“Women’s” Colleges, Trans Inclusion, and Non-Binary Invisibility

"passing", activism, agender, ally, cissexism, dehumanization, gender fluid, genderqueer, non-binary, privilege, trans men, trans narrative, trans women, transgender, women's college

TRIGGER WARNING: cissexism, trans exclusion in “women’s” spaces, binarism, suicide statistics

Cis women do not have a monopoly on gender-based oppression.

Let me say this again, louder: CIS WOMEN DO NOT HAVE A MONOPOLY ON GENDER-BASED OPPRESSION.

One thing we talk about is how any oppressed group has a “dominant”–a more discussed–subset. In the case of gender-based oppression, it can be tricky to determine who has the most privilege. There are all sorts of gender-based privileges: cis passing privilege, the privilege of passing as your actual gender, binary privilege, cisgender privilege, male privilege, masculine privilege. Many or most people who experience gender-based oppression also hold one or more of these privileges.

What is very clear, however, is that the movement for gender rights that has the most institutional power is the movement for cisgender women’s rights. I’m not saying they have a lot of institutional power. I’m not saying they have it as good as cis men. I’m not saying any of that. I’m not trying to say that sexism against cis women is unreal. All I’m saying is that they don’t have a monopoly on gender-based oppression–yet they have a near-monopoly on the resources and spaces to combat it.

There are times when any and every subset of people that face gender-based oppression need their own space, or their own moment to speak out against wrongs done to them. Closed spaces are important. However, there are times when closed spaces become exclusive spaces. There are times when that closedness is oppressive.

It is oppressive many of the times that cisgender women close their doors to anyone else facing gender-based oppression. The exclusion of trans women from closed women’s spaces is egregious. It is vital that they are included in closed women’s spaces. I fight for that right whenever I can.

What hurts, though, is when people don’t recognize this fact as well: women–trans and cis–don’t have a monopoly on gender-based oppression, either. It’s not solely trans women that are struggling to gain access to the resources and support that the cisgender women’s rights movement has long hoarded to themselves. And it’s not solely a dichotomy between trans men and trans women, too. (Although trans men and boys also need access to empowering resources and space.)

We exist, you all. We exist and we are a part of this conversation. We are non-binary, agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, A/G, genderfuck, bois, grrlz, birls, pansies, and everygender else. We experience gender-based oppression for our gender identities (or lack of gender). Womanhood is not the only gender identity that is oppressed. We are so marginalized that our existence doesn’t even occur to the wider societal mind.

And I, for one, and many others that I know, are tired of being excluded from the conversation. I am tired of my gender not being listed when we are talking about inclusion in “women’s” colleges, in girls’ after-school clubs, in every space that is a closed women’s space–but that holds institutional resources or power I cannot find elsewhere. Yes, there are times and places for all specific subsets of people who face gender-based oppression to have closed spaces. But when one particular subset holds most of the institutional power (in this case, cis women), they gotta share a little. Given that there are no educational institutions that support trans people of all genders, women, men, and everyone else (and those without genders as well)–“women’s” colleges need to take a good look at their resources and stop being such bigots. Given that there are few to no other institutional spaces for trans people specifically, certainly not at the (small, not enough) level there is for women and girls (trans and cis, although trans women and girls are often excluded or only have lip service paid to them), all spaces that provide resources solely to women need to look at how, why, and if that is necessary.

Given that there are ZERO schools that provide a closed, safe space for trans people, I say that “women’s” colleges and other exclusive “women’s spaces” have a feminist/civil/moral responsibility to step up. I am so tired of this conversation having no nuance.

We need to distinguish between identity and expression. Where do we draw the line? Why is it that FAAB transmasculine genderqueer people aren’t allowed in some rubrics, but cis women with a masculine expression are? Both are claiming masculine expressions, which, by some estimations, shouldn’t be allowed at a “women’s” college… at least if they aren’t on a woman. But genderqueer people face so much discrmination based on their genders, so why can’t we share this space? What about someone of any birth assignment who’s almost a guy, but not quite? What about someone who’s genderfluid? What about a trans guy who doesn’t medically transition or who doesn’t pass? What about MAAB non-binary people? Their bodies and voices belong in this space. They face so much oppression and censure. And if some of those MAAB non-binary people don’t physically transition, then there are typically MAAB bodies on campus that may never become more “feminized,” even if trans men aren’t there. What about trans men who do physically transition, but have feminine gender expressions? Why would we allow a MAAB non-binary person but not a femme trans man, given that their treatment based on gender perception might be similar? Where do you draw the line at, not kicking someone out, but at judging them for being at a “women’s” college and asking for basic recognition and respect?

I say, you don’t. You don’t draw the line at judgment. You say, you all are dealing with severe gender-based oppression, in different ways. You all, or many of you, also have various privileges from your gender even as you are being oppressed. We can process that in a community that’s committed to gender justice. I would like to say that “women’s” colleges are one such community, but they clearly aren’t, given that MAAB trans people of all genders (or lack thereof) aren’t part of the conversation, and given that FAAB trans people of all genders (or lack thereof) are marginalized when they do attend. What’s the bigger evil? Of course—it’s not even being allowed to attend. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to do to make our schools inclusive as well. Both things are important; including MAAB trans people of all genders (except cis male, of course), and agender people is the priority.

Of course supporting trans women is important and vital. I’m just saying that supporting non-binary people is vital, too. We’re killing ourselves at a higher rate than the general trans population; we face higher rates of most other forms of oppression as well. It’s time to count us. It’s time to include us. It’s time to recognize us as part of this movement. Use words for us when talking about gender equality and trans inclusion. Say the phrase, “trans women and non-binary people.” Say the phrase “all gender-oppressed people.” Say, “all forms of gender oppression”–and mean it and include it in all the work that you do.

It’s time.

The Thing About “Crazy” (Part 2 of 2)

ableism, accessibility, accessible movements, mental illness, privilege, saneism

TRIGGER WARNING: saneism, ableism

Note: This is a summary of various ideas from a conversation I had a few months ago with the person I was dating at the time. Sometimes there are direct quotes, sometimes there’s paraphrasing. Thanks so much to them for agreeing to make this available for other people to browse, and for their contribution! 

Say yes to “craziness” in our lives! Break yourself free from the control saneism likes to exert on all of our behaviors! Why? How? What does this mean? Take a look below…

  • It makes us more comfortable with each other.
  • Alone or with others, do something in public that your inner social norms tell you that you aren’t supposed to do. Jump, dance, skip, hum, wiggle! Cry! Shout! Rock! Don’t conform to expected behavior when you want or need to do something else! Keep in mind, though, that this should be something that comes from you–this isn’t a chance to “make fun” of how “those people” look or act.
  • Remember that, although saneism directly oppresses people with mental illnesses, everyone is shoved into a box of behavior because of trying not to look “crazy.” If it wasn’t seen as “crazy,” how many behaviors would people engage in that they don’t engage in now?
  • I’m not talking about skydiving or revolution or starting a new business or whatever else people put the word “crazy” inaccurately onto (although that linguistic/psychological divide is there too, and you should do those things that you want but don’t allow yourself for, too). I’m just talking about those things, literal behaviors that mark people as crazy, that are “against social convention.”
  • Remember also that “crazy” is more often applied to people who experience other kinds of oppression as well, as a way to discount them. People can be considered “crazy” due to their defiance of norms/oppressed status, people who may not have mental illness. Just think about stereotypes of “crazy women,” or racialized stereotypes that also include “crazy” somewhere in that list of bigoted adjectives. Remember that refusing to police your own behavior based on this list of norms can be lessening this divide too. (That’s not to discount the fact that people often non-consensually read or label others’ personhood or behavior as “crazy,” and that there are many different ways that people try to survive in a world that has this reality. Stay safe, everyone. As safe as possible in the moment, anyway.)
  • You may feel frozen even thinking about stepping outside of the “sane” behavior box, a box you likely have tried very hard to conform to. That’s OK. Start small.
  • When we say yes to “crazy” behavior, in the literal I-don’t-mind-looking-like-I-have-a-mental-illness-right-now way, and in the figurative, bigoted way it’s used as well, we are saying yes to ourselves and others, just as they are. We are saying yes to the needs we may have to sob or shake or lie in bed all day or rock or hum. We are saying yes to our dreams, to the impossible, the fantastical, all these things that we deny ourselves and relegate to the supposedly illegitimate, impossible, unintelligible, ridiculous, even magical/exhilarating world of “crazy.” These are our realities, our literal realities as mentally ill people. These are also the realities of the world around us, who has closed its doors to literal insanity and anything else it doesn’t want to welcome with that word, thrown casually, “crazy.” “I cannot love crazy things,” we say. “I am unlovable if I am crazy, unhearable, illegitimate, not worth listening to or having around.” We say these things when we say the word “crazy.” Not only are we being saneist in terms of shutting people with mental illness out, we are shutting ourselves out too.
  • When we hold ourselves to these confines, it hurts us and the people around us, people we care about. We feel closest to the people we can be really genuine with—and that includes being open about our mental illnesses and being free to express parts of ourselves that are otherwise labeled as “crazy.” Make room for others, too, to be like that around you, to be their genuine selves.
  • It hurts others when they feel like they have to apologize for their craziness, when they feel lucky to have people that tolerate craziness. Don’t simply tolerate it! Celebrate it! It is about treating people decently, about treating everyone as whole people with entire selves that contain so much. It’s not a favor to do this. At its best, it’s a deeper, more loving holding of everyone around us. At minimum, it’s treating everyone like a person—which hopefully is loving! Haha, you aren’t getting out of love on this one!
  • Keep in mind that at all times, this is a practice of being true to yourself—not of appropriating, imitating, or making fun of others’ behaviors. Set yourself free from the grip of saneism on your life—but don’t make ugly imitations of what that might look like for people with mental illnesses that are not your own.
  • All of this has varied intersections and relevancies to physical disabilities and autism, but as that is not a part of my experience, I don’t want to delve into it more. I just want to recognize the closeness of policing of behavior and bodies and how it relates to other forms of ableism.

Also, check out this picture (source below):

https://www.facebook.com/MysteraMagazine/photos/a.260956163935285.67825.163953310302238/738865629477667/?type=1

Haters are Raisins (Can’t Touch This)

agender, ally, cissexism, coming out, dehumanization, gender fluid, genderqueer, non-binary, privilege, suicidal ideation, transgender

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of suicidal ideation, transphobia

 

 

Today I had an epiphany, for a moment anyway. I realized that I am so happy to be alive in this world, and to be myself. I am so proud that I have gotten to this point and SURVIVED, and that I get up daily and work to carve out the space in the world that I need to be who I am. I am proud of my fashion and proud of taking care of myself and proud of daily speaking up or sitting down or walking around and just–being. Life is good. I am good. I am amazing for being here.

I thought, this is so much better than being dead. All this bullshit they throw at me, even that–it’s so much better than being dead.

When I realized that even the oppression I’m facing, right now–it’s so much better to be myself and to be facing this oppression than to be dead–suddenly so much of the power they were holding over me disappeared, replaced with a calm, happy sense of humor about all their bigotry.

I have gone through so much to be here, just as I am right now, and I desperately want other people to see that struggle and understand. Don’t you know what it’s like to be so ashamed of who you are that you want to die? To see no examples of your gender in the world around you, nobody saying you exist, and then to go out in the world anyway? Don’t you see that it takes so much for me just to say who I am to you, and ask you to respect it? A few months ago I couldn’t even utter those words–I am trans–to myself.

I want other people to understand that this is a matter of life and death for me. I also want them to understand what a journey it is for me to be here. Some people understand, or at least know how little they can know of an experience like this. But the people whose words usually hurt the most are the people who are stuck in themselves, the people who, it’s true, just don’t get it. They may or may not have good intentions, but they say the shittiest things. I want them to put aside all their prejudice and just realize–Don’t you get it? I’m here. I am here. That is so much huger than you can know. Show some respect, I want to say. Show some respect, I ask in my friendly, cis-person-proof body language, tone, smile. I’m being extra nice.

All of that is true. But I realized today that sometimes that line of thought and feeling is just poison. It’s poison because I persevorate on other people’s feelings and actions, wanting them to be different. And no matter how just my understanding, it doesn’t change their actions and feelings. They still are just as clueless as when I started. Willingly clueless, maybe. But clueless all the same. These haters, their hearts are raisins. Maybe at some point their lives and feelings were full and juicy, and they could fill themselves up with compassion and care for others. But now they’re shriveled up. Now they can’t let anything in, they’re so dry. And that’s just a sad spot for them to be. To refrain from applauding, celebrating, respecting someone who battles death and denial to become their full, true selves–that takes a shriveled raisin heart.

And I’m not going to preoccupy myself with shriveled raisin hearts anymore. That can be someone else’s work. Allies, that’s your work. I’m going to instead give myself the love and care I am looking for from others. I am amazing for being here and for being who I am, every day. I am amazing for asking for what I need and taking up my rightful space in the world, every day. It isn’t always easy. Others’ words and actions do get to me, they do affect me. That’s OK. I’m not saying it’s wrong or bad if these things affect me or anyone, or make life super hard sometimes.

But I am my own fab, wonderful self, and only I can give myself that. I used to think that that was a paltry gift, compared to the shit I face in the world for being me. But it is such a beautiful gift. Here I am, living and breathing and laughing. Sure, other people take that for granted. But I am here and I am me, and that is good. Other people’s bullshit shriveled selves–they have nothing on me and my gender. I am myself, disco dancing in my own glitter spotlight, can’t touch this, singing and humming and buzzing inside, because I am me and I am here and nobody can keep me from that. I exude myself, and I am so glad to be here.

Coming Out–Resources for Friends and Family

agender, ally, coming out, gender fluid, genderqueer, non-binary, privilege, pronouns, transgender

TRIGGER WARNING: coming out to and educating family, people asking shitty ignorant questions that are all objectifying and stuff

 

 

So, when I first wrote coming-out letters to my parents, I was entirely upset at the idea of including resources for them, or a list of do’s and don’t’s. It was saying, OK, I’m trans, here’s how to treat me like a person. It felt degrading and undignified and I felt like my whole body screamed against it, like it was a betrayal of myself. A friend told me, “I totally get that. Also, don’t be afraid to give people the resources they need to treat you right.” As I nodded, my insides were all, “Ahhhhhhh nooooooo!” (After being more out in the wider world, though, I get what he means: not everyone is an ally-in-waiting, and there also usually no allies in waiting to correct people or come to your defense when people start talking about trans people’s genitals. My feelings and his feelings, as all feelings are, were both so legit and real.)

I was also afraid to tell them that I was angry that they assigned me female at birth without so much as asking me about it, and to tell them different things they’d done to gender me or express prejudice made my life harder. I was worried that it would mean they wouldn’t be able to hear what I was saying. But I was aching to tell them this as much as I was aching for them to understand transness on their own.

In the end, I told them all of it: I told them about my anger and I gave them resources. In the end, even though I very much support rainbowgenderpunk’s idea that just coming out–no, just existing–is enough, I spent a long time handwriting letters and decorating the envelope with glittery drawings and stickers (it’s now hanging on their wall) and making a piece of art that said, “Celebrate with me!” and had a lists of do’s and don’t’s underneath. I eased my worry about telling them about my anger by concluding with a paragraph on the reason why I was telling them all of this, including talking about my anger, was because I love them and want them close to me. Ending with love helped me a lot, because it was true and I needed that reminder.

Well, I am happy to say that as soon as they got the letter, they called me to tell me that they love me, and I bawled. There is definitely still more journeying to be had, and some of it will come as they start to digest these resources. Yesterday, I came out to a lot of my extended family, and I organized this long, disorganized list of links into something more user-friendly. (The part of me that shrank at giving resources to people a month ago is cringing a lot now that I’m making them more user-friendly. :P) I know a lot of people already have lists like these they give family and friends, but I had trouble finding anything comprehensive as I was collecting resources. So I’m sharing this with you all in the hope that it will help make someone else’s coming-out process easier. When I first did that foraging for the right sites for me, I was so grumpy that I was looking for resources for them at all. Hopefully this will save somebody else that time and effort. Of course, you don’t need to share resources at all–this stuff is so Google-able. For myself, I decided I’d rather be the one exposing them to the resources I chose.

Without further ado, here they are:

Resources & Reading–Please check it out at your leisure! I’m putting in bold the ones that I recommend reading most, or starting out with. Read this article if you don’t have the chance to read anything else. It talks about ways to be a trans ally: http://thismongrelland.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/this-is-what-support-looks-like/
 
Basic information on the trans community:

Information on being genderqueer:

Ways to support trans people–these resources are really informative and helpful:

Resources focused on significant others, family, friends, and allies:

Pronoun use:

My favorite readings and websites for my own process:

My Brain is Broken

ableism, accessibility, disability, privilege, Uncategorized

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of people being tools about access needs

 

Or rather, it’s doing a lot of hard work right now to heal. And that’s pretty amazing, but it means a lot of sleeping and not a lot of time for thinking.

My concussion has me beat. I want to post more. I’ve had a lot of thoughts come through my brain, when it can think. But it’s not going to happen at the moment… my energy is focused on coming out to my immediate and extended family and my job, and just getting life done at the moment.

My PSA for the day, though, is about accessibility and access intimacy.

  • Lights and noise are hard for me. They give me headaches. I sometimes have to leave the room. If you know this, TURN OFF THE LIGHTS. Thank you. And don’t stare or laugh about my sunglasses. Seriously.
  • Also, for those of us with PTSD, some things are triggering. I know that for me and many (but not all, for sure) others with a trauma history, movie/media choices can be really hard. Your fun and silly action movie will give me nightmares. Your creepy TV show will make me shrink inside of myself. Be open about what content is in these things. Don’t assume I’m a bore or a drag because G rated movies are sometimes the safest bet… and even then not so much. (Not to mention that media representation/lack of representation can itself be super unenjoyable. But that’s, often, another topic.)
  • In general, if you know that somebody has any condition that could make an environment that’s designed for able-bodied and sane people difficult to navigate, leave space for their needs. Ask for what accommodations they might need. Be clear that it’s totally OK. Make it safe for them to need those things. Don’t roll your eyes, sigh, or imply that you or others are doing them a favor.

Accessibility is not a majority vote. Some access needs conflict, but thinking about these things and creating space to hold and voice them IS caring for our community. It’s also basic politeness and respect. OK. Over and out. I’m gonna go lie down for some more hours.

Non-binary People, the Trans Narrative, and “Passing” Privilege

"passing", agender, cissexism, gender fluid, genderqueer, misgendering, non-binary, privilege, trans narrative, transgender

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of misgendering, invalidation of trans identities

 

NOTE: I want to use this post to start a conversation. I know that there’s plenty of trans experiences I don’t have–so if I’m missing something, please don’t be afraid to let me know! 

So, this flashy word people throw around, “trans narrative,” when they say it, they’re talking about the normative idea of what it is to be trans, what it involves. Knowing you were trans before you could barely speak and asserting that clearly to your family, expressing your true gender in normative ways, wanting to medically transition in all ways possible. Not really “counting” as trans until medical transition starts. This is the normative trans narrative that so many people decry in their vlogs and blogs and all sorts of places.

This trans narrative does not have room for non-binary people.

There are normative pressures in the non-binary world, too, possibly that you’re AFAB and that you express more on a masculine spectrum/androgynously. But the dominant trans narrative, cultivated by so many years of warped guidelines for therapists (and warped therapists) and our own trans community, does not even leave space for our existence. It also doesn’t leave space for many binary trans people. Anybody who doesn’t check all of those boxes can deal with some invalidation because of not fitting into this narrative. 

Much of the dominant culture and conversation about what it is to be trans is constructed for and focused on binary trans people. It’s important to note that this isn’t the only point of focus: dominant conversations about transness revolve around white, able-bodied, thin-privileged, class-privileged citizens of the United States (at least in the US). All of this intersects in different ways. Right now I’m going to focus on non-binary identity because I’m not versed in all of these intersections–I need to work on that. If I create any glaring holes, I apologize. If you feel comfortable, please let me know and I will do my best to correct it.

I will give you one example of how this plays out. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about “passing” privilege that non-binary people can sometimes have. I want to front-load this conversation by saying that “passing” can be a complicated topic for many people, and not everyone’s goal is to “pass.” The word itself is cissexist and sucky. But I’m going to use it here because people do talk a lot about “passing” privilege. If folks have an idea about a better word, I’d love to know about it!

Inside the trans community, there are two types of “passing.” One is to “pass” as cisgender. The other is to “pass” as our true genders. For binary trans people, even if it is hard or impossible to “pass” as either of these things, “passing” as one’s true gender can often mean “passing” as cisgender. (This is still true, but more complicated, with binary people who have non-normative gender expressions. There are also many binary trans people that do not want to “pass” as cisgender.)

As diverse as the binary trans community is, it’s harder to talk about non-binary people because we are even more diverse. However, for many non-binary people, it is nearly impossible to pass as our true gender(s) (or lack of gender). Very rarely does it cross people’s minds that “non-binary” could be an option when they’re projecting their gender assumptions onto people. Some non-binary people are (sometimes, often, or always) comfortable presenting as a binary gender. Some non-binary people CAN’T be read as cisgender because of their gender expression or medical transition. (I think that part of this assumption about non-binary “passing” privilege is based on the wrong idea that none of us transition medically.) Some wish they weren’t read as cisgender or binary trans, but due to any number of limitations, that’s what they are read as. When trying to be read as our full selves, sometimes the best we can hope for is confusing people. Many binary trans people can hope for being seen as their true genders. In order for non-binary people to be seen as our true genders (or lack thereof), we first need to educate people not only on what it means to be trans, but on the existence of our gender(s) (or lack of gender).

Then, while we’re doing that educating, we are also working against a dominant trans narrative, and many binary trans people, that also say that we don’t exist. Or that if we do, we are doing this for political reasons or something, or just to threaten binary people’s genders, or some other hogwash. So, yes, some non-binary people have the “passing” privilege of appearing cisgender–as do some binary trans people. Very few to no non-binary people have the “passing” privilege of being read as our true genders (or lack of gender). This is also true for some binary trans people. The difference is that binary trans people’s true genders at least exist as a pre-formulated possibility in people’s minds, even if they refuse to recognize a binary trans person, even if “that person might be trans” doesn’t occur to them when projecting gender onto someone. Non-binary people do not exist as a possibility in most people’s minds.

This is why we need binary trans people to have our backs. Many of us across the trans community are challenging this dominant trans narrative, but it is pervasive. It contains a lot of binary prejudice. There are many other ways that we talk about binary trans experience as if it’s the experience of everyone who isn’t cisgender. It’s not just in conversations about “passing” privilege, it’s everywhere. I hear a lot of non-binary people apologizing for their “passing” privilege, and I think it’s important for any and everyone to own what privileges they do have. Some non-binary people do have a variety of privileges. But I also want to recognize that the whole dynamic is skewed, is set up from a binary trans perspective. What would it look like if we had a narrative that held everyone equally? It might be a lot messier and longer and take some more words, but then everyone would be seen.