Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Trans Issues are Core Issues

February 04, 2013 By: Mel Category: Core, Stratification

A few weeks ago, a piece by Suzanne Moore called Seeing red: The power of female anger started a bit of a shitstorm. Moore was looking to get women riled up and she succeeded – just not the women she was aiming for. Trans women were furious at her comment that women are angry with themselves for “not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.” Roz Kaveney explains.

In the first place there’s the implied dichotomy between women on the one hand and Brazilian trans women on the other – as if Brazilian trans women are somehow not women. But far more important is the fact well over a hundred Brazilian trans women were murdered in the last year alone.

And if there had been any doubt that people were right about the trans hatred that lingered behind Moore’s words, we had only to wait for her and her friends’ responses. The most vile of which came from Julie Burchill, best bud and godmother to Moore’s children. Click through and read the hate if you can stand it. I’m just going to give you one quote. The first part refers to another of Burchill’s friends who has been supposedly harassed by the “trans lobby.”

she refuses to accept that their relationship with their phantom limb is the most pressing problem that women – real and imagined – are facing right now.

Similarly, Suzanne’s original piece was about the real horror of the bigger picture – how the savagery of a few old Etonians is having real, ruinous effects on the lives of the weakest members of our society, many of whom happen to be women

I had to google Etonian. That would be somebody who went to Eton College, one of those boys boarding schools where upper crusty Brits go. Do you see what Burchill did there? She just made conservative legislation in the UK take precedence over every other thing that women are fighting.  Apparently, what some Tory does to a relatively privileged Brit is supposed to matter more to me than hundreds of dead Brazilian women, or even the  trans women killed right in my own city.

I may still have a lot of 101 to do when it comes to pressing problems facing the trans community, but I feel quite secure saying that “phantom limb” doesn’t make the top ten. Moore thinks it is terrible that women are getting laid off from government jobs. I have news for her, U.S. trans people have double the rate of unemploymentA fifth of trans people have been refused a home or apartment. A fifth have been homeless. Those who are homeless are regularly turned away from shelters, even in the dead of winter. And trans people face massive discrimination when it comes to health care. Even those who have insurance can be denied routine care due to a trans exclusion. The stats are even worse for trans people of color.

No. The trans community isn’t concerned about a “phantom limb.” They are concerned about the basic necessities of life – work, housing, medical care, personal safety. Concerns that are, by the way, a hell of a lot more important to me than how many women are in the UK parliament, how patronizing UK leaders are, how women do more housework, how women feel bad about themselves because they don’t look a certain way – the things Moore was complaining about in her piece.

It is a shame that so many women are blinded by their animosity towards those who don’t neatly fall into the boy/girl roles they were assigned by some doctor at birth. I have to wonder how the Moore and Burchills of the world think that gender discrimination is going to end. Do they not realize that it is based on a false binary, on differences that are largely socially constructed? Trans people, queer people, any people who challenge rigid conceptions of gender, are on the front lines smashing those tiny gender boxes for all of us.

If anything, it is the liberal bullshit that the Moore and Burchills of this world focus on that is a distraction. They don’t really want to shake things up, just for Tory politicians to be less patronizing and for there to be a few more tits in parliament. They might claim radical women’s movements when it suits them – as Moore did when she claimed Pussy Riot and Tahrir Square in that piece – but ultimately all they really want is a little more power and champagne money.

And I might add that, far from distracting me, learning about trans issues has made me more aware of the social constraints that affect me as a cis woman. I am more conscious of the safety calculations I make on the streets and of how safe for me is not safe for everyone. I’m more aware of how much of femininity is stagecraft. And I am more aware of misogyny and self hatred. Because while it is often kept in check around me, that hate spews out freely when it comes to trans women.

Suzanne, Julie, et al. You can take your freely spewing hatred and shove it. You aren’t just making life more difficult and dangerous for trans women. You are standing in the way of dealing with the core issues that hold up this mess. And, as a dear friend of mine likes to say, I ain’t got time.


Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 20, 2009 By: Mel Category: Stratification

Monica at TransGriot explains the history of the Transgender Day of Remembrance here.

For a powerful and amazing spoken word performance that really gets to the heart of how our society fears and terrorizes transgender people, check out this video of Julia Serano

Clothing Mandatory, From Burqas to Bandanas

July 23, 2009 By: Mel Category: Religion, Stratification

We have too many damn laws, rules, regulations and customs dictating what people can and cannot wear.

Schools require kids to wear uniforms. Work – from military personnel to the nearly identical suits most desk sitters wear – requires uniforms. Clubs have dress codes. Restaurants have dress codes. Cities and even countries have laws governing what their citizens can and cannot wear in public. Why?

Admittedly, it’s easier to pick out a cop if she is wearing a uniform. And you could probably make a case for health issues when it comes to wearing some kind of covering in a restaurant kitchen. But mostly, clothing rules are about social control. We want to be able to identify people. We want to know whether or not they subscribe to the dominant culture’s attitudes, prejudices, gender roles, and power structure.

Schools support school uniforms for the same reason the military requires them, because uniforms denote obedience and conformity. Clubs have dress codes to enforce dominance by class and race, from country clubs that require a suit and tie to dive bars like Kokoamos (sued for refusing entry to people with dreadlocks).

Cities also get in on the action. Riviera Beach, Florida is arresting people for baggy pants. Other cities have ordinances against your underwear showing. In New York, you can get arrested for covering your face during a protest. Why? Because minorities wear baggy pants. Because political dissidents cover their faces during protests.

Of course, the most stringent codes and social norms relate to gender. It starts with the first pink or blue onesie someone gives you at the baby shower. For the rest of your life, what you can wear safely in public is determined largely by whether or not you were born with a penis.

School uniforms are uniform only by gender. One school in South Carolina has said a girl will not be able to graduate if she wears pants to her graduation. Prom means wearing a dress for girls or a suit for boys. Transgressors will be denied.

And while most (if not all) laws against cross-dressing have been taken off the books, that doesn’t stop harassment. One man is suing the New Orleans police department for threatening to arrest him for wearing a kilt in public. (Note to self: Naked breasts strewn with plastic beads, no problem; wearing traditional and mildly gender-bending Scottish garb, not so much.)

Transgender people cross the gender line and face discrimination at every turn. Most workplaces in the U.S. can legally discriminate against transgendered people, as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act does not protect them. Far worse, at least one transgender person is murdered on average each month of the year. And the murders of transgender people all too often remain unsolved.

Most cisgender women have a little more leeway in the choice between pants and skirts. (Although, Conservative Christian group Focus on the Family just started allowing women to wear pants this year.) But women have to worry about “modesty.” Women must walk that fine line between whore and oppressed. Wear too little material on your body and people will say you are asking to be attacked. Wear too much clothing on your body, a burqa for instance, and people will say you are oppressed.

Islam isn’t the only religion to dictate dress. Orthodox Jewish women must cover their elbows, knees and head in the name of modesty. Sometimes they wear scarves. Other times they cover up their hair with wigs. Meanwhile, Hasidic Jewish men, in 90 degree Miami heat, dress in wool outfits meant for winter in the Polish ghetto.

Monks and nuns wear robes not very different from a burqa. Certainly, they are equally desexualizing. True, nuns no longer wear the restrictive habits of the middle ages, some even wear no habits at all. The Catholic Church; however, isn’t happy about that and is reportedly conducting an investigation into nuns’ lapses.

How are any of these regulations legitimate?

The idea that women must dress modestly holds women responsible for mens’ behavior, as though men are wild animals who can’t be expected to have self control. Assigning clothing by gender is only an attempt to clearly delineate who gets what privilege in society. Forcing minority groups to dress like the majority is just the majority exerting its dominance. And requiring protesters to be identifiable just makes it easier for authorities to find and intimidate them.

During the holocaust, Jews were forced to wear yellow stars and homosexuals forced to wear pink triangles. Slaves in the United States wore tags. Indigenous people in colonial Guatemala wore intricate patterns that told Spaniards what village they came from (clothing used in the civil war of the 80s to identify “subversives”). In Iran today, women are forced to wear headscarves, but Laila Al-Marayati and Semeen Issa, of the Muslim Women’s League, remind us that in 1979 veils were prohibited in Iran.

Whether the society is marking people for oppression or forcing them to conform, it all amounts to coercion. And coercion is wrong.

Dominant groups often make claims that their rules are for some higher purpose. French President Sarkozy says the burqa is a symbol of oppression and a barrier which makes women “prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.” He claims that his burqa ban is about the rights of women, despite the fact that many women who wear the burqa say that it is a personal choice.

But does Sarkozy’s claim hold up to closer inspection?

Are not burqa wearing French women still French women with all the rights of French women. Isn’t it the job of the French government to make sure their citizens know their rights and are able to exercise those rights?

Sarkozy would be more believable if he started a campaign to advise all French women of their rights. According to Amnesty International, France falls far short when it comes to protecting the rights of domestic violence victims. If Sarkozy is so interested in protecting women, wouldn’t making sure French women know their rights (and fully funding programs for victims of domestic the violence) be a more appropriate priority?

The burqa ban is not about the rights of women, any more than forcing women to wear skirts at work is about the rights of women. It is about symbolism. The French government does not like the symbolism of a people setting themselves apart. Many feminists do not like the symbolism of the burqa. But if we are going to start banning symbolism, we can’t stop just there. How about banning $60,000 French couture dresses – symbol of the criminal disparities in wealth in this world.

There may be some cases where requirements about what people put on their bodies are necessary. But life and death cases are few and far between. Anyone trying to impose their will on others better have much better reasons than the ones they’ve come up with so far.