Ok, so I missed last week, and I didn’t go into too much depth the week before because of the issues I was facing, so this week, I’ll be doing two posts, one today, the other on my normal Friday slot. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m also using this blog as my journal for my activism class this semester, so I’ve been trying to stick more to my topic of legal issues trans people face than going off on some of my other, more colorful (and fun) discussions about gaming and the like. However, I think I can tie in some examples of gaming to my topic for today. Buckle yourselves in, because it is NOT going to be a happy one today. Lots of difficult stuff to discuss. Also, spoilers for any games I bring up today. You have been warned.
Lately, I’ve mostly been playing a lot of visual novel/sim style games. Some dating sims (HuniePop), some slice of life sims (even fantastical ones, like Magical Diary or Spirited Heart Deluxe), a visual novel/sim/RPG about being the servant of a hero on a fantastic journey (Loren the Amazon Princess), and a couple that are straight up visual novels of solving a mystery (Analogue: A Hate Story and its sequel, Hate Plus). A lot of them, while initially seeming lighthearted, can have some seriously dark tones to them that are sadly not uncommon to see within transgender life stories.
For example, in Magical Diary, your character (default name Mary Sue, awesomely) and one of her roommates (Ellen) are what are known as “wild seed,” witches who were born into non-magical families but gained the ability to perform magic. Think Hermione and the other muggle-born in Harry Potter. Much as with Harry Potter, this magical world has strict rules against letting the non-magical types be aware of magic. However, this game takes it a step further – those who are not magical, either through birth or through being expelled from academy/choosing not to be magical, have their memories wiped of all magic. This becomes an issue for your character and both of her roommates during the course of the game.
Both you and Ellen go back home during the breaks to families that you cannot discuss magic with, as they have forgotten about your manifesting magic, thinking that you are merely away at boarding school. This leads for discomfort for your character, as her old life becomes more and more of a lie, with returning to school feeling more like coming home than going to stay with her family. Ellen’s life is more complicated, as her biological father was abusive, and her mother resents Ellen for reminding her of him. However, her step-father and younger half-sister are part of their lives now, and with Ellen being away, the dislike they have for her manifests more openly, with the younger sister thinking of the school as a “criminal school,” even asking Ellen if she’s learning how to pick locks. Eventually, she chooses to have her family completely forget about her, choosing instead to live completely within a magical world. On the opposite side is your other roommate, Virginia, who is born into a magical family. However, all she wants to do is be a professional athlete, something that she is unable to do with her magic. As such, she is forced to decide between her dreams and her family, as if she chooses to give up her magic, she will also forget her family. She grudgingly decides on her family over her dreams, though this does lead to some conflicts over the course of the year.
In case you are unable to see the similarities to trans issues, let me illustrate a bit further. The protagonist is an example of someone living in the closet, possibly even living “stealth” as many trans individuals choose to do after a certain point in their transition. This is sometimes something that is forced on us not just by society, but also legal issues. An example is the recent string of bathroom bills going through the legislatures in three states. However, even without such laws, there are often issues for trans people using restrooms, as in the example of Paula Witherspoon receiving a ticket for using the women’s room at a hospital almost three years ago. Another example of where legal issues cause issues for trans people regarding our status of being out or not is any legal paperwork. While I am normally quite open about who I am and how I was born, there are places where I choose not to disclose my status as a trans woman for one reason or another, but I still face issues whenever certain documentation comes into play. For example, when moving to Georgia, I had to trade in my Texas drivers license for a Georgia one. In Texas, I was legally female. However, in Georgia, I was initially given a license declaring me to be male, simply because my birth state (Colorado) will not update it without proof of my having genital reconstructive surgery. Another example is anything involving law enforcement or the judicial system. CeeCee McDonald, whether legally male or female, would have been sent to a men’s prison for the charges brought upon her simply because of her status as a trans woman, and her genitals declared her a man to the law. She became known as the woman in a men’s prison, and I’m certain that is not a distinction she wished to have.
Moving along, Virginia is an example of those who are forced to choose between their families/careers/etc. and their ability to present themselves as their true gender. There are fewer legal issues here, as technically we are protected by law against discrimination from employers under Title XII, but not every state has such legislation, and even those that do often fail to enforce it. This is why I often push for more encompassing legislation, such as ENDA, rather than things such as marriage equality.
Finally, Ellen’s case is a sad and complicated one. Hers is a story of a child abused by her family. This one takes a bit of a roundabout discussion before I can show how it is tied to legal issues for trans individuals, so please bear with me. I’ve mentioned before, either here or at least in some of my research for school, that there have been studies showing that even in families where abuse is common among children, LGBT youth receive worse abuse than their het/cis siblings, even if the queer individual(s) were not out or even aware of their variant gender/sexuality at the time. Even in families where abuse is not a regular occurrence, LGBT youth often face abuse. As far as I can find, every state here in the US still allows for corporal punishment within the home, though they vary from state to state on where the line between punishment and abuse lies. In Texas, for example, it is only legally considered to be abuse if there is a lasting mark left.
This is where it gets a bit more personal. I was abused growing up by my father. He would beat me with a belt as punishment, and for fun, he would use me as his personal martial arts sparring dummy, testing various (often excruciatingly painful) techniques on me. One such technique that he would regularly use on me, even while we were in the car (once while I was the one driving) was to grab me somewhere on the body, usually the bicep or thigh, and push a nerve in against the bone before grinding it there. While I do have marks left from this, they are stretch marks that can easily be dismissed as being from something else, such as growth spurts. Additionally, I am what some of us in the kink community affectionately refer to as an “Etch-a-Sketch,” a person who is difficult to leave marks on. About a year ago, while attending a leatherfest in Dallas, I had about an hour long play session with a wonderful woman who was working hard to bruise me, using her fists and a police-grade sap to hit me with. She only left one real mark, which took her a few minutes of hitting the exact same spot over and over again to cause. The closest thing to a mark other than that was one spot where she had also spent a couple minutes hitting me, over and over, in a more tender area (right above the breast), and that only resulted in some slightly darkened skin, not a real bruise. As you can imagine then, my dad beating me with the belt did not leave marks. As such, if the laws of the time in Colorado were the same as the ones that exist today in Texas, he could not be legally brought to justice for his abuse of me. I was eventually, as an adult, forced to make a decision similar to the one that Ellen made in the game – to walk away from my old life completely.
Far too often, we see LGBT youth, many of whom don’t even know their identity yet, being abused by adults who are not brought to justice. One striking example comes from just a couple years ago: a priest in Council Bluffs, Iowa (a town that was within a 10-minute drive of where I lived during most of my military career) raped at least four assigned-male-at-birth children in his church in order to “cure them of homosexuality,” and he never served any jail time, instead facing probation. He was initially brought up on 60 (sixty!) charges of sex crimes, though only seven resulted in conviction. While he is restricted from serving in certain professions where youth are likely to go or loitering in youth-primary areas, as far as I can tell, he is NOT restricted from remaining a priest, and he was a youth pastor prior to his conviction. It is unclear how many of his victims were actually gay, some of them may have been trans-feminine, or they may have been completely het/cis and he merely used this as an excuse. I don’t know. What I do know is that his victims did NOT see justice done, and it’s possible that he can still find more victims in the future.
Even as adults, we are often faced with issues where we are made victims at the hands of others, yet there is no justice, or even worse, we face punishment ourselves. CeeCee McDonald was imprisoned for manslaughter for something that occurred as an act of self defense, and initially had charges of second-degree murder brought upon her (the manslaughter was part of a plea bargain). A few years ago, when I was transferring in to TWU for the first time, I tried to find the school’s policy regarding trans students. I gave the example of being attacked in a restroom or locker room, asking not if I could be in these women’s spaces, but what way the school would lean were I to be attacked in such spaces. Would I be protected, or would I be punished? The response was not a comforting one, and so when I had my recent hostile (but not violent) non-verbal encounter in a women’s room on campus, I was left worrying about what would happen if it did turn violent? Would I be punished for defending myself? Would justice come upon my attacker(s)? I fear less for my life, as an individual who can fight quite well, and more about what would happen if I had to defend myself. I would end up in a men’s prison if I were convicted of assault charges or worse from my act of self-defense, much like CeeCee was.
While I receive white privilege (as my Native heritage isn’t visibly apparent in most cases), I am still a trans woman, and we are essentially third-class citizens in this society. My trans sisters of color have it far worse than I do, which I am both saddened over for their sakes and thankful that I don’t have it as bad as it could be, but I still have it bad simply by nature of how I was born. And the law of the land sadly enforces this further. I don’t have any happy answers for this issue. It is a tough fight, but awareness of the problem is an important first step.