Those who follow the news have likely seen a number of events lately involving trans issues that seem to have gone in the favor of trans rights. I mentioned last week that the military here in the states is looking to repeal the ban on trans service members. Earlier this week, Brianna Wu wrote a piece about how Samus is most likely trans (which made me so very, very happy). A few weeks ago, when yet another trans woman was murdered, news outlets never once referred to her using her birth name or said “was born a man” or any other form of their typical misgendering. Sadly, those are all just one side of the issue.
The backlash to Brianna Wu’s piece was so intense that she had to issue a second statement the very next day. Tamara Dominguez was still murdered brutally, and was either number 16, 18, or 21 for trans feminine individuals murdered this year alone in the states (depending on who you count, the numbers vary from reporting source to reporting source). Earlier this week in Missouri, over 200 students walked out in protest of a trans girl in their midst, some in support of her after she dropped a P.E. class, but most expressing their displeasure of her. And then there’s just the small things.
For those who aren’t aware, I moved to Georgia about a year ago to live with a long time friend who is also my Daddy in certain aspects of a kink lifestyle (he’s mostly vanilla though). That move postponed my graduation date by a year, but also enabled me to take a second major. I added women’s, gender, and sexuality studies to my plate, with a focus on sexuality, and have been working through that. One class that all WGSS majors and minors are required to take is called Feminist Theories, which is an examination of the various feminisms out there with a focus of critical examination of them. Yesterday, we were doing a brief look into intersex and transgender issues. It was a disaster. In addition to the normal issues of cisgender folks discussing the concept of cisgender and students who think they know trans issues better than actual trans people, there were some very problematic things said.
First off was the assumption that trans people are all transsexual, with genderqueer being something else entirely. I corrected that (several times) over the course of class, but it still kept popping up. Then there was the discussion of privilege. We had a black, lesbian student remark that cis privilege is the only privilege she really gets. Never mind the fact that she’s a university student, in the United States, in her late teens-early twenties. Simply put, she’s got privilege she doesn’t even recognize, which is often the case with privilege. But things turned really south when even the professor joined in on essentially invalidating trans experiences. “I don’t feel particularly cis. That’s just creating another binary. Isn’t the whole point of queer theory to rip apart binaries? So, no, I don’t feel particularly cis.”
Ok, let me be clear here. The definition of who is and isn’t trans is something that is regularly debated, and by the most liberal definitions of transgender (anyone who blurs/breaks gender boundaries), yes, a butch lesbian could be considered trans. But really? No. There is a world of difference between the lived experiences of a lesbian (butch or femme) who is not also transgender, and the lived experiences of a trans person regardless of their sexual orientation. There’s a world of difference even in how misgendering works for the two. As a member of the majority, you don’t get to decide that you’re actually part of the minority. Accept the badge of cis, serve as an ally, and then work to eliminate the need for such labels.
Oh, but things got worse from there. One of our readings mentioned the work of John Money, including the David Reimer case. One student in the class remarked that David killed himself because of his gender issues, so we should really be mindful of the experiences that trans and intersex folk go through. I responded that David was an extreme case, that not only did he have the gender issues, but that Money had sexually abused him and his brother as children, taken naked photographs of the two in sexual positions, and far worse, in addition to David having just lost his brother to a medication overdose AND had his wife leave him when he committed suicide. I continued that we should not look at extreme cases such as David Reimer as the case study for all trans lives, just as we should not look at those on the opposite extreme such as Caitlyn Jenner as the base example. And even though this is a class that’s supposed to be teaching that you shut up and listen when an oppressed individual is telling you about their oppression, this girl instead argued with me that she’d read As Nature Made Him too, and that it was all about the horrors of misgendering that led to David’s suicide.
The class continued along that thread, and then later that afternoon, my sexuality and society class went right along the same vein. Both classes had someone ask what non-binary is (I explained it in the first class, but was shut down by the afternoon). And the explanations given in the afternoon class were horrible as well. The professor spoke about the difference between the transgender umbrella and the term transsexual, but focused the discussion of transsexual entirely on the surgeries. Literally, he broke it into “male-to-female” and “female-to-male” and then listed off various medical procedures under each category. The MTF one went something like “you can get a nose job, a trachea shave, breast augmentation, and even a penile inversion.” However, he did not include genderqueer, crossdressing, or any others under the category of transgender. He even went so far as to refer to genderqueer individuals as “gender-benders,” after giving a horrible explanation of third gender cultures.
So why am I telling you about my day? Because, the very fact that these horrible campaigns of misinformation are still occurring in a place of learning, specifically in lessons dedicated to shedding light on these kinds of issues, shows that we are far from successful in achieving our equality. Many gay rights activists are cheering over the victory for marriage in the Supreme Court, and have been up in arms over the Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis who was refusing to grant marriages. Meanwhile, trans people are being murdered at an increased rate, we can’t get healthcare or jobs in a lot of places, and we’ve still got people fighting against our very right to pee in peace. Simply put, the fight is far from over, and we should be careful not to let ourselves get complacent due to the victories of others, or the apparent victories of our own movement. There is no true victory in the everlasting fight for justice, just individual battles won or lost.