rejected. Nor did they bother to mention that the evidence showed Zapata's killer knew she was trans 36 hours before she died, that there was no evidence that Zapata had sex with him that night she died, that he returned to finish her off when he realized she wasn't dead yet. Because we don't matter enough to get the story right.

I'll admit it, my nerves are a bit raw about this. In the past few weeks, we've seen a feminist blogger crack a tranny "joke" and then tell people who objected to lighten up (and STFU). Because after all, it was about "Mann Coulter" so it was OK. We've seen similar "you're just being too sensitive" comments posted over at Bitch Magazine directed toward those who thought a cartoon about lesbians who fetishize trans men was embodying the very attitudes it supposedly was critiquing. We've seen a series of problems with trans people being silenced in the comments discussions at Feministing and Feministe. (Though to their credit both sites are trying to address the problems.) These problems ranged from plain old privileged cluelessness -- "stop the discussion until someone explains what 'cisgender' means because I can't be bothered to figure it out for myself," to "I want to talk about how I deserve a cookie for being so enlightened about those exotic trans people," to "I know the post was about trans rights, but I want to talk about how I don't like sharing bathrooms with men" -- to insisting that people's lives conform to someone's pet ideology, to outright transphobic attacks. When men engage in this sort of silencing behaviors, especially in feminist spaces, many feminist women are quick to anger and quick to call them on their shit. But when some of these very same women do the exact same thing to trans people... well, not so much. Because we don't matter.

Except, we do.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Drafts from the DSM-V workgroup are out and they're continuing to pathologize trans people

When the infamous Ray Blanchard was appointed to the work group revising the American Psychiatric Association's "Manual for Diagnosis of Mental Disorders" -- the standard reference book used by psychiatrists in North America, there was widespread worry that he'd used the opportunity to push his pathologizing and discredited theories about trans people all being sexual fetishists.

What a surprise... Blanchard reportedly has done exactly that the recently presented "Provisional Report by the DSM-V Workgroup on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders" according to the GID reform advocates, who are calling on trans people and their allies to voice their concern about the direction the work group is heading.

I don't have a copy of the report itself, but a related presentation Blanchard made at the same conference seems to support the reported account.

Blanchard proposes keeping the current disagnostic criteria for "transvestic fetishism" -- only now it's a "transvestic disorder," which by definition, according to Blanchard, can only occur among hetero men. (Apparently gay crossdressers and women who crossdress don't exist in his world.) Blanchard would also add two subcategories -- "transvestic disorder with fetishism" and "transvestic disorder with autogynephilia" -- based on "unpublished research, which I conducted specifically for the Paraphilias Subworkgroup." [emphasis mine]

Blanchard's research claims that:

The results showed that transvestic patients who acknowledged autogynephilia had higher odds of reporting past or current desires for sex reassignment than transvestic patients who denied autogynephilia. The opposite result was found for fetishism, that is, transvestites who reported fetishism were less likely to report a desire for sex reassignment. It is noteworthy that these predictors were independent to a large extent.
But either way under his proposal by definition people with this "disorder" are always sexual fetishists, i.e. you're either "sexually aroused by fabrics, materials, or garments" or "sexually aroused by the thought or image of self as female."

Hmmm... I guess it's too much to ask that proposed diagnostic criteria, one that affects a huge number of people's lives, be based on research that's withstood peer review...

Friday, April 24, 2009

NH House Speaker supports trans protections

New Hampshire House of Representatives Speaker Terie Norelli advocates for legislation protecting the trans community:

There are persons in our society who are discriminated against and who deserve our protection. Twelve states, more than 50 cities, and many large corporations have opposed discrimination against transgendered persons.

New Hampshire and the General Court have a long and proud history of standing against discrimination. A few weeks ago, the House once again stood against discrimination. I would urge all citizens of our state and all members of the Senate to stand with us.

It's disgraceful that opponents of House Bill 415 have trivialized the very real challenges faced by a small segment of our population -- citizens who have come face to face with losing their job or being denied housing. READ THE FULL SPEECH

Why some trans people might assume the worse...

Bitch magazine just did a profile of cartoonist Erika Moen and touched on a comic strip Moen did that looked at the fetishization of trans men by some lesbians which has made some ripples in the trans communitities.

Admittedly, I only saw the original out of context, but personally I read the original as a tongue-in-cheek critique. But -- particularly when seen just on its own -- I can also see how it can be read as dismissing objections about being objectified. And in fact a trans blogger put out a reworded version of the original comic that made the point about fetishization much more bluntly. (Bitch has both versions included in their profile.)

I have to say I was disappointed, but not surprised, by the reactions of some of commenters over at Bitch, who essentially told trans people to quit taking things so seriously.

Yes there are people devoid of humor of all stripes (including trans people and feminists), but dismissing people who objected to the cartoon as humorless and not focusing on the real enemies strikes me as being unwilling to take the time to listen and try to understand why some people might've found the piece problematic. (And might I note accusations of being "humorless" is something that's been used to silence feminists...)

Because there's another context going on -- trans people are being routinely silenced in a number of feminist spaces.

Such as when BitchPhd cracks a tranny "joke" and then tells people to lighten up and STFU.

Such as the spate of problems that prompted some trans bloggers to boycott Feministing and Feministe.* From routinely derailing trans topics with "stop the conversation until you trans people spoon feed me Trans 101 that I can't be bother to try to figure out from context or try to look up;" to derailing trans topics by "I know the original post was about trans rights legislation but I want to talk about how uncomfortable I am with sharing bathrooms with men;" to derailing by "I want to talk about how trans issues affect me, me, me;" to "Sure I started by mentioning a trans issue, but really I'm just using it to talk about how gender affects cisgender people."

Such as implicit/explicit presumptions gender essentialism (i.e. trans people are, and always will be, "really" their birth gender) by some feminists. Or that trans people are just "tools of the gender binary" -- an accusation that gets aimed at trans women way more than trans men BTW. Or that "I'm going to ignore their lived experiences because it gets in the way of my theories." To outright transphobic attacks. All of which in particular seem to come from folks who self-identify themselves as rad fems.

Such as how posts about Seth Rogen's late movie can attract hordes "that's horrible" comments, but posts about trans women getting killed in hate crimes are met by crickets chirping.

Given all that, I hope people can see why the piece could be seen as expressing privilege, not critiquing it. It may be a misreading of it, but frankly there's a lot of raw nerves among my peeps because of the things I've mentioned. Made worse by the feeling that a number of feminists aren't willing to do more than give lip service to us or our issues -- in part precisely because it would require them (as the rewording put it) to do "WAY too much introspection on my part." Which can make some people (rightly or wrongly) inclined to assume the worst.

* To their credit, both sites are trying to address these issues, even if I don't think they've done so particularly successfully yet.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

first trans mayor may have a reality TV show

Stu Rasmussen, the first openly transgendered mayor, is looking into a reality television show. The mayor of Silverton, Oregon is ready to show that you can come out with your gender identity--even in a small town.

Originally posted on The Colonic

Pee in Peace video blog

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Queers United

We're the featured blog at Queers United today! Anyone coming over from that link: welcome! We are always looking for new bloggers: send an email to helenboyd(at)myhusbandbetty(dot)com if you're interested, with links to stuff you've written.

& It's #transTuesday on Twitter.

GenderVision: Transgender at Work

In this new GenderVision program we dive into employment issues faced by transgender persons. As transgender people work towards fair and equal protection of their right to work, at both state and federal levels, many grapple with the realities of being singled out for mistreatment in the workplace. Ethan St. Pierre, FTM transsexual and former security supervisor, talks about his experience of being harassed and fired simply because of his gender. Alishia Ouelette, MTF transsexual firefighter, talks about her experience as a firefighter in Danvers, where she remains on the job after undergoing intense public scrutiny.
Watch now at www.gendervision.org

Monday, April 13, 2009

#AmazonFail

Honestly, I'm pretty cheered by the response to #AmazonFail: so many people upset about censorship, and censorship of LGBT, sex-positive, and related topics.

Not a bad thing at all. There's a reasonably good summation at CNET and at WiredPen (which has the PW report about it being caused by a glitch) (& there's my post from yesterday about it, with links to a lot of the original sources).

Monday, April 06, 2009

Transsexuals Not Covered In Hate Crimes Bill

Back on Feburary 25, 2009 Kathy Padilla wrote a post over at Pam's House Blend titled "Hate Crimes & ENDA: Bad Bills Come and Bad Bills Go". When it came out I really thought it would be one of those explosive posts that rocked the community down to the bone. She said:

"The new definitions can generally be said to cover gender expression but not gender identity. Which in the real world would present the likelihood that gender variant gay, straight and transgender people who don’t medically transition would be covered by the Hate Crimes Bill (and ENDA if it imports the language). Transsexuals would not be covered."
and
"The redefining of identity to mean characteristics (in this case gender expression) is something that case law has already addressed in Title VII cases holding that expression does not equal identity; in those cases racial and ethnic identity. These were expressions that the plaintiffs associated with their racial and ethnic identities; such as hair styles and the use of their native languages but that might not be considered exclusively associated with those identities. The obverse would be applicable here – expression being covered, but identity being excluded. The history indicates that if expression only is covered in the legislation; unless one can concretely associate an expression with an identity, the identity wouldn’t be covered. It should be obvious - but the definition of gender expression discrimination is that it is based upon gender expression that isn’t associated with one’s identity."

In the interest of disclosure, the Title VII cases Padilla speaks of are Rogers v. American Airlines (which said that the "Airline rule prohibiting employees in certain employment categories from wearing all-braided hairstyle did not discriminate on basis of race, since policy applied equally to members of all races and plaintiff did not allege that all-braided hairstyle was one used exclusively or even predominantly by black people") which and Bivens v. Albuquerque Public Schools (which said that "Sagging is not necessarily associated with a single racial or cultural group, and sagging is seen by some merely as a fashion trend followed by many adolescents all over the United States")

Padilla wrote a follow up post at Bilerico called Bulletproof saying:
"I followed up and asked if these groups had raised objections to the language in previous meetings and she confirmed that they had. The language hasn't changed since they raised these objections. And no one from these groups has stated that they were convinced their previous objections were groundless. It could just be that they maintain these objections, but won't voice them going forward out of process & political considerations. It would be helpful for those groups having the greatest credibility with the trans communities to speak to the issue. Process shouldn't trump product where our rights and possibly our lives our concerned. It's precisely because we're not bulletproof that the language must be.

One of the reasons given by some in DC for the differing definitions in ENDA & Hate Crimes of gender identity & expression is that the bills come from two distinct areas of law - employment & criminal. We discussed this and Ms. Falo confirmed that there are no differences in these two spheres or in case law that would require different language or make one definition preferable in the criminal arena but less adequate in the employment sphere. She noted though that the legislative processes differed as the bills originated in separate committees."
The "Ms. Falo" that Padilla speaks of is a legislative lawyer working for Congressman Barney Frank. You'd think with such a bombshell of a post, that there would be some kind of response. But the silence has been deafening.

The importance of the language in HR. 1913 can't be overstated. The Task Force wrote in their PDF titled "Transgender Equality"
"Drafting legislation is a highly skilled art. To be useful, civil rights statutes must be worded carefully. Sloppy or ambiguous language can create unintended loopholes or exclusions that may defeat the purpose of passing a law in the first place. Once a nondiscrimination statute is passed, courts will scrutinize the language very closely. Lawyers representing employers (landlords, businesses, etc.) will do their best to find loopholes and to persuade courts to interpret the law as narrowly as possible. In the context of federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination, for example, literally hundreds of pages of court decisions have been devoted to interpreting the three little words “because of sex.” Individual litigants have won or lost cases depending on how narrowly or broadly a particular court has interpreted this single phrase. To avoid these problems as much as possible, it is a good idea to enlist the help of supportive attorneys and/or legislators who are skilled at drafting legislation, and who can help you anticipate criticisms, misunderstandings, and unintended consequences of language that is confusing, weak, or just poorly drafted. This doesn’t mean that you have to relinquish all control to legal 'experts.' But it does suggest that once you know what you want your statute to accomplish, it makes sense to consult or collaborate with folks who have the knowledge and the skills to draft a strong, carefully worded law that will afford as much protection as possible.
A PDF put out by NCTE states:
"Lawyers experienced with writing and enforcing laws that protect transgender people have worked to ensure that the language in this bill includes people of all gender expressions and identities. Crimes against people across the gender spectrum would be addressed by this bill."
But Arizona attorney Abigail Jensen echoes my concerns with her remarks concerning H.R. 1913 on the EQualityGiving blog:
"I recognize that the language in the Hate Crimes Bill was approved by both Houses of Congress in 2007. However, having separate definitions of the same term in federal law invites unnecessary litigation over whether that term is intended to have a different meaning in the Hate Crimes Bill than everywhere else. In addition, there is some concern that the definition in the Hate Crimes Bill is intentionally more narrow than the definition in HR2015 and that it excludes those who have physically transitioned to their affirmed gender. In light of these concerns, the political advantages of using the definition approved in 2007 do not justify the use of different definitions."
The murders of Angie Zapata, Gwen Araujo, Chanel Pickett, and Deborah Forte would likely not be considered hate crimes today, under this legislation. Defined narrowly, these women were not murdered for their "characteristics", but their genitals or genital history. The murderers used (or in the case of Zapata, is using) the trans-panic defense, not the victims characteristics.

Using the sloppy wording of this legislation, a reasonably smart defense attorney will use this crack to promote the use of the trans-panic defense. While NCTE states that "Lawyers experienced with writing and enforcing laws" helped write this bill, I've yet to see of any of these "experts" come out publicly to correct "errors" by me or Padilla in this post. I welcome that because I'd love to be wrong. But the consequences of this bill will have long term effects on the ability to prosecute hate crimes against transgender people. A bad hate crimes bill is worse than no bill at all. Well, except if you're running a non-profit business and are looking for a win at all costs. Then it's a win/win. You can claim victory and ask for more money because of the good work you do. The losers will be the victims and their families... and justice.

cross posted from The Transadvocate.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Stories from 'Let Us Pee'


Dear Let Us Pee,

I was touring with a band through Germany when we stopped at a gas station to pee. As the three of us all went into the women's room, the bathroom guardian (presumably there to make sure no one jumps over or ducks under the turn style to pay the 50 cent toll) opens the door behind us and yells something to the extent of "you can't go in here! This is the women's room!" Being a transwoman, I froze and panicked, having never been outed in a bathroom before. But to my surprise, it was my cissexual friend that I had come in with that the man was barking at. "Ich bin eine Frau! Frau! Frau!" she yells back, pointing to her chest. He left before I saw whether he was embarrassed or not. This was the first of 7 times that she was yelled at for using the women's room in the course of six weeks across many western European countries. And I've come to learn that often times, people who clean toilets for a living, are unhappy people waiting to exercise the little bit of power they believe they have.

Sincerely,

Bathroom policing still sounds the same in German

Dear Let Us Pee,

I've been sexually harassed by a woman in the female toilets when (and this was pretty much verified by later events) she read me as trans, and apparently thought it was appropriate to walk up to me, introduce herself, and suddenly grope my breasts.


Sincerely,

I don't like to be touched by strangers either

Have a story to share?
Been harassed in a public bathroom because of your gender, perceived gender, gender expression, or perceived sexual orientation? If so send me your story and I will post it anonymously at Let Us Pee.
Email it to letmepee@gmail.com

Fed'l Hate Crimes Bill Trans-Inclusive

From NCTE:

Last night, Representative John Conyers of Michigan re-introduced The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, H.R. 1913. This would be the first-ever federal law to provide protections for transgender people. It is identical to the hate crimes bill passed by the House of Representatives in 2007 and includes the language that transgender advocates requested. It is also the first transgender inclusive bill to be introduced during this Session.

In his comments introducing the bill, Rep. John Conyers stated, "Hate crime statistics do not speak for themselves. Behind each of the statistics is an individual or community targeted for violence for no other reason than race, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Law enforcement authorities and civic leaders have learned that a failure to address the problem of bias crime can cause a seemingly isolated incident to fester into widespread tension that can damage the social fabric of the wider community. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 is a constructive and measured response to a problem that continues to plague our nation. These are crimes that shock and shame our national conscience. They should be subject to comprehensive federal law enforcement assistance and prosecution."

Representatives are heading home to their districts for spring recess from now until April 21st. It is vital that you call them in their district offices to urge their support for this critical piece of legislation. Those who oppose this legislation will be active during this time-we need to be as well so that members of Congress are hearing from those directly affected by this legislation. Please take this important step to help address the violence faced by transgender people.

To find your Representative, visit our webpage or go to the House of Representatives webpage at www.house.gov and enter your ZIP+4 to find your member of Congress.

WHAT THE BILL SAYS
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, H.R. 1913, would:

  • Extend existing federal protections to include "gender identity, sexual orientation, gender and disability"

  • Allow the Justice Department to assist in hate crime investigations at the local level when local law enforcement is unable or unwilling to fully address these crimes

  • Mandate that the FBI begin tracking hate crimes based on actual or perceived gender identity

  • Remove limitations that narrowly define hate crimes to violence committed while a person is accessing a federally protected activity, such as voting.

The Hate Crimes Prevention Act is supported by nearly 300 civil rights, education, religious, and civic organizations. The bill is also endorsed by virtually every major law enforcement organization in the country-including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Sheriffs Association, the Police Executive Research Forum, and thirty-one state Attorneys General.

For more information:
  • Read the specifics about this legislation from the Library of Congress, go to their website and search by bill H.R. 1913

  • View our fact sheet about the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act and read additional information about hate crimes on our website.
& That's exactly why I love NCTE: all the info you need to do what you need to do.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Trans Equality & the Feds

NCTE asks:

What would federal policy look like if transgender people were fully and fairly included? Over the past months and years, NCTE has compiled a list of 112 separate policies that directly impact the lives of transgender people and our families that need to be added, removed or changed. Our latest publication, "Transgender Equality and the Federal Government" outlines each of these issues. We expect that some of these policies can be changed in the short term, while others will require long term activism. Some of the issues here will be at the forefront of NCTE's work in the coming year and in other areas, our partners in this work will be the ones to lead, with our support.

You can read that document online, or check out in .pdf format.