Monday, November 30, 2015

LGBT Champions of Change: Transliterature at the White House

"Many transgender and gender nonconforming Americans 
have braved tragedy, discrimination, and violence 
simply for being who they are"

President Obama
Transgender Day of Remembrance

Goes to Washington

On November 23rd, 2015, I attended the White Houses's event to observe the Transgender Day of Remembrance and to honor LGBT Champions of Change in the arts. I was contacted earlier in the month with the invite in recognition of my scholarship, particularly my work with Transliterature and the Transform Talks. Despite numerous official documents being sent my way, it was not until I passed through the second of two security check-points, twice body-scanned, and twice interviewed that I began to believe that the White House was really allowing me - even inviting me - to enter. The security guards gave me a green pass-card with the letter "A" emblazoned on it in black. The card had a metallic chain that allowed it to hang around my neck so everyone could see at a glance whether or not I was welcome inside our national locum sanctum. As a transgender woman, I often am made to feel unwelcome in many places but here, today, this green card was an affirmation that I am accepted at the White House. I was invited to attend the national transgender day of remembrance and to celebrate those LGBTQI Champions of Change working in the arts. Until recently, this meeting would be unthinkable. It was not until 2015 that the word "transgender" was even spoken publicly by a U.S. president, much less would there be an event at the White House with the word prominently posted on it and named as the target demographic of those invited, remembered, and honored. This meeting was one powerful sign that the "Change" President Obama promised back in the 2008 election is underway. The change was not complete. Nor was the change embodied in a single candidate. Rather, change was being invited to the White House. It was brought in the present collection of activists and artists.

Ahead of me in line to enter the White House was members of the cast from Amazon's Transparent. The crowds shifted and I lost sight of them, unable to make out particular persons as we were shepherded down hallways and through locked doors. I began to fall back, not wanting to wander the halls of the chief executive building alone, I mingled in with those who were the next in the door. Behind me, I gathered, were producers of the Danish Girl. Only later would I come to realize how intermeshed the creative talents are making these groundbreaking pieces of transgender media. The drive to reclaim transgender stories and tell the untold histories brings together film and TV makers to share resources, struggles, and successes. With goals beyond merely entertaining an audience or profiting a production company, people are eager and willing to work with anyone who can help further transgender discourse and justice. I learned all this in our conversations on upcoming media and scholarship. I also learned this as we burst through a door into a coat-check area and I almost fell right into Jeffrey Tambor, the lead actor of Transparent (2014-), a show on Amazon Prime based on the true life story of a trans parent who transitioned later in life and her family's reactions. As soon as I walked in and found an empty space to stand, he acknowledged those I had entered with as colleagues and then came over to me. Hand extended, he said, "Hello, my name is Jeffrey. Honored to meet you!" In the discussions and meetings to follow, the openness to affirm and collaborate with the work of those present was evident.

During our conversations I was thrilled to discover that the production team for Transparent aimed to further the penetration and integration of trans creative workers into the TV and film industry by designating that at least 20% of their hires would be from the transgender community. This included writers, actors, and producers but also technicians, set builders, lighting experts, and assistants. "Many trans people have a desire to work in film but aren't given the entry level or advancement opportunities required to make a living in the industry," said one of the producers. "That is why we make it a point to hire, train, and promote trans talents. We want to make sure that they leave our production team with experience that will serve them as they continue on in their careers." This is the sentiment of artists and activists who understand that social justice is not just about changing narratives and representations but the systematic structures that determine what bodies are allowed to succeed financially, socially, or politically. Each of the speakers for Transparent and the Danish Girl echoed the intersectional and systematic calls for justice of the other speakers. Throughout the day, the LGBT Champions for Change demonstrated that society will never be able to fully affirm #translivesmatter without also affirming #blacklivesmatter, without crip allies, without intersex siblings, without straight, cisgender, white women, without men of privilege stepping from secure places of authority to redirect their power towards collective justice. Change is antithetical to polite politics as usual. Change means that the safe and familiar may have to pass away in order for a better world to be forged from the remains.



Systematic Change

After an hour of coffee and mingling, the official event began as the group filed into seats for a series of panels where guest speakers recounted the histories, literature (including film and TV), and activism currently being explored in LGBTQI politics. While the panels were framed by official and mainstream projects, including a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem by Alex Newell who played the transgender woman of color, Unique, on Glee, nonetheless, the content of the event pushed radical and intersectional social justice agendas. Among the most radical calls for justice was a thread that ran throughout the day on reparations for oppressed minorities. The discussion began, as it should, with the still pressing need for reparations for African-Americans to further the realignment of society after the nation's violent history of chattel slavery. The White House continues to stand as one of the countless American institutions built on the backs of slaves who are yet to be properly compensated for generations of exploited labor and abuse. Echoing a theme of the event, social justice demands more than representational concessions but seismic structural reforms that forever changes the map of cultural powers in the country. It is not enough to affirm, like, or speak support for #blacklivesmatter. Rather, society needs to shake ups in police protocols, hiring practices, and cultural orientations. The White House's Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a transgender woman of color recently hired to direct outreach and recruitment for the Office of Presidential Personnel, noted the ways the White House affirms the call for systematic changes through strategic hires and training for members from across marginalized communities.

Aditi Hardikar, the LGBT Liaison to the White House, stressed the intersectional scope of the day's discussions in her opening remarks on the use of the term transgender and LGBT in the event's title, which she admitted represents in limited language an eye towards a wider discourse on other queer, gender non-conforming, and intersex communities. Indeed, the call for reparations was taken up later in the day by intersex activists seeking justice for the innumerable intersex children currently and historically surgically altered by doctors at birth. Such doctors follow an intersexist belief that a child must match expected ideals of cisgender male/female embodiment. As a result, doctors have and continue to alter the genitals of children born with non-normative intersexual embodiments in order to bring them back in line with norms. In the process, doctors make decisions about the gender expression that child should be raised to emulate. This surgical alteration and cultural limiting of intersex children's lives can cause significant gender dysphoria and other anxieties about the body - in many cases resulting in depression and suicide. A keystone of intersex activism is the demand that such medical practices be stopped immediately and children allowed to develop outside the gender binary and to chose their own gender presentation. Furthermore, the champions for change called for reparations from the doctors and hospitals who surgically altered the intersex children's sex and gender - often causing a lack of sexual sensation and trauma for the rest of their lives. By holding the medical industry financially responsible for these systematic malpractices, the intersex community can rebuild lives and the place of non-binary persons in society. Throughout the day, the concept of reparations was reimagined as a way to reorient cultural narratives and power.

While remarks and promises were fairly measured from the official representatives of the White House, notably Senior Advisor to the President, Valerie Jarrett, and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julian Castro, there was an evident ownership and pride in hosting scholars, activists, and artists to say the things that need to be said, to point where we need to go, and to provide the muscle to get there. Jarret spoke on the President's recent observance of Transgender Remembrance day and the specific emphasis was given to the tragic stories of trans women of color being killed at an accelerated rate. As Castro concluded in his address, America needs to stop seeing people of color as a problem for the LGBT community and instead see people of color as an undervalued, underutilized source of power where LGBT change can erupt. Of the many statements that summarized the radical statements not only said in the White House that day but the statement that the occurrence such an event embodied, Alexandra Billings perhaps put it the most succinctly, "I think we need to be really mindful," Billings said. "This is not only historic, all of us in this room, but this is divine intervention at its most astonishing. I am of a generation where this would not only be impossible but illegal." Indeed, for all the flaws and failures of government, an African-American President of the United States, the first in the office to utter the word transgender publicly, to support an event where artists and activists called for radical change, solidarity, and reparations is significant. Yet Billings reminded everyone present to remain vigilant. "I think in order for us to continue to change the world," Billings added, "we need to remember there are people on the outside who need to be comforted, educated, and honored; especially the voiceless." Even as we remember our fallen and celebrate our champions, we must ever press forward into the margins.



A Day to Remember

Beyond the formal meetings and panels, the event kept to the goal of remembrance, bringing people working along different ends of art and activism to weave together the disparate threads of transgender history. With Jeffrey Tambor, I discussed family. As the lead in Transparent, Tambor plays Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman who transitions late in her life after having three children, who call her Moppa. The show is not only about Maura but rather - as my own mother has observed - more about her family as they experience the transition together. Transparent understands that no trans person's experiences, no life, occurs in complete isolation. Even the points of conflict and separation demarcate another place our lives take shape. We become like life-sized statues, brought into shape both by what is preserved (highlighted) and what is removed. Tambor's family lives in New York and is awaiting the upcoming winter. He asks about my family. I tell him about my partner and our two young girls. We talk about the difficulty in raising children who recognize and value their queer, trans family in a world that does not reflect their lives back to them. Art is often more of a mirror than a window and raising children with so few representations on TV or in the movies that allow them to reflect back on the particularity of their family can be difficult. This is one reason queer, femme, trans, crip, people of color are often better at creativity and understanding metaphors in literature, I often say. We know the world is not built for us and does not tell our story, so we must always translate things for our own use and contemplation. In this way, the lives of children with a trans parent at once suffer a loss but also gain an acute power that will allow them to better understand and transform the world around them. At the end of our conversation, after I shared about the girls, my voice was cracking. Stepping forward, embracing me, Moppa gave me a big hug.

In another moment, I got to have a conversation walking down the halls of the White House with Bradley Whitford about transgender politics and the history. Whitford is well known for these "walk-and-talks" from his role, Josh Lyman on the West Wing. But today the discussion progressed through a shared interest in the erased pre- and early modern history of transgender. "This is nothing new," Whitford said. "I just saw a great production of Twelfth Night and I kept on thinking, 'this is nothing new.'" That is interesting, I replied. I pointed out that Shakespeare not only imagines those assigned women bucking the system to live as men, but specifically had Viola call themselves Cesario, "an eunuch." Shakespeare's London was no stranger to trans and non-binary genders. Castrate and effeminate boys were a staple of the London theater, playing primarily female roles. Then again, there were the trans men of London, such as Moll "Cutpurse" Frith who was so well known that nearly every other major playwright included him or referred to him in their productions of London Comedies. But in creating roles such as Cesario, Shakespeare pointed to the many trans masculine personas that filled his world and creative environment. Eunuchs and other castrates, while different than current day trans women or men, constituted a unique gender - physically, socially, legally, and theologically. Cesario the Eunuch is a singer because while London knew few eunuchs in person - they may not know one by sight - the eunuch/castrati voice was a staple in English theater to such an extent that plays included the stage direction "eunuchs play music off stage" without the audience needing to be told it was eunuchs singing. "This is nothing new," I agreed with Whitford. In so many ways, what we do on this day in the White House is not the forging of a new path but the remembering of an old, long, hard fought road.

At the end of a day that seemed to occur all at once in some kind of temporal ball of yarn, I felt the weight of histories many crossing trajectories leaving me floating as others flew off in diverse directions. Time is sprawling, time is deep. Henri Bergson called the inconstant lived perception of time "duration" to distinguished it from the ordered clock-work of measured time. We punctuate our lives with moments, progressions, and cycles. The repetition of events occurs through rituals, where we are brought back again and affirm a shared experience with others from different points in history. Together, across time, we endure.  We call such temporal quilting points where disparate threads of life are woven together "days of remembrance." On these days we passively remember - we bring the forgotten parts of our past back into lived memory. On these days, we actively re-member - we bring the discarded, lost, and erased members of our community and our bodies back together. In our search for that which has been cut off and rejected, we become like Chaucer's Pardoner, digging through the trash heaps of history and society to reclaim and re-narrate the forgotten parts of the past back the world. Some may call this literary dumpster diving, selling trash to an exploited market, but by rebranding the discarded and refused, these projects in historical activism set a new value for lives in the present. In this way, the restructuring of time becomes a critical project of activism. The front line of our activism may be in our past, marking the endurance of lives and imagining a history for a people too often isolate in and by the time of a hateful world. On such occasions when we get to momentarily step aside from our timelines to remember, honor, and observe, we come to recon how much comes into being out of and remains interdependent on relationships to create, sustain, and resurrect them. Another way to say this is: all things endure or fade behind the walls of time's oubliettes because of love or the lack of love.



"I think we need to be really mindful. This is not only historic, all of us in this room, but this is divine intervention at its most astonishing. I am of a generation where this would not only be impossible but illegal. So I think in order for us to continue to change the world, we need to remember there are people on the outside who need to be comforted, educated, and honored - especially the voiceless"

Alexandra Billings


Monday, November 16, 2015

“Re-membering the Transgender Community” on November 21st

"Are you, are you coming to the tree, 
wear a necklace of hope, 
side by side with me?"

The Hanging Tree
Suzanne Collins

A Transform Talk Workshop with Gabrielle M.W. Bychowski

1:00Pm November 21st, 2015
at the Immanuel Congregational Church
10 Woodland St
Hartford, CT 06105

Can you remember Yaz'min Shansez? Yaz'min was a thirty-one years old trans woman of color who lived in Myers, Florida. If you were walking down a [this] particular alley on June 19th, you would have seen her body laying behind a garbage bin, filling the private drive with the smell of burning flesh. If you were there a little earlier, you would have seen her body being set on fire. Can you re-member that? Can you bring back a member of the trans community? Are you, are you going stand in her place?

Can you remember Betty Skinner? Betty was a fifty-two year old disabled trans woman, confined to a senior assisted living complex in Cleveland, where she was found dead. Unable to leave her bed during the attack, Betty's life ended when her head was bashed in. Controlled, bound, and alone, no one was there to help Betty nor to identify her murderers. The police have no suspects. Can you re-member what so many turned their back on? Can you re-collect the divided and secluded members of the trans community?

The month of November has been marked as Transgender History Month, with Nov. 20th set as a Transgender Remembrance Day. Remembering is not merely about a special feeling or thought. It is about re-collecting fragments of a divided and erased history. Yet how do we re-write a history that has largely be left out of the headlines, a history that has not been written? It is about re-membering a community that is decimated on a daily basis. Yet how do we resurrect those denied a livable life? Many of these wounds will never heal. The best alternative we have may be to help them scar. We can do this by being the voice of the forgotten and being the bodies of the dismembered. We can remember the transgender community by becoming active members of it. This does not necessarily mean transforming ones body or gender presentation, but it does mean changing one's relations and politics. It means not viewing the oppression and violence as something that happens to "them" but as the potential for power and resistance that can happen through "us" if we share our pain and our life, our losses and our gifts.

This year, all are invited to an hour and a half Transform Talk Workshop on “Re-membering the Transgender Community,” run by Ph.D. Candidate Gabrielle M.W. Bychowski, a writer and scholar of transgender history and theology Together we will share stories, remember erased histories, hear the voices of those we’ve lost, and together affirm the dignity of all lives, but especially those whose dignity and lives have been taken. While they were alive, their identities and stories were not heard. In death, we are the caretakers of their afterlives in this world and have this chance to give them the audience that they were denied in life.


A breakdown of the  schedule:

  • 20 Min: Introduction to Transgender Terminology and "Draw Your Gender" Exercise
  • 30 Min: Talk on Re-Membering Transgender w/Writings from Passed Away Trans Persons
  • 20 Min: Questions and Group Sharing
  • 10 Min: "You Can Be Me When I'm Gone" Name-Tag Exercise*
  • 10 Min: "TransformWords" (ex. TransformChurch, TransformSchool, etc.) Prayer/Words of Affirmation.

(*Participants are invited to take home the name-tag of the deceased transgender person along with the small summary sheet with some biographical information on the person)


Transform Talks:
Workshops for staff & communities on gender & disability

In recent years, I've consulted for acting troupes, businesses, churches, and educators on how to build more accessible, welcoming, and critical spaces for a wider diversity of persons. I have collected and expanded this material into workshops on gender, sexuality, and disability. The new program is geared to a variety of communities and workplaces. These, "Transform Talks" are available on different levels to suit a host of particular needs. Short, 1-2 hour bootcamps will help orient staff, faculty, and minsters on (1) key language, (2) best practices, and (3) context and background in targeted communities. Longer day to weekend long seminars will also be available where team members can become better oriented and trained in diversity, including (1) getting to know important stories and histories, (2) workshopping situations, and (3) transforming social and physical spaces to be safe and fruitful for a wider range of lives.

Prices vary depending on needs and duration. 
Contact for more information.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Environments of Hate: The Anti-Transgender Politics of Bathrooms

“The Anti-Trans Bathroom Nightmare 
Has Its Roots in Racial Segregation"

Transgender Bathroom Laws

On November 3rd, 2015, Houston Texas voted over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) that would protect transgender persons' rights to use public bathrooms that coordinate to their gender identities. It has been variously described by conservative news outlets as, "the LGBT 'Equal Rights' Ordinance" (TexasValues). Such political editorializing stresses the LGBT aspect of the bill and putting 'equal rights' in quotations begs the question that anti-transgender politicians are expressing: among socially progressive politics, transgender activism is a step too far. Across Texas, anti-trans politics reframed the protection of transgender persons by redefining their identities. Such political punditry claimed that trans women in the women's bathroom is nothing other than "men in the women's bathroom." Describing transgender protections as allowing "men who wear women’s clothes — and sexual predators — to use public women’s bathrooms," Erin Owens lauds those who voted down the ordinance (DailyCaller). As in the picture shown above, the groups pictured trans women as men glaring at women and little girls, suggesting the threat of rape. The outright claims or moves to paint trans persons as rapists and pedophiles follows a long tradition in white male supremacy of picturing threats to the patriarchy as sexual aggressors and the patriarchs as the saviors of vulnerable women. 

"Blacks, Jews, and even gays do not require or even seek separate restrooms or other different treatment; they ask simply to be treated like everyone else,” said Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson. “But transgender people demand a special accommodation, not available to others, because of how they feel." Following a tactic often employed against disability justice activism (with whom they are often conflated), anti-transgender parties claim that transgender rights are too expensive and ask too much. This marks a continued attempt to isolate transgender politics and trans persons from their communities of support and alliance. This trajectory is furthered by claims to physically separate trans people away from the general population because they make others feel uncomfortable. Calling for a special transgender bathroom, Carson's critique that trans people seeking to use the bathroom according to their gender identity is a demand for special treatment inverts the very grounds on which the criticism stands. "How about we create a transgender bathroom?" asks Carson. The solution Carson suggests is the addition of a new place for trans people, while the HERO bill works with existing structures to make them more accessible. Again, the patriarchal move becomes to enact aggression and then blame the victims of the violence.

These comments ignore how closely anti-trans bathroom politics replay old white supremacy narratives targeting racial integration. In an excellent article for, Gillian Frank writes, "the conservative idea that civil rights protections sexually endanger women and children in public bathrooms is not new. In fact, conservative sexual thought has been in the toilet since the 1940s. During the World War II era, conservatives began employing the idea that social equality for African-Americans would lead to sexual danger for white women in bathrooms. In the decades since, conservatives used this trope to negate the civil rights claims of women and sexual minorities. Placing Houston’s rejection of HERO within the history of discrimination against racial minorities, sexual minorities, and women reveals a broader pattern: When previously marginalized groups demanded access to public accommodations, conservatives responded with toilet talk to stall these groups’ aspirations for social equality." This is the narrative given despite a continual lack of evidence. As the National Center for Transgender Equality reports, to record there has not been one confirmed case of “a transgender person harassing a non-transgender person in a public restroom.” Such narratives seem to invert the flow of aggression as a way of excusing the patriarchy's violence after the fact by painting their victims as aggressors. Evidence of cisgender attacks (especially by men against trans women) are plentiful. Just in my own backyard, DC and Baltimore, where a trans women was beaten in a McDonald's ladies room ( and another sexually assaulted in a Dupont Circle bathroom (NBC). Indeed, the premise that women are weak and need men to protect them from trans women (qua "other men") is a narrative that reinforces female subjugation to a male supremacy that gets to play both abuser and savior, oppressor and liberator.

Without evidence and pragmatism on their side, the patriarchy falls back on its narrative of female dependence and need for subjugation to men. “It is not fair for them to make everybody else uncomfortable,” Carson said after suggesting that there be a separate bathroom for trans people, away from the general public. “It’s one of the things that I don’t particularly like about the movement." Rather than taking the position of the trans women at risk in the men's room, Carson speaks for cisgender women, claiming that trans women are inconsiderate of the discomfort they cause the traditionally sexist environment they are reforming, "how typical women might feel about a person with a penis sharing their restroom.” The comfort defense is one that is particularly insideous of what I call, "polite hate." "Uncomfortable" has long been a word I've witnessed people use as a way to enact "polite transphobia," "polite homophobia," or "polite racism." Once you unpack what that means, it is a way of excluding others, shaming, and excusing oppression. It is an attempt to turn privilege into a right, the oppressor into a victim, yet if one takes it seriously it severely underestimates the discomforted person. It assumes that they have no intelligence, no stamina, no empathy with which to overcome their own ignorance and hatred. Polite racism instills in its proponents a kind of passivity and deniability. Male supremacy comes to function by using people as tools to create environments of hate then convincing those who built it that they are trapped. It breeds dependency, not so much to particular patriarchs, but to an ideology of weakness and dependency on the patriarch, whoever he is, who has the superior power to summon the monsters of difference and slay them. In the "15/"16 presidential climate, various Republican candidates make clear that they will become the country's paterfamilias by slaying the current threat to the patriarchy: transgender. 


 Environments of Hate

The most recent debates in Houston are hardly the first or most dreadful time that transgender bathroom legislation that has been moved on by hate groups. While anti-trans politicians paint themselves as victims, the environment of hate that they espouse is the tradition rather than the innovation. The tide of legislative attacks on trans persons around bathrooms and locker-rooms have been big conversations this year. Back in April 2015, Florida lawmakers were pushing through a bill that would punish any trans person using the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity with a fines of up to thousands of dollars or up to a year in prison - all for peeing in "the wrong toilet." Many activists, including myself, traveled to Florida to oppose the law through public acts of civil disobedience - simply by using the bathroom. Twitter photos in both bathrooms (#occupottty & #wejustneedtopee) and a few demonstrations with toilets put outside of either men or women's restrooms were publicized as "shit-ins" to draw attention to the extraordinary level of invasive legislative power the government was trying to exercise. Unlike in Houston, the protection of trans bathroom rights were upheld. Beyond the laws themselves, however, which despite the posturing are very difficult to enforce, the real danger is the rhetoric and environment of hate the anti-trans politics create.

There is a malicious irony to the sentiment that transitions and accommodations for transgender youths are too dangerous and uncomfortable to pursue: this assumes that the sexist cis-gender structures that currently exist are not already dangerous and uncomfortable. Or rather it excuses the violence and alienation as only affecting the trans students, a population it passively, if not actively, quietly, if not vocally, politely, if not overtly, wishes to eliminate, humiliate, and subjugate. Women, disability, transgender, are all targets where society polices our bodies and even takes away our control and access to our bodies. This is the essence of hate. If the heart of gluttony is the statement, "I have the overruling right to consume you" and the heart of greed, "I have the overruling right to own you," then what we see here is nothing better than wrath, "I have the overruling right to act against your body." We can hide behind fear and phobias but these are just the rationalization of ingrained, systematic traditions of rage against difference and otherness.  In the end, the wrathful (however polite) rhetoric is probably more damaging than the bathroom laws themselves. It is a toxic discourse that turns the world into an unlivable environment for trans persons. I fear most how this poison gets internalized by trans youths, causing them to despair; to give up fighting for their lives. We need to denaturalize hate, call this the war that it is. We don't always fight because we think we can win, we fight because we can't not fight. In the words of Lorde, "It feels better biting down"

As I sat in the nurses office of my Junior High-School, the hallways were quiet except for the distant sound of children panting and shouting in gym class. I tried to mumble a "thank you" (which came out more like "'ank 'ou") when the nurse handed me a new icepack to press against my swollen black and blue cheek. Across the hall, a fellow student was in the Vice Principles Office recounting what had happened. Although I was not told the exact words the boy used, I was given to know that the story matched exactly with my version of events. About twenty minutes earlier, I was in the locker room changing for gym. I was a feminine, nerdy, slender child known for hanging out with a strange crowd of girls and a few boys (half of whom would come out as queer or trans years later). Although it was years before I would publicly transition, in this pre- and early puberty my body enjoyed a kind of androgyny that made the physical differences between myself and other girls minimal - except for those who had begun to change more quickly and fuller than most. Because I was assigned male at birth and channelled through the men's track in school, I had to go through the frustrating and isolating exercise of daily being separated from the girls and made to share a locker room only with boys. Consequently, I was a target for many of the boys to perform childhood shows of male dominance without my friends to surround me. 

In this way, the gender dysphoria in the environment, which we might also call sexism, or perhaps even more accurately, male supremacy, set up this boy and myself to play out a narrative that is too common for trans youths. Gym class offered some respite from a raw, emerging, yet competitive male culture in the form of mixed activities. Even when the boys and girls were separated into two groups - the boys to learn wrestling (as a way of dominating other bodies) and the girls to learn self-defense (as a way of avoiding the domination of boys) - some thoughtful group of parents caused the creation of a third gender neutral group who could practice dance aerobics. Yet each class would be framed by the breaking into the highly gendered spaces where I would have to walk the gambit of young boys vying to gain ascendancy in a culture of male power. As had been the case in other circumstances, the pre-transitioned trans girl became the easy low-risk target for this boy to prove his masculine superiority and work his way up the ranks. These assertions of power came in various ways but mostly through the twice daily (at the start and end of class) shoving me aside and slamming my locker closed. He would take his little bow, showing that he could assault me without consequence - besides reports which I would give to the gym instructor who was neither present in the locker-room nor particularly interested in policing; after all, "boys will be boys."


"Who is watching you pee? Forcing #transgender women to use mens rooms is systematic abuse #occupotty #wejustneedtopee"


Punched in the Face by the Patriarchy

On this day, however, I decided that if the environment and systems of authority were not going to protect me by merely speaking back to power, I would offer physical resistance to the harassment. I was mostly changed (I tried to get in and out of the locker-room quickly) and my locker door was open. Then I heard the laughter from behind me that signaled that I was about to be shoved. Waiting for it, I felt him press his shoulder against me but instead of following the force of his thrust, I pivoted instead so I would be facing him. Grabbing him by the scruff of his neck (the closest target beside his shoulder and head) I held him at arms length away from my locker and, importantly as I began to consider the choice I had made, away from my body. "Stop," I commanded in rough monosyllabic clarity, like I would to our pet dogs when we found them scratching the couch or about to piss on the carpet. He didn't respond except for a kind of growl and big bulging eyes that read both surprise and fury. He bared his teeth at me and grabbed my arm. Without looking away from my aggressor, momentarily checked, I could notice that no help or escape would be offered for me as his friends surrounded us. Ears pounding with blood, reading the situation, I acknowledged that I knew what would come from whenever I let him go - which I eventually would. 

Closing my eyes slightly, I released him, dropped my arms to my side and stood firm waiting for what came next. Lightning raced through my jaw as bone hit bone, cushioned only slightly by the padding that a boy's knuckles and my cheek afforded. Tasting iron as my mouth filled with blood I don't remember much until I found myself sitting in the nurse's office with an icepack on my face waiting for my mother to pick me up and take me to the dentist. As it turned out, he had, in fact, broken one of my teeth. After my mother showed up, the boy came out of the office. He came over to me and apologized. I believe he faced temporary suspension. I did not hear much more about it. I didn't ask. Even now, I don't feel much personal contempt towards the boy who caused me to have my third in a line of bully-inflicted broken bones. He was a boy, not even very big for his age, looking to prove himself in a culture that maintained a quiet, polite form of male supremacy. This was a community mixed between working class industrial workers and those who have made their way, proudly, into middle management. The abuse of girls, women, queers, crips, and trannies would be allowed to happen - but there would be a formal apology afterwards and the individual actor would take the fall. I was a trans girl, a feminine target for abuse and subjugation, stranded alone in an epicenter of young, rough, competitive manhood. 

Neither of us created this system or its rules. He wanted power among his male community and I was his way to get it. I had my feminine community and power taken from me, leaving me with the choices of quiet submission or painful resistance. We made our choices as they were given to us. These are the consequences and dangers of forcing trans girls to stay in gender segregated bathrooms and locker-rooms with boys - either by not offering alternatives or else by ignoring the demands for systematic changes and protections. These are also the consequences of long-held systems of gender that define manhood by power and power through the subjugation of the feminine. This is what comes of cleaning up, making politically correct, and offering sacrificial candidates to male supremacy and violence so the inheritance of male privilege will go only to those who will enact its violences or pay the consequences - risking becoming one of those the ascendent abuse. Here we see the irony of claiming that gender transition or trans accommodations for the youth are dangerous: this assumes that the cis-gender segregation of the sexes (based on centuries of male supremacy and abuses) is safer. By refusing these changes, the system clearly states that it would rather put trans youths at risk of assault than make their oppressors uncomfortable. In the end, it was the plans of male supremacy that punched me in the face and gave me this partially prosthetic tooth - more than it was the conscious intents of a hormone raging tween looking for male approval.

A brief note on ethics: In this post, I work hard to reframe the moral debate towards corporate violences and away from personal faults - be they the hateful words of a Republican candidate for the presidency or the fist of a bully. This is an important move in social constructionist theory because it places the focus where bipolitics can be reformed to do the most good. The punishment of individuals rarely solves many problems, either for the victims, society, or the punished. Often, systems of hate and oppression want the conversation to focus on the indiscretions of its agents who screw up and get themselves caught. Indeed, the system may even want to add to the person's punishment as a way to sooth the outrage for justice and distracting it away from the larger violences. Let the individual take the fall to protect the patriarchal super-structures. So long as we are debating whether the abuser took extraordinary liberties or whether the victim somehow "asked for" the abuse, the wider systems of violence that created the environments of hate can continue to chug along unnoticed. I like to say (in a half-truth) that for this kind of ethical debate, it is not about intent or feelings. Hate, racism, sexism, are not feelings but actions and systems of power. You can have the best intentions and do the most violent acts. Nonetheless, as I finish writing this articles, I am still angry, and sad, and hurt. Looking back, it's not only a personal pain I feel but almost as though I am looking at someone else, because I am an adult weathered in taking abuse and this child doesn't know the things I know and isn't prepared to handle them like I am. This child could be any number of children today. And the stories only get worse. The half-truth is, ethics are not about personal feelings but systems of abuse. The other half of the truth is, ethics are all about the vulnerable lives made to feel powerless, alone, and unlovable. Ethics has to do both. It has too be exactly big enough to see the monolithic forest that is male supremacy and exactly small enough to see the twelve year old lost in it.

"Governments bully too. Transgender persons need protection from transphobic bathoom laws #occupotty #wejustneedtopee"


"#transgender women like me could spend half a year in prison for using this Florida women's bathroom #ijustneedtopee"