Feb 272014
 

DualcornsWhat makes a queer?

Is it the way they have sex? Their gender identity? How they organize their romantic and sexual liaisons? Is it all about sex and gender?

Or can it also include one’s politics, one’s ethics, one’s stance in the world?

I believe that it does encompass both, but that they may be separate entries in the dictionary definition of the word.

Queerness as a sexual and gender identity is predicated on reclaiming a pejorative term, on opening up the playing field, on moving away from binary notions of how one orients themselves in relation to the terms. It embraces deviance, acknowledges difference in bold tones. I am not gay; I am queer. In this case, it serves as shorthand to acknowledge the fact that I am not straight, I do not aspire to straightness as a desirable norm, and all of my deviations from the norm in my identity are not deficiencies. There are exclusively queer spaces for people who self-identify along the axis of queerness as an organizational tool to describe their sexual or gender identities.

In this sense, someone who is cisgendered and straight identified would not be – and could not be – queer. Their adoption of the term might even be considered inappropriate; are they using the term to gain access to exclusive space to satiate their own curiosity? Do they fetishize gender non-normative folk or people who engage in same-sex intimate or romantic relationships?

Most importantly: the straight cis person gets to walk through this world with heteronormative privilege.  They do not need exclusive space because all the space is their space already.  Their intrusion into queer space is just that – an intrusion. It can threaten the safety of those who most need the space, especially when the intruder is a straight cis white male.

That said, self-identification is a crucial factor, and policing another’s identity based on one’s perception is more than a little problematic.

Another definition of queer is that which focuses on the political usefulness of queerness. In short, queerness becomes a positionality intentionally outside the normative.  This means that one is always willing to ask questions, that they acknowledge that normal is a myth, that things are not accepted just because they have always been done a certain way.  As a political identity, queerness is radical: it acknowledges and accepts difference; questions authority; invites dialogue; works for change.

Queerness becomes a space to talk about things we don’t want to talk about, like race and ability and aging and religion and how perceptions around all these things and more impact the ways in which people are treated and the opportunities which are granted or denied.  As such, anyone who is willing to speak up – to be a squeaky wheel – can be queer, no matter their sexual proclivities or gender identity.  Anyone can be queer.

But with that political identity of queerness comes a certain responsibility; an understanding that the identity of queerness is more than political for some people. It is also deeply personal, and especially for those who are visibly queer that (perceived) deviance does impact their lives concretely, often manifesting as denial of access to jobs, housing, recognition to relationships, lack of education and so on.

I’ve been struggling with this concept for a while, because I believe strongly that anyone can be queer when we speak of political affiliation or acknowledgement of deviance from normative standards. But I think that a political identity of queerness is, to some degree, a matter of standing in solidarity with queers who are also sexual or gender minorities.  If you get passing privilege of normativity (I do), if you are only queer behind closed doors or in certain contexts or when it is comfortable to do so, you need to be aware of and own that. Inserting yourself inappropriately into queer spaces may trivialize or undo the work of those with whom you are standing, no matter how well intentioned or excited you are.

That doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person for being who you are or even that the privilege you receive is something you should necessarily feel guilt for. It means that there are binary social systems in place which teach us to value one option over another, and that those who are perceived as having the more desirable characteristic are rewarded whereas those who fail to have that characteristic are penalized. Boy = win, girl = lose, and so on. If you are someone who is rewarded because others think that you have the “winning” characteristic, you need to get that those of us who “lose” need some time and space where we can just be us and not think about being society’s losers.

We are, of course, not losers individually or in community, but when framed as have or have-not, queers come in second best to straight folk.  So yes, I do invite anyone who questions the norm to identify as queer, and to expand their frameworks to relating to themselves and one another. Break down your walls and see where the paths take you. But also be mindful of the privilege you get from appearing to conform to norms (whether or not you identify as normal) before stepping into exclusive queer space. Your voice is powerful and your solidarity valued. Check your shit at the door, don’t be an asshat, and come prepared to listen. Your presence is welcome.

Feb 262014
 

In ShadowI’ve had mixed success with school.

In kindergarten, my teacher told my mother that I would never make it to first grade.

I did, of course, and took AP/honors classes wherever they were available. In high school, I lettered in choir, enrolled concurrently at my local community college… and flunked out. Got my GED. Worked a number of jobs – often at the same time – in order to make ends meet. A good baker’s dozen years later, I went back to school and am working on my undergrad degree while also working a couple of jobs.

The problem has never been scholastics. It’s been systems and economics and sense of self-worth. Being born poor, told I’m not good enough, that there’s not enough to go around, and that I sure as hell had better bust my ass for the rest of my life. And no, it’s not what my friends are saying or my loved ones, but it is what society said to a poor undereducated white girl. It is what a mother said to her daughter, imparting in the ritual of makeup and deriding of reading that a woman must trade on her looks and hinge her identity and dependence on a man.

I’m not that girl anymore, nor am I even the woman who grew out of that – the angry woman with separatist leanings who wanted nothing to do with men and didn’t trust them to be anything other than predators or fools. I am a man – the man of my own choosing, who is happy to wear glitter and excited to learn about power tools and know what it is like to be fully in his body for the first time. My body, my identity is not a weapon any longer. I am soft belly and receding hairline and tattoos with birds and words like breathe and compassion.

I am learning to breathe. It has taken a lifetime.

I am learning to not be scared. I am safe wherever I go because when people look at me they see a white man with a young, slightly foolish face.

I’ve been mostly comfortable in my body for the last year or so. Five years on testosterone and a year of living with a masculinized chest have made the difference: I am comfortable in myself, solid in the identity I project, and people pick up on that. I’m read as a cis, straight, white man.  And while only one of those things has been consistent through my life, the perception of that identity and the privilege I receive as a result has changed the space I take in this world, my understanding of my self worth, the respect I am given.

I understand why so many of my trans*masculine brethren have become misogynists, why so many disappear into the woodwork, why normativity is so appealing.

Forget the past. The present is comfortable. It is stable. It is secure. Things are good.

Unfortunately, that is a lie.

The perception of masculinity is so easily drawn away: a chance moment in a bathroom, a comment, or someone looking at you, really looking, and maybe seeing something they didn’t expect.  A history – especially in this world of living online – can come back very quickly and take that away.

And that aside, there is the simple – and most important fact – that having trans* identity or experience can grant one a somewhat unique insight on the ways in which privilege is played out. Walking on both sides of the line: male or female, somewhere in between, both or other – one gets to see how the other half lives and the rights and duties which are expected in both cases. In short, one gets to see how exquisitely fucked up privilege is and how much it effects a person’s ability and understanding of their ability to be successful in life.

I know that I will never know exactly what it is to live in another person’s shoes. But the uncomfortable journey of becoming the person I am has helped me to learn how to listen, empathize, and listen some more to another person’s experience – and work on learning how grant them the respect that should be due to them for being a human being instead of a privilege reserved for the few. It is a work in progress, and that is why I must not forget. Difference, uncomfortable space, being told I don’t belong by word and action and implication is not something to forget. My whiteness and my maleness grant me autonomy to enter almost any space without question. To forget what it is to be other would be easy. The challenge is not forgetting.

Oct 102013
 

In love of serviceWhen asked how kink and spirituality intersect for her, Dara answers “Service is my religion.” For him, service is not just an identity but a way of being. In leather community, this is most often iterated as bootblacking, volunteering, and involvement with local organizations. Dara currently serves the title of Oregon State Bootblack 2013.

To view the full set, click here.

Feb 222013
 

I like unicorns.

Who doesn’t? They’re magical, their horns possess healing powers, and they poop rainbows.  What could possibly be wrong with unicorns?

I can even tell you about the first documented case of the unicorn myth for Western minds (Ctesias of Cnidus, 398 BCE), how it came to stand as a symbol of purity, and elaborate on virgin-as-Mary and the unicorn-as-Jesus iconography.  While I’m not a unicornologist, I’ve written a paper (or three) on them, and find myself writing more and more papers on these mythological creatures.

And I suppose that’s kind of neat.

But I’ll tell you what: when I get out of my undergrad program, instead of having a strong in-class guided educational tour of religion from a queer theology perspective, instead of being able to talk from in-class experience about the critical intersections of non-normative identity and faith, I’ll be able to tell you about unicorns.  Because I can’t bring my full self to school, and it’s starting to gall me more than a little.

Why can I not have these critical dialogues? Because I have an advisor that doesn’t advise and has, in fact, compared me to a radical conservative Christian and said that I would not be fit for the M.Div program. Because at every turn the administration shuts down queer dialogues. Because they are silencing of spiritual, sex-positive, queer-positive, and kink-positive dialogues. Because if you ignore marginal identities, in good old Catholic fashion, eventually they will give up and go away, or be so silenced as to no longer be a problem.

So instead, I’m writing about unicorns. Because I’m a senior, because I don’t know ofany university where I can do this – in an undergrad program – that wouldn’t involve me picking up and moving, which I don’t want to do. Because I’m not sure that the malarkey of transferring schools is worth it, and because, sometimes, there are allies – at least on the queer identity, though they may not even know where to start.

I don’t need anyone to come along and fix this for me, but I do need to get it out of my head so I can think about it and what it means. I’m not bringing most – or even a significant part of myself – to school at this point. I’m ducking and getting through, and that’s kind of fucked up.  And because of this, I’m pretty checked out: just going through the motions somewhere out on the fringe, writing about unicorns and getting through the day.

 

Feb 112013
 

Nobody is a smooth intermingling of labels and identities. Often, it is where the edges of identities butt up against one another that we find the most friction – which can, sometimes, be our source of strength.  A Roman Catholic upbringing and queer identity brought us to a couple of spaces traditionally utilized for meditation to focus in on the way these identities intermix.

To view the full set, click here.

Feb 102012
 

I’m packing to move – again – (this is a life ever on the move, it seems, nomadic in so many ways) and as I put my books in milkcrates borrowed from a friend, I keep a small stack aside. I’m assembling the list of books that I own that have shaped my understanding of open relationships. Essays, chapbooks, sex books from the sixties, stuff by Carol Queen and Pat Califia and Tristan Taormino; a bibliography of polyamory.  It’s a nice little stack, although the titles, I think are not ones which generally grace the bibliography of an academic paper.

But then, it’s not often that I write about the deeply personal parts of my identity in an academic paper. I’m used to being the representative queer trans guy, and that’s fine, and I attempt to approach my papers from a queer perspective whenever possible.  But the poly stuff: that’s deeper into my identity, personal in a way that talking about gender isn’t.  And it concerns other people; the people I relate to or have some kind of intimate relationship with, however casual it may be.

So I get cagey around talking about this in an academic setting. I’m already the queer queer; that nerdy, slightly awkward guy that people sometimes slip pronouns on.  I’m weird, but in the bounds of normal. Unless I start talking my love life and all that attaches to that… so I don’t.  And that’s okay – in fact, that’s great, because I don’t want to have to explain that the way I do open relationships is not representative of the ways everyone else does open relationships, and that yes, I’m single, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see people and that they don’t mean something to me.

But however a person seeks to cover parts of their identity, it will come up in funny ways. This term, it’s through this class where I write about my life experience and tie it to academic theory for college credit.  I could write my papers divulging this about myself, but it would be leaving a big chunk of my identity in the cold and a large bit of my personal experience.

And it would be a lie. I would be silencing myself out of shame for what other people might think about me.  So I’m writing about practicing open relationships because this is my truth, and as I manifest myself into the person I want to be, it is a person that is not ashamed of who they are.

Which got me to thinking, as I pulled these books from my shelf to prove I’d done some reading (as that is how we prove we know things in academia) about polyamory – it got me to thinking about the ways in which us non-normative folk see ourselves reflected. Because this part of my identity certainly isn’t in the mainstream consciousness as anything but perverse… but my first exposure to non-monogamous relationships wasn’t through this stack of academic books and essays. It was in fantasy and science fiction. Mercedes Lackey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Guy Gavriel Kay were my teachers, hinting at ways to live and love outside of a monogamous pairing, and how to do it with honor, consideration and compassion.  It was in fantasy that I first saw my role models for my reality.

Nov 092011
 

Born in Spokane, Washington in 1931, David Eddings was an author most noted for his work in the fantasy genre.  The work he is perhaps most known for is an epic fantasy twelve books in length.  This epic is comprised of two five-book series, the Belgariad and Malloreon, and two prequels, Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress.  The two series detail a rather formulaic high fantasy arc wherein the primary protagonist and his unlikely companions undertake a quest to save the world from a fate worse than death.  There are princesses, nations at war, magic, peril, prophecies and intrigue.  In the end, the hero, against unspeakable odds, saves the world from the brink of destruction.

So what makes this any different from any other post-Tolkien fantasy tale? When Eddings first pitched the idea of the series to Ballantine Books in the early eighties, strong female characters in fantasy were almost non-existent.  They existed as accessories to the hero; pristine ivory tower beings who were decorations and trophies to be won. The other most common manifestation of females was that of the female Conan; a mightily muscled, bronze-bikini clad Amazonian terror as monosyllabic as her male counterpart and completely sexless.  As Eddings notes in a 1994 interview by Stan Nicholls for Interzone Magazine, “part of Tolkien’s heritage is a certain prudishness. With one or two possible exceptions there aren’t any female hobbits, and his heroines end at the neck; you have the beautiful hair and eyes but that’s about it.”

Eddings sought to change that.  His work is notable for a certain grittiness that is lacking in many earlier fantasy novels; characters have a need to eat, they get saddle sore and stink after a week on the road.   Likewise, Eddings worked to create memorable female characters who were integral to the plot.  In the interview with Stan Nicholls, he goes on:

I’m having a great deal of fun pushing against those boundaries of prissiness and inserting an erotic element into my work.

This ties in with recognizing the fact, and disliking the fact, that people in America are absolutely convinced the melody for Greensleeves is a Christmas hymn. It was composed in praise of a prostitute, of course. Come on, I’ve read Chaucer, I know there were prostitutes in the Middle Ages. And if I’m dealing realistically with the Middle Ages I’m going to have to have pickpockets, I’m going to have to have thieves, and I’m going to have to have prostitutes. I think the third character who appears in the Elenium is a prostitute, a little streetwalker being rained on. I introduced her to establish that it’s a real world, and to establish that, despite its preconceptions theologically, medieval society had probably at least as many prostitutes as it had knights whose strength was as the strength of ten because their hearts were pure.

While the Elenium is placed in a universe different from that of the Belgariad and Malloreon, Eddings’ desire to accent the reality of his fantasy settings holds true.  In the universe of the Belgariad, a number of strong female characters hold key positions in the development of the plot.  Notable among these are the protagonist’s Aunt Polgara, a sorceress who lives for thousands of years and who has a direct hand in his raising.  The protagonist’s wife figures no less prominently, maturing from a spoiled imperial princess into a fiery leader who successfully raises a vast army to battle the forces of evil.

However, while these female characters provide a strong female presence within the epic fantasy genre, the do it from purely within the bailiwick of feminine identity.  Polgara’s highest goal is to get married and have children, and likewise for Ce’Nedra, the protagonist’s wife.  Never, in the scope of twelve books, are Ce’Nedra or Polgara to be found in men’s clothing.  The only exception to this rule is when Polgara adopts the national female dress of the enemy when engaging in an act of subterfuge: close-fitting black leather pants, boots and vest, the garb of which is described as anything but mannish.  In adopting the national dress of the Nadraks, Polgara still conforms to the cultural norms of femininity by acting in a way which is in keeping with the dominant social expectations of how a woman should act and dress.

While the series’ primary female characters reflect normative cultural values, some of the supporting characters reveal insight into a world which is more complex than the monogamous beliefs prorogated by the main storyline.  One such character is Bethra, a beautiful and accomplished courtesan.  She appears three times in the series for less than a dozen pages total.  In sheer numerical significance, such a character is hardly worth mentioning when the series itself spans over three thousand pages. However, the very inclusion of a sex worker who operates openly at the highest levels of society – and includes among her clients the Imperial Emperor of Tolnedra, the country in which she resides – suggests a culture in which casual sexual relations may be more acceptable than the primary female characters of Polgara and Ce’Nedra may first indicate.  Bethra’s secondary profession as a broker of information and sometime spy further reinforces this; while she is, by her own admittance in Guardians of the West, “[m]ost definitely not a lady,” (187) she is nevertheless a woman of great complexity who operates with grace outside the boundaries of normative feminine roles.

Another such character is that of Liselle, a young lady whose primary occupation is espionage.  She makes her appearance in the second series, the Malloreon, and becomes a member of the protagonist’s party on his quest to save the world.  Her previous sexual exploits are never explicitly mentioned, but it can be inferred that she has engaged in premarital sex as she successfully seduces another member of the party – an inveterate bachelor – and ultimately weds him.  Liselle, as one of the questers out to avert evil, shows perhaps the greatest breadth of non-normative behavior without ever having her femininity called into question or become irrelevant. Through the course of the Malloreon, Liselle is crucified, traverses sewers, kills several men and works as her country’s most secret covert operative, never sacrificing the ability to look stunning in a dress of lavender satin.

It is worth noting that the one documented occasion when she puts on pants is in the direst of circumstances.  On the morning of the confrontation between good and evil, Liselle is described in The Seeress of Kell: she “had shocked them all when she entered the cabin a half hour earlier. She wore tight-fitting leather clothing…. it was peculiarly masculine garb and bleakly businesslike” (246).  It is noted in the text that her dress is similar to female Nadrak costume.  However, when Nadrak women or costume is mentioned, it is always with a qualifier that such clothing serves to emphasize a woman’s physical attributes.  In this case, Liselle’s clothing is specifically noted to be both masculine and businesslike, implying function over form.  It is only in preparation for the final battle that Liselle’s identity as a woman is superseded by her avocation as assassin.  The only time where Liselle’s femininity ceases to be a factor is on the day the world might end, in which case such identifiers become largely superfluous.

When considered in the context of the fantasy genre as it was in the early eighties, Eddings’ work in the world of the Belgariad did a great deal to lay the framework for a wider breadth of female characters.  However, when considered against contemporaries such as Marion Zimmer Bradley and Guy Gavriel Kay, Eddings could have gone a great deal further without sacrificing the story.  Where Marion Zimmer Bradley was exploring the politics of feminist identity and same-sex love in a patriarchal feudal fantasy setting, David Eddings never once acknowledged the possibility of anything other than heterosexual love, however tacitly.  Guy Gavriel Kay’s books brim with complex characters, including feminine-expressing men who are portrayed as intelligent and powerful.  In the world of the Belgariad, feminine-expressing men only manifest as eunuchs, and are considered to be grotesque, scheming, and petty.  In Eddings’ work, any man who gives up his masculine privilege is quite literally emasculated.  Thus emasculated, such a person becomes a parody of femininity, no longer worthy of trust and only earning our pity and scorn.

While Eddings did, to some degree, move away from Tolkien’s legacy of prudishness, he did not escape it altogether, nor as thoroughly as he may have hoped. The world of the Belgariad is one with very strong ideas about gender appropriate ideas and expressions.  Women always act in accordance with the social expectations of their gender to a greater or lesser degree. Similarly, men perform likewise, and those who do not become creatures of derision to the world at large.  Ultimately, the world of the Belgariad is a binary one which falls short of Eddings’ goal.  His female characters may not end “at the neck” but they do not, for the most part go more than skin deep.

 

Bibliography

Eddings, David. Guardians of the West. New York: Random House, 1987. Print.

—. The Seeress of Kell. New York: Random House, 1991. Print.

Nicholls, Stan. “Prime U.S. Beef: An Interview with David Eddings.” Interzone. Interzone Magazine, July 1994. Web. 06 August 2011.

 

~~~~

This paper was originally written for Intro to Queer Studies, taught by Mike Randolph at Marylhurst University, Fall Term 2011.

Oct 182011
 

Bravery in personal identity has been a recurring theme lately, as people tell me how courageous a person was for being open about their identity or really communicating about their individual needs.  People have even told me that I’m brave for being open about being trans and queer – though I wonder if they’d say the same thing if I told them I was also kinky, poly, woo-woo spiritual, and somewhere between liberal and radical with my politics.  It’s politically correct to congratulate people for being true to themselves, and yet in a culture where it supposedly gets better (so why are we still dying?), it’s still seen as a brave thing to be out.

But is this really bravery?  For me, being out isn’t about an act of courage; for me, it’s an act of sanity.  If I’m not out, I may as well be dead – and I probably would be by now.  I can’t live shoved in a closet for fear of consequences, even though the consequences may possibly be dire.  October 11th, which is my birthday, is also National Coming Out Day.  It is bracketed on either side by the beating of Matthew Shepard (Oct 6, 1998) and his death on Oct 12.  This year, the month of October has been punctuated by queers suiciding all over the place, teens and adults alike – and often in response to bullying.  November 20-21 is the Trans Day of Remembrance, and as of the writing of this post, the TDOR site notes that seventeen trans people have been killed this year – that they are aware of.

So yeah, I get where people could perceive the decision to be out as an act of bravery, but for me it’s not – not really.  It’s what I had to do to survive. So that I wasn’t another statistic, I had to come out as queer and transgendered and all that other stuff, and I have to continue to have that discussion in and out of community.  This isn’t bravery. This is as necessary as breathing.

 

 

Mar 132011
 

We are taught from our earliest experience that heterosexual and cisgendered identities are “normal,” and that any variation from these norms is deviant and substandard. Consider the popular usage of the term gay, which has come to mean substandard, effeminate, and flawed. The word gay has become a derogatory slur used as unthinkingly as people use pejorative terms like retarded and lame. Sexual orientations and gender expressions which fall outside of a heteronormative framework are trivialized, ridiculed or met with violence.  As noted in Violence Against Transgender People: A Review of United States Data: “Studies conducted since 1999 have shown that transgender people are the victims of a great deal of sexual violence, specifically sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, rape, and attempted rape. In addition, this violence is often being perpetrated specifically because of their gender identity or expression” (Stotzer 173).  To change this, we need to challenge the ways in which people think.  In lieu of overwhelmingly negative exposures to non-heteronormative individuals, we need to provide access to positive examples of individuals and cultures, and we need to start early. By providing access to ongoing education around transgender identities and challenges to a wider audience, we will take concrete steps to alleviating one of the major stumbling blocks which negatively affects the lives of gender non-conforming people: transphobia.

The term transgender in this essay is used as an umbrella term which is meant to be inclusive of all non-cisgendered expressions and identities, including transsexual, genderqueer, intersex, MTF, FTM, non-gendered, and so on. Cisgender is used to describe those whose gender identity is congruent with their assigned sex at birth (Rapier 3). All terms used in this essay are intended as categorization for the sake of dialogue only and should not be considered infallible definitions of any person’s gender identity or expression.

As of the writing of this essay, I identify as genderqueer, transmasculine and queer. Like many people who are visibly non-normative, I have been the victim of transphobic behaviors and prejudices – in the workplace, in public restrooms, and on the street. As Patrick Califia reflects in Life Among the Monosexuals, “I cannot imagine a life that is not full of stress and secrecy about conflict with my body, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics” (148). That stress – the external pressures to suppress myself in order to conform to normative social expectations – has strongly informed the person I am today and the work I do in this world as an activist and educator. I do, however, believe that by challenging what we define as socially normative and preferential – specifically heterosexuality and cisgendered identity – we can help create a future where being non-cisgendered is not a source of shame which puts an individual at risk of increased violence and lower quality of life (Stotzer 171).

What is transphobia? A phobia is generally defined as a mental condition which results in irrational fear and terror of its subject. Transphobia is one of the few conditions called a phobia (with other notable exceptions including homophobia and biphobia) where the definition includes violence and discrimination against another person.  Therefore, transphobia is fully defined as an intense dislike or fear of those who are perceived as failing to conform to heterosexual and cisgendered social norms of gender presentation, and manifests as hatred, discrimination and violence against non-normative individuals. If this phenomenon was an –ism, like racism or ableism, such behavior would be called a hate crime. In referring to it as a phobia, violence against transpeople is implicitly excused; the perpetrator defends their actions as the result of irrational terror. Transphobia, then, shifts the blame of violence and discrimination from its perpetrator to the victim. By virtue of identifying or being perceived as someone who is non-gender normative, the individual becomes deserving of whatever prejudice or assault that may be visited upon them.

Talia Mae Bettcher notes the ways in which transphobia as a blame-shifting tool was utilized in the case of the murder of the transwoman Gwen Araujo in Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers: On Transphobic Violence and the Politics of Illusion.

The murder itself was subsequently surrounded by suggestions that Araujo had herself engaged in wrongdoing (namely “sexual deception”). For example, Jose Merel (charged in the murder, but pleading innocent) was quoted as saying, “Sure we were angry. Obviously she led us on. No one knew she was a man, but that’s no excuse for anyone to hurt someone. I don’t believe two wrongs make a right” (Fernandez and Kuruvila 2002). Accusations of wrongdoing were also embedded within murder-excusing and blame-shifting rhetoric. For example, Jose Merel’s mother Wanda Merel was quoted as saying, “If you find out the beautiful woman you’re with is really a man, it would make any man go crazy” (Reiterman, Garrison, and Hanley 2002).

Ultimately, these tactics resulted in reduced sentences for the perpetrators; Merel and Magidson received sentences of second-degree murder, and Cazares that of manslaughter. None of them were judged guilty of a hate crime (Bettcher 45).

If transphobia is the result of discrimination and violence against people who identify as or are perceived to be other than cisgendered, one might ask how it is different from homophobia. While it is true that there are intersections of prejudice, they are separate issues, as homophobia is primarily concerned with sexual choices whereas transphobia is enacted based on gender expression.  To put it succinctly, homosexuality, which is in this case inclusive of queer, bisexual, lesbian, gay, asexual, pansexual and other sexual orientations, is concerned with who one loves. Transgender identity is concerned with who one is. Transphobia can and does regularly occur within the LGB community.

Why does transphobia occur among people who are often considered our closest allies by the heterosexual, cisgendered majority? While LGBT is a very short acronym, it covers a lot of disparate identities. As illustrated above, sexual orientation and gender identity are two very different things. While queer and transgender people are both oppressed by a heterocentric and cissexist culture, it is more acceptable to be gay or lesbian than it is to be transsexual or genderqueer.  Issues of transgender equality and discrimination are often the first to be dropped from LGBT political platforms, effectively making them only concerned with mainstream LG (and only sometimes) B individuals. As mentioned in Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InterSEXions of the Others, “The path to this end has largely been gender appropriateness and accommodationism, with the significant but single exception of same-sex preference.” (Alexander and Yescavage, 48.) Organizations which putatively claim to speak for all LGBT people regularly discard or completely disregard issues of transgender equality and justice, speaking instead only for lesbians and gays who ‘pass’ as socially normative.  That is great if you’re a lesbian who is “just like” your straight neighbor, but disastrous for anybody who identifies or is perceived as other than gender normative.  Alexander and Yescavage go on to say that “prejudice in gay and lesbian communities against bisexuals and transgender [individuals] is heterosexism because it is an accommodationist attempt to disavow these more ‘radical’ forms of sexuality” (53).

At its root, transphobic acts are the result of heterosexist attitudes enacted by oppressors against non-normative victims to enforce a heteronormative paradigm and suppress what they see as deviant behaviors. But what causes this? Why do people feel the need to exercise violence against people they perceive as different from them?  In Gender Differences and Correlates of Homophobia and Transphobia, Nagoshi, et al, noted the following:

The finding of Wright et al. (1999) that lower education was associated with greater homophobia is consistent with numerous studies showing that lower education is associated with a range of prejudices against social outgroups (Sullivan et al. 1985). Lower education, in turn, is associated with right wing authoritarianism, defined as the combination of submission to government authority, approval of authoritarian aggression to maintain social order, and conventional social beliefs (Altemeyer 1981), which is also predictive of a range of prejudices against social outgroups (e.g., Heaven et al. 2006) (524).

They go on to say that “similar to what has been found for homophobia, for both men and women, transphobia was found to be highly correlated with socially conservative attitudes emphasizing adherence to rigid conventional social norms” (529).

In the cases of both homophobia and transphobia, socially conservative attitudes and lower education were key factors. This strongly suggests that individuals who are prone to transphobic behaviors have not been exposed to non-cisgendered people in positive ways. Indeed, this is hardly surprising, given that the most common stereotype of transgendered people in the media is generally linked with either the fetishization of them or treating them as sideshow circus acts – men “masquerading” as women and vice versa. It is clear that comprehensive access to diversity education around trans-identified individuals is needed to answer this need.  In Homophobia, Transphobia and Culture: Deconstructing Heteronormativity in English Primary Schools, authors DePalma and Jennett state that “homophobia and transphobia are cultural phenomena and can only be addressed by purposefully promoting the equality of LGBT people as part of a broader whole school ethos which celebrates diversity and challenges inequities of all kinds” (16).

While some programs do exist to educate on transgender issues, access to them is limited and sporadic.  Educators often opt to not discuss issues of gender or sexuality at all for fear of reprisal by fundamental religious groups. By being silent on these issues, however, they become complicit in the furtherance of transphobia. When the definition of “normative behavior” remains unchallenged, it enforces the notion that only that which is defined as normal is socially acceptable, and all other expressions, behaviors and identities are shameful. DePalma and Jennett note “the concept of ‘normal’ erases the processes by which the normal is constructed: who gets left out when one draws a circle around a particular group of insiders?” Normal is not particularly inclusive, and a rigid understanding of normal as only cisgendered and heterosexual means that anyone who identifies otherwise gets left outside the circle, cut off from protection and subject to violence and discrimination. By improving access to diversity-based educational models and resources, by including transgender people and experiences in the educational curriculum, we can help bring an end to transphobia.

 Works Cited

Alexander, Jonathan, and Yescavage, Karen. “Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InterSEXions of the Others.” Journal of Bisexuality 3.3/4 (2003): 1-23. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 28 Feb. 2011.

Bettcher, Talia Mae. “Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers: On Transphobic Violence and the Politics of Illusion.” Hypatia 22.3 (2007): 43-65. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 28 Feb. 2011.

Califia, Patrick. “Life Among the Monosexuals.” Journal of Bisexuality 5.2/3 (2005): 139-148. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 28 Feb. 2011.

DePalma, Renée, and Jennett, Mark. “Homophobia, Transphobia and Culture: Deconstructing Heteronormativity in English Primary Schools.” Intercultural Education 21.1 (2010): 15-26. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 28 Feb. 2011

Nagoshi, Craig, et al. “Gender Differences in Correlates of Homophobia and Transphobia.” Sex Roles 59.7/8 (2008): 521-531. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 28 Feb. 2011.

Rapier, Nik. “TransEnough Lexicon.” TransEnough.com. TransEnough, 21 Jan 2010. Web. 08 Mar. 2011.

Stotzer, Rebecca L. “Violence Against Transgender People: A Review of United States Data.” Aggression & Violent Behavior 14.3 (2009): 170-179. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 22 Feb. 2011.

This paper was originally written for Writing 223 E, taught by Professor Denning at Marylhurst University, Winter Quarter 2011.

 

Nov 302010
 

Let’s start with what you know, Nik. When you were a child, you wanted to be a priest. Well, sure. You also wanted to be an astronaut, a rockstar, president, and a superhero. Somewhere along the line, you realized or were told that you couldn’t be a priest, and thought that nun maybe sounded nice, although it didn’t fill the same spot. The image of being cloistered away praying for the salvation of the world or quietly performing social service didn’t sound as right as a more active ministry. And you still thought being a superhero sounded cool.

Okay. So somewhere along the line, you realize that maybe Catholicism isn’t such a good match – or at least not the as-told-to-me-by-Rome version you’re raised in. You seek a little further afield, and think that you might find a home within another Christian denomination – say Southern Baptist. You take the bus clear across town to go to church, and the people are all very nice (as well as several tax brackets above your own). You’re a girl, but you can still do missionary work, or better yet, marry a nice boy and become a missionary’s wife. You’ll be serving (people who didn’t ask for it in the first place) by saving souls (into a faith which doesn’t necessarily have any resonance or relevance to their everyday life) from eternal damnation (a concept which you increasingly consider to be an abstraction) by accepting Jesus Christ into their hearts as their personal Lord and Savior (as you’re thinking about personal culpability and the need for people to save themselves.)

Well, hell (that place you’re not sure you believe in anyway.) This isn’t really working out at all – especially with this growing sense of personal identity that you’re starting to come to grips with. A problem indeed, in the framework you were raised with, and while you’ve suppressed or ignored it for a long time, the fact is that you’re not heterosexual. Or cisgendered. Mmm, now that is a quandary, as everything religion has ever told you says that you’re going to hell (there’s that place again) simply by virtue of being who you are.

Maybe this religion thing isn’t for you, after all, and maybe you can fulfil your call to serve others through social work, or activism, or volunteerism. Maybe you just need to go play some more video games and save the world that way. Regardless, you’ve got other things to worry about right now, like how to integrate this identity into your world, how you’re going to live, and how you’re going to stay alive and sane. Happiness comes in pieces with a developing sense of authentic self, contentment with building community, adventure and creativity and doing things for the first time that you never thought you would do because you were too afraid of what others might think. Personal responsibility is pretty neat stuff. And it’s a long road, but you’re also working on what personal responsibility means, and it comes to mean compassion and acceptance and respect. You consider love to be central to your life, and believe wholeheartedly in the inherent goodness of humankind.

And you’re starting to raise the lid on Pandora’s box of religion again. You’ve peeked in a few times over the years, and found a seething mass of anger, confusion, process – streaked with a deep affinity for the rituals to which you were first exposed, passion in faith, a buoyant  joyfulness in moments of connection with everything, richness of community and unconditional love. But you’re stoic about this, because this stuff can make you into a sullen tear-streaked teenager again without much work; you left this behind years ago (didn’t you?) and you’ve been told time and again (by other people) that you can’t be authentically you and still have faith.

So why are you prying at this, scratching like a not-quite-healed scab that itches? Slather it with some lotion, pop some ibuprofen, and move on. Deaden the nerves and don’t feel it, don’t process it, don’t dare to be moved by it. Mask the problem by suppressing the symptoms.

But the problem is still there. And it’s manifest in a growing realization of personal fragmentation – a sense that you’re not whole, that by not being true to yourself in all areas of your life you’re short-changing yourself. You’re not living up to your full potential, which means you’re not taking the best care of yourself which means you can’t take the best care of others. So you’ve come late but at last to school again, and you’ve been sitting with this and talking this and taking that word – faith – out and polishing it by squeaks and starts and seeing if it fits. Removing religion as you know it from the association, and finding other words – spirituality, interdependence, co-creation, creative manifestation, loonyverse. You’re framing your feelings and experiences with words, learning to articulate this mess, untie the Gordian knot and, perhaps, make a tapestry.

And that desire/need/call/passion (what is it?) to serve (how?) humanity/the greater good (what is that?) /the loonyverse/ all of us together, everyone (that’s a tall order)/ people, queer people (every single one?)/ people struggling to reconnect, people looking to find their authentic selves, people hungry for faith in something (I don’t care what you believe so long as you believe it and don’t harm others in the practice)/ humankind-unplugging-defragmentation-reconnecting-creating/re-creating/recreating-joyful-present-interconnection/we’re all in this boat together people. One person at a time, one connection at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time, making this world a better place. For all of us. Together.

 

 

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