Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Why we probably need strictly trans-women-only spaces

Relationship abuse. That's why.

Helen G reported couple of days ago on the depressingly expected results (pdf) to research on domestic abuse against trans people. I also stumbled on a story at The Spectrum Café on crossdressers' problems, and I realised that those problems are definitely not limited to crossdressers alone: the power dynamic in a lesbian relationship, where one of the women is cis, and the other is trans, but not quite come to terms with her stuff yet, can be scarily similar.

Imagine: a trans/cis lesbian couple lives like their life was one of a cissexual, heterosexual, cisgender couple. One of the partners, however, knows that this is not strictly speaking true, but for a lack of words, courage, or just plain fear for her own safety keeps her mouth shut. She knows something is not quite right, the dynamic of the relationship isn't quite the cishet dynamic it's expected to be. The other, cis partner, is at least consciously unaware of this, or if not, wants to be unaware - there are no prizes given by the larger, sexist and cissexist society, to those who start messing about with its hallowed cishet structures, especially when such messing about goes against not only heterosexism, but cis- and plain sexism as well.

Anyway. The trans woman finds out a name, or several names, for the situation she's in. She finds out that she might actually be a woman, and that her coercively assigned manhood is a... lie. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what the possible consequences of acting out on such information can be. Amicable divorce (if they've already gotten married) is kinda nice outcome - if they have children together, the trans woman faces a very real prospect of losing her family altogether, and a substantial chunk of her income, too. Which also tends to plummet when one transitions - that's no rocket science, either.

So, what's the trans woman to do? "I'll give the family a shot but if it goes titsup, it will, and no can do - I'll likely transition anyway, and those two are not strictly connected" was my choice, but I now realise that this is not at all a common choice. The common choice is, I think, trying to negotiate your way into transitioning with the family. Asking for permission, if you like - in order to minimise the collateral damage.

What scenarios that leads to? There's at least two I can think of, and I've seen both happen many times.

The first is the "come out, get a divorce" -scenario. Once the trans woman speaks about the need to transition, the family implodes and that's that - if she's lucky, she can see her children and isn't destitute afterwards. If things go bad, she's not only cut off from her family, but totally broke, too.

The second, however, is ominous. The trans woman brings up that she really isn't a man, or somesuch stuff - the exact details don't matter. She asks for support. The cis woman, on her part, is shocked, or perhaps flat out disbelieves the seriousness of what's said. Once the situation develops a bit, and it becomes increasingly clear that trans woman's, well, womanhood, isn't going away, transitioning becomes a war of attrition on part of the cis woman partner. The trans spouse is kept from transitioning by controlling her, controlling her body, controlling her access to medical resources, controlling her visibility as a woman (either by threatening with forced outing or threatening with divorce if she does come out at circles not approved of by the cis spouse) and, of course controlling her access to other trans women. This can be subtle - painting other trans women as irresponsible, selfish failures who definitely are not worth associating with and then painting the trans woman partner as someone who's so much more responsible and rational - or it can be a lot more blatant, as in not letting the trans woman partner go to support group meetings, transcentric events, trans-women-only message boards, seeing a doctor to talk about her medical needs or even plain violence.

That the aforementioned is totally fucked hardly needs an explanation. What it does do, however, is introduce a cis-made split into trans women's lives - we're cut off from each other. Women early in their transitions don't get the role models of real, live trans women going on about their lives, working, living, loving and fighting on the planet cis, but get only the bits that suit their cis spouses - and somehow I think that the societally instilled sexism, transphobia and cissexism do affect the choice of such bits.

Because of all of the above, I'd like to have something. I'd like to have a trans-women-only space.  Where it wouldn't matter squat where you are in your transition, wouldn't matter where exactly you want to go, but if you wouldn't mind people identifying you as a trans woman, you'd be welcome. You'd be welcome to a space not controlled by cis people. Where what you say will not be scrutinised by the cis. Where questioning cissexist notions is welcome, and common. No cis women bossing around and telling us what we can do, say or be. No need for apologies, or for policing cis-instated norms on behalf of the cis. Where said policing can be dismissed for what it is: controlling. Controlling the way we speak, act, live and love. I want to get rid of that controlling so I can speak with my sisters face to face and expose the coercion and abuse for what it is.

Yeah, I know, won't be easy, but it's worth a shot, dontcha think?

Monday, 30 August 2010

Let's all bury our heads in the sand? The fuck I will.

This is a post on my brief foray into a local forum for trans feminine spectrum people and their significant others, but the issues are not limited to that forum - I've experienced similar stuff elsewhere, too. This is an outline of why I increasingly opt out of that stuff.

Here's what I like:
  • people across transfeminine spectrum co-operating on common and not-so-common issues.
  • being able to talk about difficult issues.
  • trans-centricity.
  • some common decency.
Somehow, more often than not, I've ran into problems wrt all of the above.

The relations between transvestites and trans women seem to be tense. My take on that is that there's plenty of phobia on both sides: transvestites perhaps fearing us trans women are seen as somehow contagious, that we infect transvestite men with the virus of transsexuality and then turn them into women. It's not entirely unreasonable, though - the common joke about the difference between a transvestite and a trans woman being five years is not entirely a joke. Some trans women do approach transition from that position, and it's a perfectly valid angle. I understand this might cause some concern amongst transvestites and especially their cis spouses, as hormones, surgery and legal sex change aren't exactly seen as a favourable outcome of coming out of the closet as a transvestite. Trouble is, it happens, and it won't go away just by refusing to talk about it, or beating around the bush and trying to give the impression it doesn't happen, like, ever. The motivation might be pacifying the cis spouses, but that pacification is based on a rather limited edition of the truth, and I'm pretty sure the cis spouses will find out, sooner or later, and then you'll be deep in doo-doo.

From my side of the pond, I can say being lumped with transvestites isn't always that hot, either. Transvestism is still often seen as something provisionary and elective, which I've come to understand is not the case; a transvestite probably can't choose if he wants to dress in woman's clothes no more than I can choose if I'm a woman or not. Yet that seems to be something that's trotted out by a disgruntled relative/friend/spouse when the issue of not being entirely of the sex assigned to you at birth comes up. It's the "why can't you just stop" -trope. And transvestites, seemingly, can stop, at least for some time - and stopping being a woman, for a trans woman, is about as possible as for an unsupported stone at height to not drop in standard gravity. I suspect it's the same for anyone who's somehow trans; you can't get the cause of trans out of you, you just have to live with it somehow, either eliminating the most of the underlying stuff (I'd call this transition), or finding some other ways to live with it. Trans doesn't seem go away. It's wishful thinking to think that you, or your friend/lover/child/whomever, can just repress it indefinitely.

I think there's a lot of common ground for male transvestites and trans women - it's not like the oppression is totally different: we're tarred with the same brush, and general public still isn't too keen on our differences. But the fear of the other just seems too great, and the investment in the tolerance given by the cis keeps many of us in their places, too, and makes them side with the oppressor, trying to silence people speaking out.

Talking about oppression and pejorative language seems to be a really hot button. I really don't understand why it provokes such intense feelings, but it does. Commenting that "tranny" is generally offensive can be met with loud claims that it isn't for the claimant. That may very well be the case, but it doesn't do squat about the general case. Tranny's no compliment, it's a slur, and no amount of "but it isn't for me" changes that on a universal basis - perhaps a more universal reclaiming might do that, but I'm pretty sure its time isn't quite yet. I am perplexed, however, why anyone trans would claim its unoffensiveness loudly in a discussion supposedly about the word's general, offensive usage (and why you really shouldn't use it about anyone specific, either, unless you're pretty damn sure it's accepted). Internalised cissexism? I never thought I'd run into anything that would bring up that particular concept in my mind, but I have, now. As if we weren't worthy of decent treatment. And, more importantly, as if we weren't oppressed and discriminated against, and as if that wasn't a bad thing. Puh-leeze. Stopping speaking about oppression doesn't make it go away.

I love transcentricity. I love the places that are for us, by us. There's the whole wide ciscentric world out there for the cis people - I really love the spaces where I can breathe freely, without anyone cis breathing on my neck with privilege, watching that I stay on my cis-allotted place. Or even if there are cis people around, it's still not about them. Of course some cis people will try to make it about them - I can understand that, and while they have my sympathy, it's not a demand that should be indulged in. Plenty of ciscentric spaces around, hardly any transcentric. Transcentricity is rather hard to come by, however.

And finally, common decency and not getting all riled up when it isn't about you in particular is very nice indeed. It also seems to be rather rare. I suspect this is a common phenomenon when discussing emotional subjects - it becomes mighty hard to separate the issues from the person. Yet, it's pretty hard to discuss anything worthwhile and important if you can't speak your mind on subjects that provoke emotions, so I think this is something we all just have to learn to live with. Strong emotions will be provoked, we have to learn how to behave like adults do, and not fly into a fit of rage if someone dares to disagree with us. If their case is bad, it probably isn't too hard to show why that's so, and while the disagreement probably won't go away, it's still possible to discuss the issues instead throwing a fit each time someone says something controversial.

The warning signs I should have heeded

  • spouses-only board on an otherwise at least nominally transcentric board. This is always, always a big warning sign. It means the cis spouses' concerns are favoured. It also means the people running the forum mean it's ok for things to be this way (see http://www.thespectrumcafe.com/?p=66 for an explanation as to why this is a bad idea).
  • abusive language is tolerated. I wasn't aware of this, but noticed it almost immediately.
  • moderation is not only ad hoc, but also invisible - completely deleted messages and threads are a prime example. Moderation needs to be open and visible. (for a simple introduction to the subject, see http://www.communityspark.com/how-to-effectively-moderate-forums/) This isn't quite as easy to notice, but once you hit it, you do notice it.
Silly me, didn't listen to myself.

[ETA warning signs]

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Carto's special theory of trans

This is mostly a note to myself, and written perhaps more to clarify my thoughts to myself than for anything else.

Trans consists of actually being something of some other sex, or gender, than the sex, or gender, assigned to you at birth, or later, by others.

That's about it, really!

Trans is thus a problem of other people - the core of the problem being the forced assignment of sex and gender, and the (misplaced) faith of the majority in the correctness of the communal assignment.

Trans becomes a problem for the trans person hirself only if other people make it a problem.

This can happen by ungendering, misgendering, physical violence, denial of necessary facilities, denial of medical care - this is not an exhaustive list.

The problem is not trans. It's the oppression.

(the headline is a nod to Einstein, in case you wondered).

[ETA to clarify the second sentence]