Every athlete deserves the chance to compete, regardless of their gender.
Every athlete deserves the chance to compete, regardless of their gender.
Hello friends. Happy October!
For those of you who don’t know me personally, or semi-well, let me tell you a little factoid about me: I LOVE OCTOBER.
October is a great month. All of the following contribute to why I think it’s the best month of the year:
I love October because Halloween, and I love Halloween because costumes. I delight in planning and executing my costume each year and anyone who knows me can attest that I tend to have some pretty good ones. So imagine how bummed I was when I stumbled upon this photo in my Facebook feed today.
UGH. SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY.
This is super not okay. Really, it’s not. Dressing up as pre-transition or post-transition Caitlyn Jenner (not as Bruce, because it’s pretty rude to Dead Name people) is not okay. Spirit Halloween store (where the photo was taken) cannot try to make this okay by calling it “Celebrating an American Icon.” Caitlyn Jenner is not one of the founding fathers or Abraham Lincoln, or any other “American Icon” folks dress up as for Halloween. She is a living breathing person. She is a person who has had the hefty job of coming out as transgender under the scrutiny of the free internet-reality tv-loving world.
Yes, she is brave. Yes, she could be considered a hero. But you know and I know that is not what this Halloween costume is about. If that were true, we would have Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman costumes for sale to the mainstream public, too. No, this is about us collectively mocking Caitlyn by empowering cisgender men to emulate her. We, as Americans, are so threatened by Caitlyn’s transition and our collective masculinity is so fragile that we must bring her down a notch in order to put ourselves at ease. We must remind ourselves that she’s really just a man in a dress, right? We definitely must make her un-sexy– she was getting to hot for comfort.
And maybe, just maybe, on some level, it makes those who choose to don that costume feel a little bit softer, a little bit sexier. If we pretend we are making fun of her, then it’s okay to be feminine and pretty, and we can have our cake and eat it too. I get it– sometimes doing something different, something forbidden is hot. But you know what? If that’s it, then just buy any other female-designed costume in Spirit and get your kicks. Be a sexy nurse. Be a Bunny. Be Catwoman (boy you know you want to put on that jumpsuit).
Don’t pretend to be a real, live trans person who has gone to great lengths to become her true self and to not be exactly what you want her to be, which is just some guy in a dress. She is a human– even if she doesn’t care personally, there are trans kids out there watching you. They see you laughing at her. They internalize it. It hurts them. Bullying is deadly for trans kids. Suicide is common. This normalizes mocking and joking about trans people. It normalizes cruel jokes. This. Is. Not. Okay.
If you know anyone contemplating this choice, please educate them. We must do better, and if everyone who knows better speaks up, we will. Be excellent to each other.
Following my last post, some folks have asked how I navigate dating as a trans person. I have thought a lot about how to respond in a thoughtful way, while still maintaining some control over just how much, with whom, and when I share such thoughts. This article captures a lot of what my experience has been thus far.
My solution is to say this–
1. remember, gender identity and sexual orientation are separate from one another, so trans folks could be interested in any array of partners; not all of us were “gay” before we identified as trans;
2. technology has generally benefitted trans folks who are dating, because it allows you to put yourself out there from the beginning, which saves time and some awkwardness at the very least;
3. technology still has a way to go before trans folks will be fully served by it; this article explains that better than I can;
4. I have learned that I need to give people more credit when it comes to their open-mindedness about who they date;
5. communication is everything.
I was walking my dogs this morning in DTLA, and as I crossed an intersection, a super cute lesbian couple passed me going in the opposite direction. They were holding hands, happy, smiling, and laughing. I made eye contact with one of them and smiled. It was the “hey, I’m a lesbian, too” knowing smile, which I have given thousands of times over the years. It was the look of “hey we’re part of the same club” that you give to others who are also different like you.
And you know what? Neither one of them even gave me a second thought. No return smile, no nod of the head, no recognition of the traits we share as LGBT people. And then I realized, yet again, that no one can tell I am queer anymore. Before transition, I realized this was likely to happen, but I couldn’t have fully understood how much it would bother me until it did.
First, I know that some of you dear readers still live in places in this world where using the word “queer” is considered an insult or a slur. I am sorry for that. I have had many long conversations with folks like you (even folks that themselves fit under the queer umbrella) who just feel uneasy when they hear the word queer. For the purposes of this article then you can just pretend I’m saying “gay” and it will be okay. We can have another discussion about the awesomeness of the word queer later.
So yes, I identify as queer, and have since I was a teenager. Pre-transition, I suppose the world might have labeled me a lesbian. I never used that word to describe myself, however, because it never really fit. I was female-born, but since I never really identified as a woman, the word lesbian, which by definition is a female-loving-female, never felt right.
Plus, I have never been exclusively interested in women. I have had my moments of being interested in men, too, but not to the point where I felt bi-sexual was really appropriate either. Bisexual (like homosexual and heterosexual) also sounds so clinical to me. So for me, queer was it. It was devoid of gender implications, but conveyed the idea that I was something other than heterosexual. I like that.
Pre-transition, it was very clear that I was the sort of person who was attracted to women. The last time anyone asked me if I had a boyfriend was in 1999. There is a certain comfort that comes with being the kind of person that people identify as queer right off the bat– I always felt like I fit in at queer events (dance parties, pride celebrations, rallies, etc.) without having to explain my sexuality to anyone. I wore it on my sleeve and that worked just fine for me.
I was a member of the lesbian community for 17 years (WOW THAT MAKES ME FEEL OLD) and it is a huge part of my story. I have seen all the movies, know the singer-songwriters, the inside jokes, the secret handshake, etc. There was actually a time in my life, when I lived in Seattle, that I actually had only lesbian friends. Though it was full of drama, it was also an amazing community that I still miss from time to time.
And now that I pass as male, all that appears to be lost– at least to the outside world. There’s no way for me to walk around looking like I do and to still have the outside world know that inside my head is a brain that was socialized queer for more than half my life. I’m not sure yet what, if anything, I can or need to do to feel at peace with this. Transitioning has brought its progress, its gains. But not without its losses.
Skimming Facebook this morning, I saw several friends posted a link to a BRILLIANT piece Jon Stewart did on the Caitlyn Jenner reveal. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to watch. I won’t repeat any of Jon’s commentary here, except to say that he rightly points out that, now that Caitlyn Jenner is presenting as female, she will be treated as a typical female (not in a good way) by the media covering her story. His presentation of this phenomenon is amazing. WATCH IT.
It got me thinking about all the ways that my ability to “pass” as male has changed how people treat me. I am white, educated, and grew up middle class. I stand a little over 5’7″ and am in shape (though it is strange to go from being a “tall-ish, but big” female to a “short-ish, but strong-for-his-size” dude). In just the few short months that I have been in this phase of my transition, where I am overwhelmingly read and treated as a straight (SO F*CKING WEIRD. I HAVE NEVER BEEN STRAIGHT BEFORE), white male, I have noticed a pretty big change in how people allow me to move around in this world.
It turns out, male privilege is a thing. And now I have it. And that is totally, totally weird. I feel guilty about having it, but also realize that now that I have it, I have some enhanced ability to call it out and work to undo it. And so I shall. Here are some of the best examples of that privilege at work.
1. I am never afraid to leave my house alone. I am generally not the type of person who worries too much about my surroundings when I’m by myself. I am physically not really the type to be picked on, I usually have dogs with me, and I have lived in some sketchy places before (just ask my mom), so I’m used to that. But now that the world sees me as a man, I am comfortable by myself in most situations. I was walking around in a hoodie and sweatpants, with my headphones in the other day. I must have been looking particularly surly, because an older woman saw me and actually crossed the street to get away from me. Seriously– I have gone from “potential target” to “potential aggressor.”
2. I can exist in public without being a subject of commentary or criticism based on my appearance. I’m allowed to dress how I want, walk how I want, I don’t have to shave, smile, or engage in conversation if I don’t want to, and no one has anything to say about it. This is a stark contrast from the days when strangers on the street would comment on my outfits, or tell me to “smile more,” or catcall me.
3. I’m allowed to have body hair. This is a tough one for me. I never was really big on body hair before– my Nordic genes include the blessing of mostly-blonde fuzz, so I could be relaxed about shaving my legs and such without much issue. But I always felt pressured still to keep everything in check, for the most part. Now, I totally have the freedom to be as hairy as I want. I am still trying to make peace with this– after looking at yourself for 31 years with one standard in mind, looking down at hairy legs, hairy arm pits, and increasingly-hairy everything else has taken a lot of getting used to. Still not sure how I feel about facial hair, but it helps me pass, so it stays for now. Had I made similar decisions pre-transition I would have been labeled a “hippie dyke” or worse. Ridiculous.
4. I can eat and drink whatever I want and no one tries to make me feel bad about it. You know, because men are allowed more leeway when it comes to being in shape, or indulging. I’m not expected to “keep my figure,” and in fact, when I do comment about being on a diet or watching what I eat, other men respond with comments meant to make me feel bad or less-than because I don’t want a giant cheeseburger and large fries and Hooters wings and tons of beer all the time.
5. I have less sexual liability. I could literally sleep with as many people as I want to– male or female– and get zero push-back. In fact, I might even get props from other dudes. When I talk about sex, no one (except my doctor) reminds me to “be safe” or “be smart.” I am not judged negatively for talking openly about sex, or sexual partners.
6. I am not subject to “soft sexism.” Being asked to grab someone their coffee or to help clean up after a meeting/gathering/party no longer exists.
I am sure that this list will grow with time– after all, it’s only been a few months that I am in this position, and most people I interact with regularly know me as a trans person. More experiences with folks who don’t know will surely only expand upon the privilege I’m afforded. Meanwhile, folks like Caitlyn Jenner lose much of their individuality and become another “thing to be discussed” by virtue of their transition to female.
Our culture is very strange. Let’s work on that.
I have seen lots (and I mean LOTS) of positive outpouring of support for Caitlyn Jenner after her big reveal yesterday. This is heartening and gives me so much hope for the future for trans folk in this country, and eventually the World.
We can’t just talk about trans issues and trans people. We have to talk about the way we talk about trans issues and trans people. The ACLU did an excellent piece today that highlights why we shouldn’t let the conversation stop with discussing how fabulous Jenner looks, without also discussing how hard it is for 99% of trans people to ever attain that level of care.
I’m here to address how the words we choose when talking about trans people affects the tone of conversations and impacts the way trans people are seen by non-trans people (also called cisgender people).
Here are some tips about what to say, what not to say, and things to think about when you’re having a conversation about, or with, a trans person.
This article does an awesome job of explaining relevant terms like sex, gender, transgender, transsexual, cisgender, sexual reassignment surgery, etc.
Friendly Tips for Interacting With Trans People
Thanks for listening, friends! Be most excellent to each other.
Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that today, Caitlyn Jenner made her debut in this month’s issue of Vanity Fair. In a 22-page feature, Jenner appears relaxed and comfortable (not to mention gorgeous– thank you, Annie Liebovitz) in her new skin.
First, I have to say bravo to Ms. Jenner. Coming out as a trans person is hard to do, no matter how supportive your family and friends are. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be such a public figure and have so much scrutiny directed toward you, during what is surely some of the most difficult time in a trans person’s life. Transitioning is a strange, long process that can, at times, be anything but graceful. Yet Jenner has handled the whole thing with ease.
Therein lies the problem. Jenner, as a wealthy, famous, politically conservative white person transitioning, has it relatively easy. Transitioning so publicly runs the risk of furthering the Dominant Trans Narrative, which is that the trans person has the means and the opportunity to medically transition and thus, a “trans person” is someone who has made physical alterations to their body and “passes” as their true gender at all times.
So, Jenner’s coming out is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, increasing visibility for trans people is a good thing. I mean, Jenner was a major household name for many years. We know her as an Olympian, a that person who was on a Wheaties box. An American Hero. Also, Jenner’s transition story shows a very real struggle that spouses, children, and friends can have when a loved one comes out as trans. Plus, having a high-profile, professional athlete transition in the public eye is amazing. This past year has brought transgender people some really awesome exposure via Jenner, Laverne Cox (who wrote an excellent commentary on Jenner’s big reveal here), Janet Mock, Aydian Dowling, and more.
The negative thing about the very public nature of Jenner’s transition is that all of Jenner’s wealth and political capital buys her the best care, the best therapy, and the most insulation from the struggles that most trans people, especially trans women of color, experience every day. I will not speak for trans women of color, but if you’re interested, there is some really good commentary here and here.
Jenner’s transition timeline is not representative of most trans people’s experience– I worry that it creates in the general population an expectation that her transition is what transition is supposed to look like, and people who do not look like Caitlyn Jenner are not real trans people.
I hope that folks following her story recognize these things, but I am fearful that they do not. The reality is that trans women, particularly trans women of color, are murdered at an alarming rate. Trans people, particularly trans women, suffer from high rates of homelessness, unemployment, and harassment on a daily basis.
To her credit, Jenner has acknowledged, both in her interview with Diane Sawyer and in Vanity Fair, that her experience is privileged and that many, many trans women are not as fortunate. The fight is far from won, and I just hope, hope, HOPE that our society and all you dear readers recognize this, too.
We are off to a good start in 2015– but we have many miles left to travel. Thank you for joining the journey.