Guest Blogger

We matter

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 01, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Angie Zapata, Diane Schroer, Feministe, Feministing, gender identity, hate crimes against LGBT people, Lena Dahlstrom, New Hampshire, transgender

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Lena Dahlstrom is a crossdresser from the San Francisco Bay Area who also performs as a drag queen under the stage name "Joie de Vivre."

lena dahlstrom headshot.jpgWednesday was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me.

I took grim satisfaction that the Library of Congress was ordered to pay Diane Schroer nearly $500,000 in what is the largest award in transgender job discrimination case. (Short version: Schroer, a former Army Special Forces commander, was widely agreed to be the most qualified applicant for a job as a terrorism analyst, but when the woman who offered the job found out that Schroer was transitioning from David to Diane, she had a blatantly transphobic freak-out and yanked the job offer the next day. We're still waiting to see if the Obama administration will appeal the decision.)

I was pleased to see the U.S. House of Representative once again passed a bill expanding anti-hate crimes laws to include both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. (The real test will be when the Senate votes on it.)

I was ecstatic when the New Hampshire Senate unexpectedly passed a marriage equality bill, making that state poised to become the fifth one to allow same-sex marriages.

But there was also some news you probably didn't hear about. That same morning, the New Hampshire senators unanimously -- let me repeat that, unanimously -- voted to kill a bill that would have extended housing and employment anti-discrimination protections to trans people.

This came after the fundamentalist haters used a campaign of bearing false witness lies to portray it as a "bathroom bill" -- a nickname picked up and used by the local media -- that would allow male sexual predators in dresses into women's bathrooms. (Never mind that there's been no bathroom incidents in the 13 states that have similar laws. Or that trans people are already in bathrooms, because you know... sometimes we have to pee too.) Now evidently there was some sort of political maneuvering behind the vote, since even the sponsors voted against their own bill. One of the sponsors said that passing it now would only worsen the situation for trans people because of the way the bill was portrayed. (I guess they had to destroy the village to save it....) But whatever the good intentions, the 24-0 vote wound up sending the message: You don't deserve the same rights as everybody else. You don't even deserve a valiant-but-losing effort. You just don't matter.

It was yet another Prop. 8-like moment for trans issues, particularly given the contrast to the same-day marriage equality vote. I feel the same sort of bitter aftertaste to sweet success that I felt on Election Night. I'm beginning to feel like we trans people are human shields, taking the brunt of the anti-LGBT hatred out there while marriage equality is becoming mainstreamed. We're "those people," the ones who can be demonized, the ones who by comparison make the shiny, happy sex-same couples waiting to walk down the aisle looking ever so "normal." Because after all, they're the ones who matter.

You probably didn't hear about the vote, not even in the LGBT media/blogosphere. I guess having a ghost at the banquet is a bit of a downer. (FYI, I know a number of these sites knew about the story because I personally alerted them to it.) The thing is, it's just latest incident in their all-too-frequent deafening silence when it comes to trans-related issues and news. Schroer's victory was also MIA today. A week ago, a jury in rural Colorado took less than two hours to convict the killer of Angie Zapata of first degree murder and committing a hate crime -- the first U.S. hate crime conviction ever in the murder of a trans person. It was the trans communities' equivalent of the Matthew Shepard murder and attracted hordes of attention from the mainstream media. The gay and lesbian media... not so much (with a few notable exceptions, such as Bilerico) -- even on the eve of the federal hate crimes bill going to a vote. Because apparently the T in LGBT doesn't seem to matter.

But I wouldn't give the MSM a cookie either. All too often their coverage began: "A man who claimed he snapped after discovering a transgender woman was actually male..." -- repeating as fact the exact same self-serving "trans panic" defense, the same "deceptive tranny" victim blaming, that the jury specifically rejected. Nor did they bother to mention that the evidence showed Zapata's killer knew she was trans 36 hours before she died, that there was no evidence that Zapata had sex with him that night she died, that he returned to finish her off when he realized she wasn't dead yet. Because we don't matter enough to get the story right.

I'll admit it, my nerves are a bit raw about this. In the past few weeks, we've seen a feminist blogger crack a tranny "joke" and then tell people who objected to lighten up (and STFU). Because after all, it was about "Mann Coulter" so it was OK. We've seen similar "you're just being too sensitive" comments posted over at Bitch Magazine directed toward those who thought a cartoon about lesbians who fetishize trans men was embodying the very attitudes it supposedly was critiquing. We've seen a series of problems with trans people being silenced in the comments discussions at Feministing and Feministe. (Though to their credit both sites are trying to address the problems.) These problems ranged from plain old privileged cluelessness -- "stop the discussion until someone explains what 'cisgender' means because I can't be bothered to figure it out for myself," to "I want to talk about how I deserve a cookie for being so enlightened about those exotic trans people," to "I know the post was about trans rights, but I want to talk about how I don't like sharing bathrooms with men" -- to insisting that people's lives conform to someone's pet ideology, to outright transphobic attacks. When men engage in this sort of silencing behaviors, especially in feminist spaces, many feminist women are quick to anger and quick to call them on their shit. But when some of these very same women do the exact same thing to trans people... well, not so much. Because we don't matter.

Except, we do.

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Just read the bitch phd post you linked.

I'm perfectly aware that everyone has decided that calling Coulter a cunt--or saying she looks mannish--is terribly sexist. I don't buy it. As I said in the thread, her shtick is *founded* on the whole "I'm so feminine and pretty" crap. She makes comments about how democrats and lefties generally are ugly. Her self-presentation is high-femme. Underlying the "she's a maaaaan, baby" reactions, I think, is a critique of her invocation of rigid gender norms to market herself.

Ummmmmm... no.

I'm not that far along, transition-wise, and I'm certainly not full-time yet. But one thing that seems to replay itself like a broken record are the people who think that trans people are "cool" until they have to face the potential ramifications of trans people in the world. It's interesting to hear people flat-out say "you're not a woman until you have the surgery," as if it were a natural response, or how they change the subject when bathroom "issues" come up.

Yet the one of the ivory towers of being a successful trans person seems to be the act of stealth. How can we hope to succeed in convincing people that we're not crazy, evil monsters if we hide right under their noses?

I wish I had an answer for this question.

When I transitioned, we called it "woodworking" and stealth referred to "Stealth Lesbians" [Clinton, Kate. 1994. Babes in Joyland. Whyscrack (Ladyslipper)].

But I grew dissatisfied with the idea that I, and others with my experience, would be represented by people who end up throwing chairs - or having thrown chairs at them - on sensationalist talk shows. And so I decided I had a responsibility to come out again.

Yet, because of the way transgender people are held in poor regard, I also knew that my impact would be decreased if I introduced myself as transgender to everyone I met. Futhermore, I did not want to trap myself in a transgender ghetto. So I came upon a compromise.

In general, I go through life as female and implicitly cisgender. With people I know, I come out as transgender, so they have a real person as a reference point. I also come out in other situations, such as when applying for college, graduate school, and seminary, And I don't exactly hide my background online - my blog's name is Trans-cendental, and I write about my being transgender as well as a lot of other issues.

Please note that I did not decide that all transgender people have a responsibility - it is a personal examination that led me to my belief about my own life, so I refuse to extrapolate this to all people in all situations. This is important to me, that I only speak my experience and not try to act as a proxy for all transgender persons.

So that's my way of dealing with the issue. It's not the only way, but it is a way that has been working for me.

Me too. Same deal. Don't advertise, don't keep secret.

I have a huge presence online, but in my daily life, few know. Why should they? It's not so much de-cloaking as putting up a big sign when I do reveal, and I only do it to educate.

I have "passing privilege" and many don't. For me it's a choice, but not for them. Except how can I leave them to the wolves? It's not really a choice for me, but I don't see why anyone should have the same attitude. I don't expect them to. They have different circumstances.

I dunno, maybe it's what makes me a Right-winger, believing in personal rather than collective responsibility. I can't just pretend "someone should do something about it" and leave it to some nebulous state power. I was given privilege, it's only right - and only Right - that I do something about injustice. Because I can, and others can't.

I live below the poverty line, my privilege isn't financial. But I have family support, I was given some degree of talent and a lot more opportunity. I know influential people, and my Internet skills are strong. I'm not struggling with a divorce, or the loss of my family. I lost nothing in transition. So if I don't help, who should?

One more reason not to be to trusting of our so called friends that knife in the back is worse than the one you see coming.

Nerissa Belcher | May 1, 2009 7:34 PM

If in doubt of the legality of using the bathroom of our identified gender I suggest that every pre-op, non-op, CD, TG use the bathroom of their assigned birth gender. Then sue the pants off the owner of the facility if they are bothered by other patrons of the bathroom for not providing for their safety. How could conservative bigots argue against this given they claim to only be concerned about safety issues (ha!)?

It wouldn't be long before business owners either provided single stall bathrooms or over-looked anti-trans policies in regards to bathroom usage. Meanwhile the bigots would be forced out of their own stealth of intolerance by having to admit they don't like trans folks and had been using their safety argument as only a ruse.

I say for the next trans protection policy fight we work to include enhanced punishments for people who harass other people in bathrooms.

The day before all of this, I was talking with politician's assistants. Staffers.

The day of all of this, I was following it from here in DC.

Its interesting.

Like some, I guess I have "passing privilege" (but passing for what?). It has been used in these last few days as I've talked to others.

I do not live stealth and I do indeed advertise.

The decision in NH was based on the argument of the bathroom bill -- something that for over a year I've said we have to come up with a way to defeat. And I've offered my own possibilities to do that several times.

ITs not my way to bitch about something and then do nothing. So once I get back home (I will be here for more lobbying later this upcoming week and then a little more time), I will be working to introduce local legislation. And I will tet out my ideas, and learn from past ones, and go forward with what I think will work.

I promise that, to all of you. You may hold me accountable for not doing so.

And I am certain that once I am done, the bathroom bill won't be an argument to use against us, or anyone.

If you have the will, then do it. And if you are not working, then why not give it a go anyway -- its better than sitting around doing nothing.

CailleanMcM CailleanMcM | May 2, 2009 3:26 PM

I just live; some people know, some people do not, others find out later and by that time after knowing me they do not care.

I naver gave much thought to the bathroom issue, honetly. I just go in, go, and go out....