Queer Genocide


As I discussed in my last post, there were a very rough estimate of 15,000 gay men who were sent to concentration camps, marked with Pink Triangles, who received some of the most cruel and terrible treatment of any non-Jewish group. This doesn’t account for the numerous lesbian women who were also sent to concentration camps, but were considered ‘asocials’ along with prostitutes and mentally ill people. Further, unlike other groups, once the Pink Triangles were freed from the camps, they were often tossed back into jail, since homosexuality was still illegal in Germany and most of the Allied nations.  This post dives deeper into what happened to the Holocaust survivors after the war, and how this was a crucial turning point that humanity only part way followed through with, as well as theorizing how our world could have been different.
After World War 2 ended, the word “Genocide” was officially coined to describe the atrocities against the Jews in the Holocaust. Prior to that, the word did not exist, though there were events that could be classified as genocide prior to World War 2. In 1948, the newly formed United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) to ensure such atrocities would never occur again in our world. The convention defined Genocide as follows:

“Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group; 

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; 

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; 

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; 
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The convention went further to define and clarify which actions are punishable. It is important to note that, while actually committing mass-murder genocide is obviously punishable, any sort of conspiracy to commit genocide, attempts to incite genocide, or even being complacent to allow genocide were all punishable. Some examples include creating laws and policies to push the concept of genocide, restricting marriage, or separating and isolating certain groups of people. The following quote comes from Article 3  of the convention:

It is a crime to plan or incite genocide, even before killing starts, and to aid or abet genocide: Criminal acts include conspiracy, direct and public incitement, attempts to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide.

Article 3 goes on to expand on each point of Article 2. I think their explanation of “(d) Prevention of births” is very poignant:   

Prevention of births includes involuntary sterilization, forced abortion, prohibition of marriage, and long-term separation of men and women intended to prevent procreation.
It is important to stress that, according to the UN, the action of mass murder is incredibly heinous, but the intention of eliminating a group extends further than just physical death  Isolating a group, classifying them as lesser and deserving of lesser rights (causing mental harm), banning marriages, or forcing sterilization are all qualities of a culture leading to genocide. The parallels to the current day oppression of LGBT individuals are obvious. Many politicians still call us unnatural, disgusting, prevent us from being married, prevent us from adopting, and block anti-discrimination policies. Anti-gay camps still conduct medical experiments on humans to try and eliminate the gay gene or pray away the gay. Much has changed, but much more still needs to be done.
Unfortunately, the CPPCG specified only four protected groups as protected internationally from genocide; each a group that was targeted for genocide by the Nazis in the Holocaust:  national groups, ethnic groups,  racial groups. religious groups. It would be a logical extension to include LGBT individuals in this list, since they were also a group specifically targeted in the Holocaust, but due to the politics and the overwhelming homophobia, the plight of the Pink Triangles was brushed under the table. This can be seen as an extension of the Nuremberg War Trials, where the queer Holocaust victims was entirely ignored, where doctors who conducted inhumane experiments on living queer people were never prosecuted, and the world at that time and for decades after knew nothing about queer people being targeted. While it is not surprising that queer victims were silenced and ignored, given the rampant homophobia at that time, it is still a crucial moment where we could have, as a united group of humanity, decided that torture of any of our brothers and sisters was wrong, we instead decided to qualify that only some sorts of hate were not acceptable. At that time, we as a world society decided that trying to outright eliminate certain groups was unacceptable, but other groups might be okay to be washed away. It makes me wonder what would have happened, had the CPPCG not qualified only certain groups, or used more broad qualifications, where would we be now? It was not just queer groups who were left out; numerous social and political groups were discluded, which drew significant criticism to the CPPCG. 
Had the queer victims of the Holocaust been freed and acknowledged like all the other groups of victims, what would that have changed? If “homosexuality” was included as a group protected by the CPPCG, what would be different? There would obviously have been greater justice, peace, and healing for the queer Holocaust survivors. But beyond that, governments around the world would have had to re-evaluate their anti-sodomy laws and other homophobic policies. Theoretically, there could not be any laws on the books that explicitly banned gay marriage, nor adoption of children, and there could be no restriction on gathering of homosexuals, if a nation was to abide by the UN’s guidelines preventing genocide. This would have put LGBT rights decades ahead of where they are now. Had this happened in the 40’s, LGBT rights may not be a controversial topic today. Of course, this is all theoretical, and even if the queer people were protected by the CPPCG’s definition of genocide, there would have been ways around the new standards and laws. Take for instance the plight of the African American community in the early 50s. 
In the early 50s, it became apparent to numerous African American rights groups that the standards set by the CPPCG preventing even the intention of genocide were actually not being met here at home. Jim Crow laws cruelly separated African Americans, inter-racial marriage bans put a limit on reproduction, politicians frequently debased and devalued the “Negros”. The parallels between what the CPPCG defined as pre-indicators of mass-murder genocide were often met in America under Jim Crow. In 1951, a petition entitled “We Charge Genocide” was presented by  the Civil Rights Congress, a pro-African American rights group, considered by some to be an extreme fringe group. They claimed that Jim Crow laws, lynching, and other forms of assault all qualified as punishable precursors to genocide, according to the CPPCG’s standards.  Their tactic, in part, was to publicly embarrass the USA on a global stage in efforts to force change at home – how could the USA claim genocide was atrocious while committing those same actions at home? While this petition was never adopted by the CPPCG, likely due to the UN’s relatively limited power at the time and the importance of keeping America as part of the UN, this tactic was later used by numerous civil rights groups. Pointing out the hypocrisy of fighting for freedom while stealing freedom from certain citizens proved to be an effective strategy to put pressure on politicians, and while this petition was dismissed, it still brought the issue to an international and very public stage in a way it had never been before. A similar strategy was used in the 60s to bring more pressure for equal rights for African Americans, and played a part in the legislative changes which came later.
Overall, it is hard to say what exactly would have happened had the LGBT victims of the Holocaust been recognized at the Nuremberg War Trials, and further as part of the definition of genocide and thus having the protection of the UN. However, we would be much further along than we are now. The world recoiled from the extremism of the Nazi Holocaust and made a decision at that point we would never allow such a heinous tragedy to occur again. Even if the movements were largely symbolic, a decision was made then that we would as a human race would grow past that and never again try to utterly exterminate any group of our brothers or sisters. However, we only went part of the way to that ideal. Because it was too difficult, only some groups were considered worthy of being protected. In many ways, it seems like a missed opportunity. While it was a monumental and historic occasion for the human race, we backed away because it was too hard. Perhaps its time to revisit the definition of genocide?
Some may say this has no relevance today, but queer genocide is a real thing that is really happening in our recent history, especially the intention to commit genocide, though actual mass-murder of queer people has occurred quite recently as well. Darfur and Uganda are two examples of modern mass-murder ‘genocide’ (though neither met the technical criteria issued by the CPPCG). Russia’s new anti-LGBT laws will throw people in jail (isolating them) solely for supporting queer rights. The justification used in Russia is the exact same as Nazi Germany, “homosexuals jeopardize the moral purity of Russia”. 
To a lesser extent the same genocidal intentions are present here in the USA. Conservative American politicians push the exact same dialog as the Nazis and the Russians to justify their positions; LGBT rights are immoral and acknowledging them lessens the value of the straight majority. The sort of dialog pumped out by these conservatives meets numerous of the criteria for genocidal intention. The sodomy laws and explicit bans on gay marriage violate the CPPCG’s standards. LGBT rights have come a very long way in the past few years, but we still have a long way to go, if the treatment queer people receive in US in 2014 could still be classified as precursors of genocide. 

The Invisible Queer Victims of the Holocaust

A few weeks ago, I went up to Cedar Crest College to speak on the last day of a week-long series of events focusing on the Holocaust, hosted by a very good friend of mine. At first, I had some hesitation over agreeing to the topic. While I knew queer people suffered during the Holocaust, I wasn’t sure how I was an appropriate person for such a presentation, but after preparing for my speech, I learned so much more about how the queer Holocaust victims received the worst treatment of any non-Jewish group, and unlike any other group in the Holocaust, even after being freed from concentration camps, the hatred faced by queer Holocaust victims continued for decades. I learned that while the Nazi Holocaust is long past, the genocides in Uganda and Darfur, as well as Russia’s new anti-gay laws show we may not be as far from repeating these mistakes as we would like to think. I wanted to share some of the story of what happened to gay people in Germany during this period in time, and highlight how many things have not changed in the past 80 years.
As a sidenote for some historical context, Transgender as a term did not even exist until the 90s. A transgender person living in the 1930’s and 1940’s would likely be considered to be gay, at this time. Even the label gay doesn’t quite fit, as it has a specific definition present day that doesn’t always match up with how people may have thought throughout history. As gender roles and cultural norms shift, behavior that we might think is “gay” may have been considered perfectly normal for a straight man at a certain time in history to do. That being said, “homosexual sex” is usually the big issue, and often focuses on male + male penetrational sex (often defined as sodomy, though technically the term refers to any non-procreational sex) being the truly heinous offense.
Prior to World War 2, things were relatively good for gay people in Germany compared to other European countries. While there were sodomy laws that made male + male penetrational sex illegal, the standard for conviction was very high, so it required a great deal of evidence to convict anyone of that crime. Gay social groups were allowed to exist so long as they did not actually admit to having sex. As the Nazis took power in the early 1930’s, that radically changed. Hitler and his regime practiced a strict policy of homophobia. In 1935, “Paragraph 175” of the Germany Criminal code, which up till then banned sexual deviants such as pedophilia and beastiality, was ammended to make male gay sex a punishable offense of up to 10 years in jail, lowered the standard of conviction significantly, and later gave judges the power to order compulsory or voluntary castration (which many were coerced to undergo anyways). While lesbian sex was not considered illegal under Paragraph 175, lesbians were considered asocials, since they did not meet the “German standards of womanhood” such as being a good wife and mother, bearing kids for your husband, etc. Other asocials included prostitutes, chronically unemployed, mentally ill, handicapped people, and more.
In February 1937, Henrich Himmler, head of Hitler’s SS, gave a speech in which he declared that <b>homosexuality threatened the moral purity of Germany</b> as well as the racial purity of the Aryan race. He also announced that, under his authority, any homosexuals convicted under Paragraph 175 would be sent to concentration camps once the court had finished with them. Informant networks sprung up, with kids informing on teachers suspected of being gay, gay groups being raided, having their membership lists used to identify more homosexuals, and all books relating to sexuality were publicly burnt. The program to send homosexuals to concentration had a slogan of “Extermination Through Work.”Men convicted under Paragraph 175 and sent to concentration camps were marked with a downward-pointing pink triangle (just as Jews were branded with a yellow Star of David). Lesbian women were branded with black triangles, marking them as asocials.
Life in the camps for the Pink Triangles was more awful than any other non-Jewish groups. They were strictly monitored 24/7 to ensure no men had sex. They were completely isolated in their own block, immediately killed if they so much as talked to a prisoner from another block. The Nazis were terrified the Pink Triangles would seduce the other prisoners, which was ironic, since homosexual sex was much more prominent in any other block which was not as strictly monitored. Not only did the Pink Triangles experience abuse from their Nazi jailors, but they experienced the same discrimination and hatred from other prisoners due to widespread homophobia; gay prisoners were even beaten to death by other homophobic prisoners. For every other group, the camps were made up of two groups, the Prisoners VS the Nazis, which gave all of the prisoners a sense of commrodery which helped many make it through the terrible period. This was not true for the Pink Triangles, they had no support, no group, no safety at all. Everyone was likely to want them dead. This complete isolation, even by other prisoners, had a terrible affect on the Pink Triangles’ psyche.
Pink Triangles were considered the lowest of lows, below the criminals, often not allowed to hold any sort of position of responsibility. If a homosexual man went to the sick bay, they were not likely to ever return. The Pink Triangles were the first to be taken for experimentation. This was especially true for numerous doctors who tried to <b>discover and destroy the gay gene</b> and <b>cure the gay disease</b>. Pink Triangles were forced to undergo 10-13 hours in grueling, backbreaking, pointless work meant to break their spirit and crush their hope. An example of this would be taking the first half of the day to move snow from one side of the road to the other using their bare hands, then spend the second half of the day moving it back to the original side of the road. Death rates of Pink Triangles was susptected to be 3-4 times higher than any other non-Jewish category of prisoner.
The torture for gay Holocaust victims did not stop after World War 2. As the Allied forces liberated the concentration camps one after another, most people were freed and sent home, many eventually given some monetary compensation or pension by the government for their suffering. Pink Triangles, however, were often taken out of concentration camp only to be returned immediately to German jails, since homosexuality was still illegal under Paragraph 175. Their time in concentration camps was sometimes counted as time served. Further, many other European countries (and America) still had laws banning sodomy, so even the liberators of the camps considered the Pink Triangles lower than criminals. The targetted torture of the LGBT people was not recognized at all in the Nuremberg War Crimes, which took place after the war ended to hold key Nazi officials responsible for the atrocities they commited during the war. Many of the doctors who committed atrocious experiments on humans to try to cure the gay gene lived and died as free men after the war. It wasn’t until 30+ years later that the German government officially repealed the part of Paragraph 175 banning gay sex in 1969. Even then, it was not until 2002 that the German government offered an official apology to the gay community. The last known gay Holocaust survivor died in 2008. Because of all the homophobia that was rampant throughout the area and the techniques used to silence gay Holocaust victims, nobody really knows how many gay people were in the concentration camps. Most reports range from 5,000 to 15,000 Pink Triangles in the concentration camps. Other reports site over 100,000 gay people being arrested and taken away. Over 60% of the people wearing Pink Triangles died after they arrived in the concentration camps.
Historically, this is a very sad story and a part of our story as LGBT individuals in a world full of hate and homophobia. But the ramifications of this event in our past are still only now being understood. For so long, gay victims of the Holocaust were invisible, it has only been in the past 30 years they have even been acknowledged, and only in the past 10 they have been officially recognized as victims of the Holocaust. I believe it is important for us as queer people to claim this part of our history. This is the end result of the homophobic speeches given by numerous conservative leaders to incite the masses against their queer brothers and sisters. This is where policies like those in Russia, where they are rapidly identifying and isolating any homosexuals, this is where those policies lead. Queer rights aren’t some new special thing, but the exact same rights conservative governments have tried to take from us for centuries. We are not some new movement that came from nowhere, we are a culmination of centuries of pointless hate, and we won’t take it anymore. Claiming our history is, in my opinion, a big step for advancing our identity as queer people, and an amazingly powerful driving force to make us not only crave equality and justice, but to know we deserve it.
Had the queer victims of the Holocaust been recognized immediately after the war ended, had they be part of the Nuremberg Trials after the war, I believe we would be living in a radically different and much more equal world. I will get into why I believe that in my next post, but I wanted to first explore some of the historical facts about the Holocaust.

Going Out and Being Outted

This past weekend, I went out to a bar with several good friends, to see one of our very close friends playing guitar for a funk show. Overall, the show was great, they had good energy, and my whole table was up and dancing most the night. For some reason, most of the rest of the crowd just sat back, took out their phones, and took pictures of us all dancing instead of joining in. Of course, we did not let this phase us and just enjoyed the show anyways; we weren’t letting anyone ruin our good time!

During the show, when we were dancing, a guy came up and started dancing with me, which was fun and exciting. I did have a quick moment of anxiety, wondering if this guy somehow knew I was transgender, and if he didn’t, what would he do when he found out? We danced, and his hands were on my body, and I was afraid but excited, and enjoying myself. Then the song ended, and I went back to my table. After that particular moment, I let go of the anxiety, I let the situation just slip from my mind as I enjoyed my time with friends at our table.

After the show, my friend who was performing joined us at our table, and we were all hanging out enjoying a pitcher of beer. The guy who had danced with me came up and joined us, reflecting on the show with my friend who played guitar. However, I noticed now this guy was using male pronouns for me. He even pointed right at me and said “That guy” more than once. I wasn’t exactly sober by this point, so it took me a minute to really understand that he thought I was a man. Several of my friends at the table noticed, but nobody was sure exactly what to do. It’s a situation most people will never encounter, what do you do when someone starts to assert your transgender friend is not really the gender they are presenting?

Many people I have been around when things like this have happened do not notice, or give the other person the benefit of the doubt and assume it was a slip up. After all, we all mess up pronouns sometimes, myself included. There is a difference, however, between a slip up, and intentionally asserting someone is not the gender they present as. A slip up happens inconsistently; if someone uses the wrong pronoun over the course of several distinct sentences or thoughts, I consider it intentional; not a mistake. This night, it was repeated, and intentional. It was not a slip up of a pronoun, but this man directly asserting to me and everyone at my table that the person in my chair was a guy. This would have been humiliating with most people. If anyone did not know at that point I was transgender, they now did, or at least would suspect this.
There are a lot of possible consequences in a situation like this. First off, this situation could be dangerous for the transgender person, especially if they are alone. There are countless stories of something like this happening, and when the other person realizes they have been flirting with a transgender person (which, to them, means the trans person is the sex they were born, not how they identify or present), they get angry they were “tricked” into being attracted to someone outside of their sexual orientation, and lash out in anger. This could (and often does) result in verbal harassment, beatings, rape, or death. Luckily, I was with many friends, so even if this guy was angry, he could not lash out at me. This behaviour often comes from straight men, but I’ve experienced such lashing out when a lesbian flirted with me, until she realized I was trans, after which she turned to her friends and started mocking me in front of everyone.

There are more than the physical dangers though. The emotional distress that can be caused by situations like this is significant and just as dangerous, though much less immediate. Being forced out of the closet in a public situation itself can have direct results (the typical dangers of being outted… being fired/denied opportunities/rejected by family or friends, etc). But there are indirect results too. Everyone in this world has the right to define themselves however they see fit. In these situations, someone else is invalidating a transgender person’s identity, asserting that they are not actually the gender they present as, and often puts transgender people in a lower category of person, which can make a transgender person feel isolated and helpless It may make a transgender person doubt themselves, or consider themselves not good enough. A transgirl like me may have spent a lot of time and energy to look pretty, like fixing my hair, applying make up, putting on a cute skirt, and wearing uncomfortable heels, and to have someone come publicly declare you are male makes that effort seem fruitless. Situations like this may result in the transgender person isolating themselves and avoiding social situations, especially out in public where this humiliation and danger could repeat.

If the transgender person is surrounded by friends or family who let this happen without intervening or defending them, the transgender person may feel like their issues don’t matter, that their friends don’t really support them, making it hard to trust them, which makes the trans person feel even more isolated. If you are a friend of a transgender person and this happens, my advice would be to use the right pronouns assertively. When some stranger says “that guy” correct them that there is no guy there, just a girl (or whatever pronouns your friend uses). It doesn’t have to to be confrontational, you can be polite about it, or give the person funny looks and laugh at their inability to comprehend a person’s gender.

Of course, trans people like myself deal with this sort of situation often, and we get better at dealing with them. Most times, you can ignore what some random person on a street says, or when some conservative nutjob says we’re monsters. But sometimes, it slips in passed all the armor we put up and truly hits us at the core. A person can cause damage our self-esteem and confidence in our gender expression. Even after we build all of that back up (which we learn to do in order to survive), there may be a lingering fear that the situation will be repeated the next time we go out. It’s a struggle not to let situations like this bring you down and prevent you from exploring new opportunities and situations.  I do believe that we are all individually responsible for our own happiness, but that does not mean we are completely unaffected by the things that happen to us.

For me personally, I was very lucky to be with friends who supported me that night. My friends stood up for me and laughed at the guy when he called me a man. The guy who was causing problems was driven home, and I had friends to support me afterwards. Still, it definitely impacted me, and reminds me why I try not to go to bars alone. It also leaves me wondering how this person knew, and what I could do to avoid it happening again, both questions for which I don’t have any answers and cannot change, nor prevent from repeating.

Day in the Life: Passing

Last week, I met a new friend, who I know is very comfortable with transgender people – she has had many friends who are trans in the past. She said something to me that was very surprising to me, “You don’t look like you were ever a boy.” It was absolutely flattering, to hear that I ‘pass’ so well that even people familiar with transgenderism wouldn’t guess I was trans. It also made me reflect on my current situation of being to the point I pass more often than not now.

Its an odd sensation; after years of walking around somewhere in-between the two genders, of having the wrong pronoun used, of having to use my former male name, I am now at a new stage. My gender marker, my name, my appearance, and my mannerisms all point to the fact I am female. I walk down the street and am read as female. I go to work where nearly all of my coworkers only know me as female.

I used to absolutely dread going to bars; I would have to flash an ID that outted me immediately, which I knew (depending on the bar) could lead to embarrassment, teasing, and potentially much worse. Now, I hardly give it a second thought. There is still risk and I do recognize that, but I usually do not get outted unless I decide to do so myself. I can walk around the bar and blend in with most other girls.

I believe this gives me an amount of privilege; I really can blend in. If I want, nobody has to know I’m trans unless I want them to. Now that I am in this position, I understand why so many transwomen chose to go stealth at this point. Going stealth means transitioning, then living your life as your chosen sex entirely, doing what you can to hide the fact you were ever the other sex. I’m not quite there; SRS is a big missing step, but I am close enough I can see the temptation.

It isn’t the path for me; I like talking about being transgender, and I think it is important I continue to talk about it. If all transsexual people go stealth after transitioning, there would be nobody to guide the younger trans people just starting out, just as I was helped by several in-transition and post-transition women when I was starting. There would be no one to show the people just starting that yes, it does get better. Its often these people who have transitioned that can make some of the biggest impact in advocacy for trans rights. Because of all this, I don’t think I can ever go completely stealth.

Right now, I am really enjoying the position I’m in. I pass well enough I can live like an ‘average’ person when I want, but I can also stand out when I want, and I do, often.I feel empowered, it is my decision now.

DeSales University Continues Homophobic Policies

Earlier today, I stumbled upon a petition on Change.Org started by some students on DeSales University’s campus. DeSales is one of the most conservative Catholic schools in PA, so it is not surprising to hear of their discriminatory policies. Still, raising awareness is crucial to our struggle. We should not quietly sit by and give groups a free pass to discriminate. If DeSales refuses to even acknowledge LGBT rights as a valid concern, we should make their ignorance and homophobia publicly known. I encourage you all to sign the petition and spread the words to your friends. Below is the response I left when I signed the petition:

 

I am a transgender woman living in the Lehigh Valley, and a recent graduate of Millersville University, where I was the president of the GSA there. Queer student groups allow young, confused LGBT folks just coming to terms with their orientation or gender identity, people who are very likely to be rejected by many of their families and friends. Even if their family does happen to be supportive, these students still have to endure bullying and teasing, curriculum that entirely exclude the contributions of LGBT people, other student groups working actively to make the students feel like terrible sinners, Being so thoroughly and repeatedly rejected while trying to study and graduate is a constant drain on queer students that straight students do not experience. A GSA is a place where these students can gather together, share their experiences, and actively work towards acceptance and equality. This draws the ‘wayward’ queer student in, rather than pushing them out, which leads to isolation, further depression, and a downward spiral that all too often ends in suicide. I understand local religious groups are uncomfortable due to their beliefs, but a GSA isn’t asking them to change that. It is providing a resource, a safe space, to keep the LGBT youth safe, to hopefully prevent any more tragic loss of life. To any DeSales student reading this, it DOES get better!

 

http://www.change.org/petitions/desales-university-allow-each-student-to-be-who-they-are-and-be-that-well

What Makes a Woman?

Often “normal” people find it difficult to relate to the issues I face as a transsexual person. My issues are often approached by others as an outside, new, foreign set of concerns. One of the first things I try to do when speaking to a mostly heteronormative crowd is bridge that gap between myself and the audience. I do this by asking a simple question. “What makes a woman a woman?” There is a range of typical answers I get from this question. I’d like to go through some of these answers and show how the issues I face every day are things everyone has to deal with at some point in their life.

  • A woman can have babies while a man can’t – There are numerous women in the world who, for whatever reason, will not give birth. Maybe they had a hysterectomy, or have some hormonal condition, or do not have the body to be able to endure child birth, or maybe these women just dont want to have children. Regardless of why, many women won’t have babies and to suggest a woman’s role is just to pro-create will make many feminists angry.
  • A woman has boobs! – Well, hopefully its stated in a more.. delicate fashion, but this is not entirely true. Breast development is related to hormones. There are men who, due to hormonal imbalances, have breasts. Not to mention, I had breasts after a few months on hormones, several months before I outwardly presented as female.
  • Its all about the genitals – Whether the answer describes how women are defined by their vagina, their ability to have penetrational sex. To this answer I simply point out that, for about $40,000 and a few months of recovery, I would have a vagina as well. Also, there are numerous intersexed people born every year with ambiguous genetalia that blurs the lines between sexes.
  • A woman’s chromosomes are XX and men are XY – Another frequent answer I receive, especially in college settings. However, this is not an absolute definition either. There are many people who are born with chromosome arrangements other than XX and XY. For instance, Klinefelter syndrome is a condition where a person has a chromosome set of XXY, or Triple X syndrome (no its not a porno), a condition where a woman has XXX chromosomes. Also, there are numerous reports of men living their entire lives not knowing they actually had XX chromosomes. So this is not a good definition either.
  • Girls wear women’s clothing – Of course, drag queens, cross dressers, genderqueer people, and hundreds of other people break this rule, so its not a very good criteria.
  • Girls act feminine – Another comment that would rile up some feminists. There are some girls who act incredibly masculine and some who act very feminine. Some girls love to go shopping, chit chat on the phone, try on shoes, etc. Other girls love cars, grease, sports and so forth. Sex does not determine how a person will act.
  • A girl is a girl because she was born a girl – I find this concept somewhat insulting, as it insinuates that a trans person will never actually be the gender they wish to be. I consider myself a woman, absolutely, despite my birth sex. Also, this argument is again refuted by intersexed people. After all, this entire argument is about defining what it is to be a woman, and being born a woman cannot be the definition of being a woman.

When you really take time to think it through, it seems almost impossible to clearly define what a woman is. Besides a person saying they are or are not a woman, its hard to clearly define what a woman is. Even a completely heterosexual woman who has never known a transgender person can struggle with this question. Its a question that faces absolutely everyone, whether they are transgender or not, though it is a question that a transgender woman, someone who wasn’t born female and thus had to make the transition to female, is uniquely positioned to answer. I’d like to share my answer, though I want to preface this by saying not all transgender women agree on this. In fact, I can think of a few trans girls that may strongly disagree.

In my opinion, being a woman has little to nothing to do with any of the characteristics listed above. Being a girl isn’t about clothes, genitals, chromosomes, behavior, reproduction, or sex characteristics. Some will say being a girl is about self identification, if you identify as female, thats all you need to be female. However, I think there is more to it than that, though self identification is a huge component in it. To me, being a girl is also about waking up in the morning and spending a half hour debating what to wear, or waking up and thinking “screw it, I dont care what the world thinks” and dressing in the first thing you grab. Being a girl is walking down the street and meeting eyes with a stranger who looks at you and makes a judgement if you are a man or woman. Being a girl is about feeling emotions deeply, and ignoring that when you need to. A girl has to deal with shared experiences; being stared at by men, the ‘glass ceiling,’ being viewed as a sex object in society, facing assumptions they are less capable than men, facing all of that and fighting it, or try to get by in a world that is just that way.

In short, in my opinion, what makes a woman a woman is a combination of self-identifying as a woman combined with the experience of being a woman, of living as a woman day to day, of experiencing life as a woman, and interacting with others as a woman. Regardless of where we come from as women, we all share the experience of being women, and to me, that defines what it is to be a woman.

Again, this is simply one transgender woman’s perspective. Don’t take it as absolute, but it is absolutely how I feel.

5 Things About Being Trans

Many people have asked me what life is like as a transgender woman, now that I have transitioned. This question, I have realized, is an incredibly loaded one. I would usually answer in a very broad sense, like how amazing it is to actually be comfortable in your own skin, to have the freedom to express myself without constantly having to lie and filter. Often, I would tie in how transitioning has mitigated the overwhelming devastating sense of incongruency between my mind and my body I felt in the past. These are very “big picture” sorts of answers. However, there are many other “small picture” answers about what my day to day life as a transgender woman is like. Here are just 5 things that a transgender person may experience on a day to day basis.

5) Dealing with anyone in any sort of professional capacity is inherently more complicated until you are several years into hormones and have gotten all of your paperwork changed (which is, in many cases, impossible). Be it going to a bar (a bartender once insisted on calling me Sir after they saw my ID), doctors, or even calling your bank on the phone, you will have to either offer up some satisfactory excuse as to why this woman has a boy’s name, or be forced to out yourself and hope that you aren’t dealing with a transphobic person. Sometimes this can be an interesting thing, a great conversation starter. Often it means jumping through extra hoops to constantly prove you truly are who you say you are. Somewhat less common, it can be a very bad thing, where a trans person’s life can be in danger.

4) Binaries seem strange, after a while. Maybe this is more my reaction to transition, but I still find it noteworthy. Physically transitioning challenges the boundaries that are imposed on us by almost our entire society. After crossing a line that is considered by so many to be impossible to change, I’ve started questioning other boundaries society dictates. I think this may be why many transgender people are at least open to the idea of polyamory, many of us want to try new things, and makes many transgender people good with creating unorthodox solutions to problems.

3) Love and sex have several extra layers of complexity. I think the best way to explain this is with a quick story. I was out to dinner with some friends the other night, one of whom considers herself lesbian. We were talking about romance and dating, and this person hadn’t thought much about how she’d feel about dating a trans person. Despite the fact she identifies as lesbian, she thought she would probably rather be with a transman, due to the anatomy, than a transgirl. While she is absolutely 100% justified in that, it highlights an issue trans people face when dating. Even if you find a girl who likes girls, they may not be interested in dating a trans girl. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve had to deal with gay men who simply can’t understand why I am not interested in them. The difference between sex and gender and peoples’ preferences for each makes it even more difficult to find someone.

2) Medicine has numerous effects on a transsexual person’s life. First and foremost, in my case, I am on 2 medications for transition. Even with good insurance, that is at least $20 a month, $240 a year (I wont even bother saying how much it’d be without insurance..). The medications themselves have various side effects. In my case, one of my medications affects my blood pressure, resulting in dizziness and light headedness frequently. Taking estrogen also let me experience some really interesting things most girls don’t deal with in their early 20’s, such as hot flashes. Oh, did I mention many, many transgender people give themselves bi-weekly intra-muscular injections for their hormones? Thats when you (skip to #1 if you’re squeemish) stab a needle 3 inches into your thigh by yourself, which is not at all fun.

1) The number 1 thing that effects my day to day life as a transgender person is the need to be prepared to be outted in a dangerous situation. Despite how well I pass, how comfortable I am, and the fact I am pretty good at talking to people about it, being transgender can put a person at significantly greater risk. Verbal, emotional, physical, and even sexual violence can all result from being outted in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are hundreds of stories out there of a transgender person being outted at a party and being attacked, of trans people being murdered when their boyfriend or girlfriend finds out what is between their legs. Even authority figures whom we are supposed to feel safe with can be incredibly dangerous. I read a terrible story of a transman being arrested by the NYPD and, once they found out he was trans, they treated him incredibly inhumanely, leaving him handcuffed to a wall for 8 hours with no food or water, nor allowing him to use the restroom, all the while casting judgmental looks and uttering transphobic slurs.

The Closet at Work

First, I want to apologize for the hiatus. In the past few weeks, a lot has changed in my life. Changed for the positive. I wont go into it now, but I now have a 9-5 job that will be covering bills and such. For now, the posts will probably come less frequently, but I am planning on doing a post every week for now. Hopefully when things settle down, I’ll be able to post more regularly.

This post is one I am struggling to write, as I am in a situation now I never truly expected. I am at work, but I’m not out. There is a decent chance one of my coworkers will, at some point, read this post, so I hesitated starting this. However, I have always been very open, and I wish to continue to be. The company’s discrimination does include sexual orientation, but does NOT include gender identity and/or gender expression specifically. However, the language makes it seem possible they would protect transgender people.

At my new job, I’m not out yet. I think my immediate boss may know, but no one else does. It’s been a really, really interesting experience. For one of the first times in my lives, I am being seen not as a man, not as a transgender woman, but as a normal woman. I’m not facing awkward questions or uncomfortable glances. People aren’t dissecting me, trying to see what is different about me, trying to find flaws. Instead, I am being looked at as one of the few women in my department.

It’s so odd trying to get to know people at work. I’ve been vague about my relationship with another woman, I’ve had to tell only half stories about my life up until this point. If someone is talking to me about, for instance, high school, I have to leave out details that would out me. If someone asks me about when I was a little girl, I have to just smile and nod, or think up a careful half truth. This requires me to censor every story I tell, every word I say. When a guy makes some comment about how women wouldn’t understand, I have to just smile and giggle, knowing inside “No, I’ve been in your shoes. I know that feeling.” It is really a strain. Not to mention always worrying about someone somehow accidentally physically finding out.

I ran into someone I know from one of my speaking events yesterday at work, and I had to be quiet about where I knew the person from. It was really uncomfortable, knowing that both of us could be outted if either of us said something wrong. I wasn’t too worried, but I knew the troubles that both of us could have to deal with if either slipped up.

However, I have been able to find a few friends at work, one of which I was able to totally open up to. She is a very friendly woman, and her obvious compassion and caring made it clear to me that she would be a safe person to talk to. She told me at lunch the first day I met her about her son at some point, who is dating a woman who is older than him. Many people have cast judgement on her son for this, but she is just happy that her son is happy. She said something incredibly sweet about love being great no matter what, and it made me feel immediately she would understand my issues. And I was absolutely right. By the third day I was with her, she had figured out I was dating a woman, just by subtle hints and clues (as I am -terrible- at being in the closet). When I told her I was transgender, she immediately made it clear that I was accepted, and it didn’t matter to her. Since she has been with the company for quite some time, she knows a lot about the atmosphere and how well LGBT people are accepted. She assured me there wouldn’t likely be any problems, and told me about several VERY out gay people at the company. I wont be in her department next week, but I plan to stop by and visit frequently. I just hope she doesn’t mind me mentioning her here 🙂

It feels so much more safe and welcoming at work, just knowing there is one person I can go to if I am having problems. Not that she would be able to resolve the problem, just knowing I had someone at work to talk with about these issues. Also, her experience with the company is invaluable, and there is a decent chance she could help me navigate through some of the problems I may have at work in the future.

I also wanted to mention something I’ve found very interesting to navigate; flirting. I’ve talked about flirting before, but I want to talk about it a little more here. As I’ve said, flirting isn’t always a good or a bad thing. Sometimes it can make you feel flattered, other times it can be violating, and still others, it can be funny. I’ve already experienced all three types at work, and I’ve been there a week. It may just be because I am dealing with a large amount of people from a huge variety of backgrounds. However, I think part of it might be that they see me as a young, relatively attractive woman, rather than a transgendered person who they need to be extra careful around. Some guys can be a bit.. much with their flirting, but so far I’ve really just enjoyed being viewed as a normal girl.

I’m really nervous for the first time about being outted. However, my experience so far, the people I have ment, and the general attitude at the company is showing me that it will be safe when I am ready to be out. I hope that one day, I will be able to show this blog off at work, to talk to people and answer questions.

Pre VS Post Transition: Clothes

I think we have all heard stereotypes about women loving clothes, or love shopping for clothes. While I am against stereotypes, I really do feel far more passionate about clothes and clothes shopping post transition than I did before.

When I was presenting as male, I saw clothing as a tool. I could use my clothing to broadcast a message: “I like anime!” or “Linkin Park is awesome!” Heavy clothes could keep me warm in the winter, and dark clothing obscured my body, which I was very self conscious about. I knew, when I needed to, how to dress what was considered nice, but it wasn’t comfortable and I rarely enjoyed it. I have found, upon asking several guys, that they view clothing in a utilitarian sense like I once did. I can’t speak for all men, but I can speak of my experience and what I have learned from guys around my age.

Now, after hormones, clothing has an entirely different meaning to me. Now, clothing are a device to express myself, rather than express some message. I can dress to fit my mood or the situation. If I am going to go see a bunch of my close friends (or friends I want to impress) I dress in nice, trendy clothing and do my makeup very well. If I’m going to the bar, I can dress to impress and draw attention, or I can dress conservatively and blend into the background. If I am sad, I can wear something black and thick eyeliner with eyeshadow. I can wear a skirt and appear more feminine, or wear some of my old jeans and look more androgynous. Women simply have far more options as to what they can wear. Not only are there far more clothing styles for women, but they are also allowed to wear men’s clothing whenever they want. Men simply don’t have as many options.

For me post hormones, clothing is about freedom and expression. When I was still presenting as male, clothes were just utilitarian. Of course, I always was transgender, even before I came out to myself, so I may not be the best judge. I always remember hating my limited options of clothing, and hating everything I could wear. At some point in high school, a close friend named Andi told me (in a very nice way) I would look nicer if I dressed more appropriately. I have no idea what I was wearing, but I remember the beautiful sweater she was wearing, warm colors with stripes. At the time I couldn’t admit it, but all I wanted was to wear clothing like she had, and I didn’t like any of the options I had for clothing. Now though, I absolutely love spending a half hour picking out my outfit before I go out (even if it annoys my girlfriend sometimes…)

The “F” Word

This post is going to be offensive. The “F” word is going to be used a lot in this post, but I will refrain from vulgarity besides that. If you are easily offended, please avoid reading this post.

The word fagot is defined again by Webster as:

  • A bundle of sticks

This definition comes from an older time where criminals, witches, heathens, and homosexuals were burnt at the stake just because others considered themselves superior. To say someone is a fagot is to say “You are a bundle of sticks meant to be burnt” or in other words, “You deserve to be burnt at the stake.”

The word fagot is used constantly to degrade and harass individuals who are different, whether it is their gender identity, sexual orientation, or gender expression that is somehow not “normal.” This word is used against people who appear gay, bi, lesbian, or transgender, regardless of their actual orientation or identity. Even if you just are friends with a gay person, you can still be called a fagot.

It’s unfortunate, but true that anyone who identify as part of the LGBTQIA community will at some point be confronted with this word. In most cases, they will have to deal with hostility when this word is used. This word is used to tell us that we worth less than the one who said it. And every time this word is used, we have to relive or deal with each other time we were called it. Even just hearing the word in a movie can trigger, in many, memories of being called this by hateful street preachers, highly religious individuals who at one point may have been our friends, of being called this by classmates, coworkers, even just people in the street. So while someone may use the word without knowing its true meaning, without intending to be so damming and hateful, will invoke pain, hatred, and oppression based on years of experience.

This is especially true with kids. It is painfully common in our schools to hear the phrase “Fag.” I doubt the 7th grader really knows the power of the word they use, but that does not stop the word from having significant impact. Children especially are vulnerable to this sort of hatred and oppression. Their parents or friends might not understand or accept them, and these individuals may even have the audacity to use this word against their former loved one. When the bully in class attacks a child with this word, it may invoke all of those terrible memories of betrayal and hatred.

I have been confronted with this word numerous time. Hateful street preachers, random strangers driving by in a car, angry students. I think most activists especially have experience with this word.

But there is hope. When someone uses the “f” word, it can be an opportunity for education. Many who use the word have no idea the power it wields. So many people just need to be told once what they are actually saying when they use this word. If you hear this word used and you know it is a safe environment (do not go up to a group of big muscley men at a bar who use that word and tell them to stop!), you can use this opportunity to educate. Tell these people what the word means, where its from, and how much damage can be caused by this simple 5 letter word.

Also, I want to address, some LGBTQIA individuals have reclaimed this label, just like many African Americans have reclaimed the ‘n’ word. I personally don’t like to use it, but I know many individuals who like to announce that they are “total fags.” If you want to use this word, my only advice is to use it with caution. I can’t tell you when it is and is not ok. I can’t tell you in what situation using that word around other queer individuals is safe and when you can still do damage to those who you should be supporting.

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