Redefinitions

Human Beings are constantly growing, evolving, changing and redefining who we are and how we act.  The expression of gender is one of those changing characteristics.  When we are very young no one has to train us on how to express our gender.  We just do, and we are very good at it.   If you step outside of the publicly accepted gender expression for the sex you were born, then there are consequences to pay.

That is when the harsh training begins.  These lessons can be physically brutal and painfully humiliating.  The little tomboy girls are cute, but only up to a point.  Then we must “grow up” and act right and proper.  The little sissy boys are never cute.  We are always creepy and mostly beaten to “shape up” and “fly right.”

The reason for the rigid rules of expression comes mainly from our current definitions about what it means to be a woman or a man.  Each of these come with different costumes, mannerism, language and hygiene.  Very rarely do these acceptably overlap, and when they do it is the result of brave souls and long suffering.

Women Lead, Men Follow

An early photo of a Wigan Pit Brow girl who wore trousers under their skirts to work the coal mines

Wigan Pit Brow Woman

Women have always taken the lead on these redefinitions.  From the Wigan Pit Brow girls who wore trousers under their skirts to work the coal mines outside of Manchester England to the women working the farms on the western expansion in the US;  these women worked hard, never lost their womanhood and provided the models for further redefinitions of their gender expression.

Voting, ownership of property and smoking were once thought to be an exclusive male attribute.  The growing Women’s suffrage movement led to a greater desire for equality in society with men.  Once again, these were seen as further redefining woman.

The women entering the workforce during World War II were building the planes, ships and heavy armor wearing men’s trousers and work shirts.  “Rosie the Riveter” depicted a strong woman with a can do attitude.  This was a source of pride for the home front and never once was she considered mannish or scandalized.

Fast forward to today and many of the gains made by the women of the past are common place.  The whole “what does it mean to be a woman” debate has move away from the narrow dictates of costume, and women are once again fighting against the imposed boundaries.  The Radical Feminist movement has taken up the challenge and are using social media, womyn only spaces and festivals to spread their ideas.

The RadFem’s fight against the notion that the terms sex and gender are interchangeable.  One’s sex is one’s sex, and gender is a social construct that is imposed by society at large.  Womyn should be able to express themselves openly and comfortably without self-policing their gender traits.  “Anatomy is Destiny,” to quote a famous misogynist Siegmund Freud.

A particular RemFem blog called Gender Trender points out what it believes are the problems and false logic of transgender/transsexual folk.  This blogger is an equal opportunity writer who lambast both Male to Female and Female to Male transitioners.  I believe that the owner of this site genuinely seeks to enlighten and help the very people they ridicule.   Whether they succeed or not is up to the readers.

The reason I bring this site up in my post is that a couple of comments to the post FTM’s in their own words: How to Behave Male on the blog Gender Trender points out what these womyn are doing to help redefine woman.

FeistyAmazon Says: November 5, 2011 at 9:40 pm

” … Well, if I came out now instead of in 1981, I would be going down THE SAME ROAD! Cuz I chopped off my hair, wore more androgynous/men’s clothes (well I always have when I could get away with it with my family) did Full Contact karate (the only female in the whole dojo to do so), and had many different ‘masculine’ behaviors because they simply couldn’t domesticate me or femme me up. And they had me in therapy too.

I just didn’t ‘fit in’, not until I came out as a Dyke on campus with womyn PROUD to be Dykes, Lesbians, Butches, Feminists, and most of all FEMALE! THEN I had a place… I’ve ALWAYS crossed my legs in the male manner. I’ve ALWAYS had a strong handshake! Nobody taught me these things..they were innate to my character and to my taking up space! You get on a bus with me, not just my size taking up space, but by my body language I take up space, cuz I dont’ purse my lips together, don’t hold my hands close to my body, and I don’t cross at the ankles! I’ve been doing this stuff FOR YEARS! … “

Kittybarber Says: November 5, 2011 at 11:07 pm

“I Knew from the time I was about 5 that I was different than most of the girls I knew. And when I saw something about Christine Jorgenson,(?) I thought that I would have to get this sex change thing so that I could live the life I wanted. Until saw a copy of the Berkeley Barb, with lesbians on the front page, marching together in power–and I knew I’d found my people. Lesbian feminism saved me from all of that. There is no doubt in my mind.

As a dyke, I worked construction, on a track repair crew for Chicago Northwestern R.R., in auto repair, you name it. I made way more money than most womyn I knew, and I did it well. At 5’4″ and about 120 lbs then, I was all muscle,too; I kept up, did the job, and won the respect of most of the men I worked with. It was hard, but it was good for me. I always lived as an out dyke, even in the 70′s in small-town high school, and paid dearly for it at times, but I could hold my head up and be proud of what I did and who I was. I knew that we could do anything, and set out to prove it.

I do not understand this FTM business, but it makes me sad and a little sick, and I wonder what drives it, and why on earth THAT is somehow better than being a lesbian. I do not get it…and it’s not as if we didn’t do what we could to set a good example, and to make the world an easier place for our younger counterparts. This has got to stop. I am pretty sure that given a few more years, these girls will regret what they have done to their bodies, their brains, and to their lives. Then what?”

These strong womyn in their way worked hard and suffered the consequences for expanding the definition of a woman.  They are proud of their sex and their gender expression.  They do not claim to be men nor do they intend to invade male segregated spaces.

The RadFem’s do not believe that anyone should be allowed to change their physical sexual characteristics.  While I disagree with that notion, I do believe that there are too many sex change procedures being performed.  Though the cost for these procedures are not cheap, the access to them is too easy.  Many lives (not all) are ruined.

The reality is that there are some people who are born with conditions that need to be corrected with surgery.  That should always have serious and difficult criteria for consideration.  This is not a game.  I am one of those people who did go through the necessary hoops and gatekeeper to correct my condition.

Time for Men to step up

A man enjoying a facial

A man enjoying a facial

I will not be the first to point this out, and I hope I’m not the last, but it is time for men to step up and redefine their “what does it mean to be a man.”  Far too long have men fought a losing battle to maintain their closely guarded rules for costumes, mannerism, language and hygiene.  They should learn from the example of the women of the past and present to expand their understanding of themselves and the changing world.

Just like the women who risked their lives to express themselves, men need to do the same.  They need to stop excommunicating anyone from the company of men for trying to live outside the rigid rules of behavior.  There are men who are comfortable wearing dresses, makeup and heels.  There are men who are stay at home dad’s.  There are men who care about community welfare and justice.  There are men who love other men.  These men should never be asked to revoke their manhood.  These men are not women.  They should not be forced to believe that they are women to be comfortable in themselves.

The idea that anything that doesn’t fit into the narrow definition of “man” must be a woman must fall by the wayside.  It is up to the men who feel different to fight for there right to exist.  They should not be afraid to enter into male segregated spaces and fear for their safety.  These men who do step up to the struggle should not be relegated to using the women’s spaces just to make the other men feel comfortable.  Just as woman have worked to redefine themselves, men need to redefine themselves.

On Being Gender Critical

I think everyone should be gender critical. There are so many things wrong with the way that gender is policed and enforced on every single person on the planet. Here’s a simple definition of gender:

Gender (noun): The state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones).

These social and cultural differences are used to keep people in their assigned place. People are both the oppressor and the oppressed when it comes to how gender is enforced on each other. No one is exempt in their role in continuing the harm of gender.

Picture of a sign in Times Square showing women wearing bras

Sexist Gender Advertising in Times Square NY

We buy our clothes based on how we were taught what looks good and makes us attractive to the object of our desires. There  are many, many fashion designers and clothing distributors that are complicit in making sure that you and I know what is appropriate for our gender and/or sexual expression. They want a guaranty on their profits by making sure that we stay within the narrow confines of the gender expression that our culture has proscribed for us.

Likewise, there are almost countless magazine, television and online advertising campaigns structured to make us feel inadequate until we fall in line and purchase the gender appropriate product they are selling.  The fashion magazine industry is solely created to push concepts of “sexy” and “beauty” that is harmful to all six billion people on the planet. These magazines work to make sure that gender expression is enforced with severe cost for trying to escape them.  Just ask any gender variant or transgender/transsexual person about the pain of those cost. In the end, the people who manage and work in the fashion and advertising industries are people that are also subject to the same oppressor/oppressed dynamic as those they work to reach.  This is how the cycle works.

The reason I needed to write about gender criticism is from what I’ve seen on various tweeter feeds the are using a hashtag #gendercrit.  This twitter hashtag is a great way to comment on the harm that gender causes.  However, the hashtag was created by those who wanted to move away from being known as trans critical.  To me, this means that they are ready to move beyond working against the rights of trans people and broaden their efforts and focus to where the real problem of gender exist.

So, when are we going after the fashion and magazine industries? The real upholders of gender. Six billion people follow the fashion industry and gets told how to express their gender and/or sex. Then how about the magazine publishers of both lad and girlie ones. Sounds like they have a large audience to educate.

Trans people are just as vulnerable to the fashion and magazine messaging as everyone else. Vogue Magazine has a total readership of over 11 million people per month. That is more than there are trans people worldwide. That is just one of dozens of fashion magazines.

Children are working in sweatshops to create gender appropriate fashions.  That is just one horrible example of the production chains that supply us with the clothing we wear. Our desire for cheap gender appropriate clothing makes us the oppressor of these children.

Those are just a few of the reasons that everyone on the planet should be gender critical and there are so many others than I can write at this time. However, those on twitter who use the #gendercrit hashtag are mainly concentrating of the evils of trans people in the women’s spaces.  So, if your sole effort in being gender critical is to work against transgender/transsexual rights then you are a liar and a transphobe.

The Monster in the Closet and the Bathroom Problem

A story,

When I was a small child, I grew to be very afraid of a faceless presence that lived in my closet.  I never knew exactly what this monster was, but I was sure that it existed.  Many a night with the lights out, I could feel it lurking and waiting to come out of the tightly closed door and get me.

Characters from Pixar's "Monster's Inc"

Characters from Pixar’s “Monster’s Inc”

I really had no idea what the monster was going to do once it “got me,” but there was no doubt in my mind that it was in that closet and it was coming.  I would cover my head with my quilts and pillow, but the fear of the monster in the closet didn’t go away.  Every once and a while I would peek from out of the covers to see if it was standing over the bed, but it never was there.  Nevertheless, I just knew in my heart that it was still in the dark closet, waiting for it’s moment.

Eventually, I would call Mom or Dad to come scare the Monster away.  They would come and turn on the lights and open the closet door to show me that there was nothing to fear.  Over time the fear would slip away, but there was a very important element to the easing of this irrational fear; the Monster never came out of the closet.

I tell this story as a comparison to the issue of the general public’s fear of trans women in the women’s restroom.  Specifically, male bodied people in female bodied spaces.  This is a fear of invasion, violation and bodily injury.  These are not minor “oh, just get over it” fears.  These are real and need to be accounted and considered.

There are real reasons for sex segregated facilities.  There are cases after cases where male bodied offenders enter female bodied spaces for the purpose of committing assault, rape and violence.  Start with a Google news search to find actual incidents.  This can not and should not be ignored by the transsexual and transgender communities.  Those of us who are female bodied are at just as much risk as any other woman in that space, and those of us who are male bodied need to understand and respect the need for safety.

Male on female violence is still at a very high rate and like it or not this does spill into the fear of public accommodations.  As long as the fight for Gender Identity rights include all access to the spaces that accommodate the person’s targeted gender this will be a problem.  Some call it the “Bathroom Problem.”  So let’s stop kidding ourselves and start creating real solutions to a very real fear.  We as the transgender and transsexual communities need to continue to fight for the end of irrational discrimination in public housing, employment and public spaces, but as far as sex segregated spaces, the time is not now.  Since we are the ones asking for the general public to change it’s perception, we are the ones who must work with the general public to smooth away any issues.

I will offer three ways to work through this time until the private needs of transgender and transsexual individuals are understood and accepted by the general public.  None of these require “panty police” or “show me your papers” patrols.  These are all up to the person transitioning to do and show respect for the general public.

  1. Either don’t use public sex segregated spaces or only use the ones that match your current configuration

Remember what our parents advised us to do before driving on long trips?  “Go to the bathroom before we leave because we aren’t stopping.”  This is still great advice.

During my pre-op transition in the early eighties, I was told under no circumstance was I ever allowed to use the women’s restroom, showers or even the locker room.  They were very clear and diligent about this rule.  I was very much allowed to use the men’s facilities and believe me the men were laying in wait for me to enter their space.  I learned, as most humans do, how to control my bodily functions so that the occasion would never arise that I would need to breach either space during work hours.  I found other places to take care of my needs that were either friendly or private.  I would wait until I could leave the premises for lunch times or even hold “it” for the entire shift.  It is possible.

I know that there will be some that can present special cases or run on about Buck Angel in the women’s room.  I can only say that if we really care about working this out then the onus is on us to remove any and all reasons to fear our presence.

  1. Use only Single occupancy public facilities

Single occupancy facilities are a great idea for the protection of female and male bodied individuals.  When one is in a room alone, this removes almost all risk of attack from others in the same room.  When a person is transitioning or if a person prefers to remain a non-op, the single occupancy facility removes any chance of the perceived need for a “panty check.”  (Yes, I used the scare quotes because “panty checks” still scare me.)  They also tend to allay any issues that a parent may have in helping their opposite sex child in restroom functions.

It was this type of facility I looked for during my days of transition because of the privacy they allowed.  It is also my understanding that the idea of a common sex segregated area for restrooms is a relatively modern thing.  Single occupancy was the norm until larger and larger buildings were constructed and space became a commodity.  That being said, I don’t think there will ever be a single occupancy shower or locker room space available; so we must make arrangements to take care of those needs in the privacy of our own spaces.

I know that a single occupancy facility is not a guarantee of safety.  There can be no complete guarantee of that.  Ask Chrissy Polis, she was beaten outside of a single occupancy facility for many reasons that escalated into a hate crime because she was trans.

Once again I know that some will present special cases for the homeless and those without access to these.  Again, I can only say that they are available and we must make the effort to find them.  There are plenty out there and there are resources available to help your search… like the Refuge Restrooms website.

  1. Finish your transition

I know that this is hard for some and there are some who do not need to completely transition to a male or female body.  Great, then own your body.  If you wish to maintain a penis, then continue to use the facilities designed for people with penises.  If you chose to maintain a vagina, then continue to use the facilities that are designed for vaginas.  Once you finish your transition, no matter how difficult, arduous, satisfying or unsatisfying the outcome, you are by default a member of that sex, and are less of a risk to your companions in your sex segregated space.

Please notice that at no time do I state that the presence of a penis or a vagina determines your manhood or womanhood.  I state this to be very clear that Gender Confirming Surgery (GCS) does not make one a man or a woman.  The only thing GCS does is to make one male or female bodied, and it is that distinction that must be understood when it comes to relieving the fears of the general public.

Some would say that it is not anyone’s business to know about the state of their genital configuration, and I would agree for the most part, and in a perfect world that would be true.  However, we do not live in a perfect world.  We live here and now.  Here and now, penises are used to rape vaginas.  Here and now, female bodied people have a good reason to fear male bodied people.  We, as transsexual and transgender people, are just as likely to be a victim of abuse and rape as the general public so it is in our interest to work for our protection also.

Conclusion

None of the options that I state involve anyone subjecting themselves to a “panty patrol” or a “paper search.”  The perceived need is removed.  As long as the fight for public accommodations for our communities includes sex segregated spaces, we will be hard pressed to achieve any progress.  Between the scare tactics of the opposition and the very real acts of criminals, the battle is already lost.  Many will claim that there are plenty of current laws on the books that prove me wrong, and to those I say that is a paper tiger.  Laws can and do get rescinded and rewritten, and once a crime is committed under the protection of those laws, then everything is thrown out.

Fighting for public accommodations that do not include sex segregated spaces (yes, I used the term “sex segregated” a lot, because words have meaning) is necessary, needed and should be our priority. The problem that we face is that sometimes the monster does come out of the closet.

Transsexual and transgender people are just as likely to commit criminal acts as any other person on the planet, and when they do they should be tried by a jury; and, if found guilty, sentenced to a punishment that they deserve.  Let’s make sure that there will never be a reason for ANYONE to claim Gender Dsyphoria as a reason to commit or lessen the impact or responsibility for their actions.  One way to do this, and to give the general public confidence that the people they share public sex segregated spaces with belong there, just to do their business.

The best way to make sure that the monster never comes out of the closet is to make sure that there is no monster to begin with.

Many Roads to Rome

I transitioned in the early eighties in my early twenties.  I guess that makes me an early transitioner.  It was a time of gatekeepers and group meetings.  I had beeDivided Highway Signn seeing my family doctor to start hormone replacement until he became uncomfortable with continuing the treatments and he referred me to the local Dallas psychiatrist that ran a group of people transitioning.  Dr. May would be my first gatekeeper.

One needed to meet privately with this elderly doctor before you were allowed to go to the next step of the process.  He had a set number of private meetings which was pretty straight forward.  Much like the initial meetings I’ve had with the many doctors that my parents had sent to me in the past.  The first was a conversation about current status, then a meeting for the tests and the final meeting was his final judgement.  He approved the next step, and referred me to an endocrinologist and the transsexual group meetings that Dr. May held on Tuesday nights.

This group meeting would be the first time I would meet other people going through the process.  I didn’t have a clue about what to expect.  I guess that I thought everyone would be just starting out, and that there were several groups meeting on different nights for those at a different point of their transition.  Of course, I was wrong.  The group was a small set of people in different places of their transition and going different directions.  As the newest member of the group I was also the one earliest in transition.  The group very clearly expressed their disappointment that I had come straight from work and I was still in male clothes.  They quickly judged my commitment to completing the process.

This group of people represented every stereotype you could imagine.  There was the post-transsexual woman acting as one of the Grand Dames instructing everyone on the one and only path to transition.  There was the drag queen trying to decide if she needed to go the next step and lose her career.  There was the butch lesbian working the best man impression she could muster.  The other Grand Dame was a what would be called a non-op.  She didn’t see the need to go for that surgery, but continued to come to the group for the hormones.  The two Grand Dames constantly argued and fought over who was a real woman and who wasn’t.

Also in attendance were a couple of female to male transitioning clients.  These guys were amazing to me.  They were well along in transition and looked very handsome to me.  They were also much more understanding of the many paths than the two Grand Dames.

The group meeting was actually in two parts; the first part was the hour-long meeting in Dr. May’s office where we discussed success’s and failures of the previous week, and the second part which was when everyone would go to local gay friendly bars for drinks and ridicule.  During the office group meetings everyone was on their best behavior because the good doctor was there, and he was the keeper of the path, or so we believed.  It was the meeting after the meeting that I learned the real lessons this group had to offer.

Once free of the monitoring, the group would really let you know how your transition was working or not.  First, they would not even allow you to come to the bar if you didn’t pass well enough.  The Grand Dame’s of the group would go item by item until you felt like a small wart on the ass of a frog.  Secondly, once they deemed that you were presentable (meaning that you wouldn’t embarrass them in public) each of them would lecture us on the proper way to go through transition.  Each member of the group’s path was the only and true path.  All others were wasted time and money.

Oddly enough, even though each person of the group believed they were the true gatekeeper, none of them were.  I learned two main lessons from this group.  One, everyone comes to this point in transition from a different place, and two, everyone leaves this point at a different pace.  There isn’t a single path to a place of “completeness.”  There isn’t even a single destination where everyone must end.

Whether it is today’s transsexual versus transgender wars, or like it was in the eighties Dallas group fight of the Grand Dames or even like the  during Dies Sanguinis (The Day of Blood) on March 24th in Ancient Rome.  There will always be those true believers that argue with the unfaithful.  There have always been those who believe that their path is the only path.  Their ideas are the only good ideas.  Their pain is the greatest pain.  Everyone has a path, an idea and their own pain.  There is a saying “All roads lead to Rome,” but in the case of human beings reaching that place of self understanding and wholeness, there are “Many roads to Rome.”  And Rome is where your heart lives.

Obligatory Cotton Ceiling Post

It has been a long time since my last post, and I’m sure that no one has missed this small insignificant part of the blog world. None the less, I feel it is time for me to offer my thoughts on the “Cotton Ceiling” issue. There have been hundreds or even thousands of posts, tweet and comments about this issue. I’m sure that I’m not going to add a single new idea to this, but I need to go on record about my position.

Let me first state that I disagree with the whole idea and motivation for the “Cotton Ceiling”, and I’ll expand on that later. It has taken me a long time to finally write about it, and to be honest, I’ve struggled during my thought processes. Those thoughts have crystallized into something I can articulate. So here goes….

The “Cotton Ceiling” is a harmful concept. As I understand the concept, it was conceived because a group of non and pre-op transgender women didn’t understand why lesbians didn’t want to have sex with them. The trans women argued that if a lesbian was willing to use sex toys that are penetrative, then that lesbian should have no problem with the transgender women’s working penis. The transgender women who forward this idea seem to forget that the use of a penetrative sex toy is light years different from a working penis that is attached to someone. The risk it too high not to be mentioned. There is the risk of STD’s, bodily harm, emotional trauma and pregnancy.  None of which is worth just to help someone feel better about themselves.

The transgender women then expand the non acceptance into a belief that the lesbians do not believe that they are real women. Once again, there are light years difference between being accepted as a woman and someone wanting to have penetrative sex with specific person. The two concepts should never have been uttered in the same breath.

The further insult to all women was for these transgender women to then decide that they should get together and create a space to talk about ways to get around this barrier. It is bad for all parties that the creators intended to help. The idea that a group of people would gather to discuss why they are not having sex with another group of people is harmful and intrusive. Under no conceivable notion is it okay to hold a meeting to discuss forcibly or shaming anyone into sex. I can’t repeat this strongly or often enough.

As mammals we are sexual beings, and we have the capacity to decide for ourselves who, what, when and where we exercise that sexual nature. No one has the right to force or shame another being into intimate relationships. Our desires are ours and no one else’s.

I realize that there are plenty of supermarket tabloids and magazines that specialize in helping you to “get” the object of your affection, and there is a lot of money made by the ”Vanity” Industries to facilitate that effort. That doesn’t make it right. Everyone has the right to decide their own sexual experiences.

Over time, everyone evolves and everyone re-evaluates their preferences and attractions. Sometimes it is a minor thing like going from choosing blondes to redheads, and sometimes it can be a big thing like becoming a political lesbian. Either way, it is up to that person and only that person as to how and when that happens.

You have the right to write a book, create a blog or produce a video to state your case as to why others should not discount what you have to offer. You even have the right to host a discussion group. You do not have the right to develop schemes and tactics to force or shame anyone into changing their preferences.

Lastly, when the whole thing blew up about the wrongness of the Cotton Ceiling concept, many people went on the defensive and claims that it wasn’t really about sex at all. They claimed that it was about acceptance. This is just a smoke screen.

While the issue of acceptance is an important issue, it has nothing to do with another persons choice of a sexual partner. There is a whole world of people who I choose not to have sex with and I still accept them for who they are and who they claim to be. Likewise, I have been rejected by a whole world of people who I’m attracted to and they still accept me as the person I am.

There will always be groups of people who will never accept other groups of people. This does not automatically invalidate either group or remove their net worth or their class identity. No one can take away from you who you are. They may choose not to play with you or not invite you home for the holidays, but you will still be you.

The Cotton Ceiling is wrong and harmful on so many levels that I can’t even begin to cover it all. I’m not the first nor will I be that last to write about it. I know that my small little offering will not change anyone’s mind, but here are a few truths that I hold:

  • No one has a right to sex, period.
  • No one has a right to have sex with anyone that they desire.
  • Only you can decide for you and only you.