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“I Think The One Thing We Should Change Is Hate”

Good Lord I love Ellen.

This segment made me bawl like a baby, but it also made me hopeful. I remember the Ellen coming-out controversy in 1997, and how her show sunk soon thereafter. Ten years later, she’s back on an extremely popular daytime talk show, catering to a moderate “average American” audience, and she’s able to talk about issues like violence against the LGBT community, encourage her audience to vote for candidates who support LGBT rights, and get a standing ovation.

Obviously there’s still a long way to go, but things are changing — and quickly. I can’t speak for all progressive and feminist-minded people, but I know I often get depressed and frustrated by how regressive so much of American society can be. I want it to be fixed now. Stuff like this is a good reminder that while there’s still a ton of work to be done — after all, a child is dead because of his identity — things do improve. Talking about it on daytime TV is a small thing, but it’s certainly significant.

A saner era? Myths about trans kids in schools, courtesy of FOX News

I’ve been following the media reactions to a story from Colorado about a young transgender girl in the 2nd grade and the usual gang of clowns are doing their “moral outrage” acts. It’s all fairly predictable, but it’s still fun and somewhat illuminating to pick apart what’s being said, so let’s take a look, shall we?

For starters, if you have questions about young trans kids (and many people do) an excellent resource is the TransYouth Families Advocates FAQ. This group was started by four mothers with transgender children, and their material is written for families who are trying to deal with and understand their kids’ struggles with gender.

The story in question is pretty straightforward. The school district has been working with TYFA and is doing a pretty great job at accommodating the trans child’s needs; they’re making sure pamphlets and counselors are available for students, parents, or faculty who have questions, and they’re making two of the school’s unisex bathrooms available for the trans child to use. Sounds fairly reasonable, right?

Well of course, Neil Cavuto on FOX News doesn’t think so. (Video courtesy of GLAAD.)

I can’t transcribe the whole thing, but he starts off by calling it a “bizzare story,” then brings on a child psychologist to serve as the punching bag for the usual interruptions and “what, are you crazy?” remarks that always seem to be the bread and butter over at FOX News. Let’s see how many myths and fabrications Cavuto managed to rack up:

1. “Bending over Backwards” Part 1: Schools have to build unisex bathrooms to accommodate kids like this, costing taxpayers thousands… or millions!

Yep, he actually says “millions” at one point. Fact-check: nobody has ever actually built a unisex restroom on behalf of trans people, and I have to say it’s not likely to happen anytime soon, either. The most “extreme” accommodations that I’ve ever heard of in this regard are reclassifying one or two bathrooms among mnay as unisex or all-gender — and that’s usually in settings like colleges, or LGBT community centers. And that’s not even the case here; the NBC affiliate in Colorado that reported this story simply said “two unisex bathrooms in the building will be made available.” Of course it’s easier to whip out the hyperbole and assume that expensive construction is going on, but anyone who did a little fact-checking would realize that trans people in these situations are usually asked to use an existing unisex bathroom. In a school, that’s often a single-occupancy bathroom in the teacher’s lounge or the nurse’s office.

And let’s be clear, this is usually a compromise. Trans employees and students aren’t asking to walk to the other end of the building, or in some cases take an elevator to a different floor than the one they work on, or go across the street or campus to a different building because they want to. Trans people are forced to because institutions can’t figure out another way to segregate us from people who might be uncomfortable sharing a restroom with us. Most trans people identify as one gender or another and tend to use the appropriate bathroom in say, a relatively anonymous public place like a movie theater or a restaurant. It’s only in contexts where coworkers, bosses, or other students know someone’s trans that this kind of problem comes up, along with the “unisex bathroom” compromise.

Approximate cost to taxpayers: possibly the price of one or two extra keys to bathrooms that are normally locked. Approximate cost to trans student: segregation from everyone else’s bathrooms, and less convenience since there are only two she can use. OK, what’s up next?

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Kill them to kill part of yourself

Earlier this week there was an update in the death of Sanesha Stewart: apparently the man who is suspected of killing her — let’s be clear, he was dragged from her apartment early in the morning, covered in her blood — had known her for quite some time. That doesn’t seem to fit with his claim (and the media’s original lurid story) that he was shocked to find out that Stewart was trans and flew into a homicidal rage as a result. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised to hear this at all.

Most Feministe readers will agree that the “trans panic” defense is bogus, and that one’s own fear or disgust of queer or trans people is hardly an excuse for violence or murder. But a lot of these “panics” are suspicious on more levels than one. In similar killings in the past, there’s been evidence that suggests the murderer knew very well that the victim was trans, and may have killed her in order to erase the association between them. The revelation in Stewart’s case brought to mind the aptly titled 2003 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Disposable People.” Washington DC activist Earline Budd, who’s dealt with her own share of transphobic violence on top of fielding more than a dozen calls a month about other trans people being assaulted, sums it up well:

Budd, like many transgender activists, believes the “discovery crime” motivation is often bogus. Most transgendered people are up front with potential sex partners about their identities and anatomies, she says — and even in cases where they’re not, “how can you say that’s an excuse for killing somebody or beating them up?”

Bella Evangelista’s murderer, Antoine Jacobs, is reportedly considering a “panic defense” when he goes to court.

According to Sgt. Brett Parson, head of Washington’s GLLU police unit, Jacobs told police he and Evangelista “were engaging in sex for hire, he liked it, the act was completed, they parted ways, and some of his friends said, ‘Hey, man, that’s a dude,’ and he returned and shot her.”

Budd suspects that Jacobs simply got embarrassed when his friends found out he’d been with Evangelista, who was well known as a transgendered woman in the neighborhood where Jacobs lived.

“This was all to show off for the guys,” she says. “He came back and confronted her, and when she turned around to walk away, he pulled out a gun and shot her and just continued to shoot her. In the back. And that’s a panic defense? Come on now.”

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Mississippi legislators seek to bar restaurants from serving fat people

I’m still reeling from the insanity of Clinton wanting to yank due process out of deportation. But wait… there’s more insanity before bedtime!!

Mississippi House Bill 282 would make it illegal for restaurants to serve food to anyone who is considered obese by the State Department of Health. And apparently the legislator who introduced this bill is completely serious about it, even though he’s aware it’s unlikely to get passed.

Any food establishment to which this section applies shall not be allowed to serve food to any person who is obese, based on criteria prescribed by the State Department of Health after consultation with the Mississippi Council on Obesity Prevention and Management established under Section 41-101-1 or its successor. The State Department of Health shall prepare written materials that describe and explain the criteria for determining whether a person is obese, and shall provide those materials to all food establishments to which this section applies.

This kind of thing cannot be ignored when talking about the “War on Obesity” and how distorted it is by people’s ingrained cultural attitudes and paranoias about fat. Fat is so bad and evil that you need laws against it; you need to legally restrain restaurants, sources of food, from potentially propagating fat. You need to hang signs saying “We Don’t Serve Fat People.” Sometimes bills like this are introduced without expectation of passing, to raise awareness about an issue. But is it really awareness-raising to suggest something so blatantly discriminatory? Especially when fat people already get discriminated against — even refused service, in some cases — for being fat? It’s so absurd that it would make a good joke about how out of control the obesity scare has become, if it weren’t being done with some serious anti-fat intentions.

How dare you mistrust our rich white gay men?

Guess what? Time for another post about ENDA, the bitter controversy that refuses to die! But first, let’s review, shall we?

A couple of months ago, the US House of Representatives passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would grant limited forms of protection to gay people… at least as long as they don’t “act gay.” As Jill noted at the time, it was a pretty Pyrrhic victory. Even the sponsor of the bill, veteran gay congressman Barney Frank, suggested that a presidential veto was likely, and that one of the real reasons to pass it was to try and soften up Congress — to get them used to voting for LGBT rights. Unfortunately, Frank also found it was necessary to throw trans people to the wolves as part of this effort to create a kinder, gentler, gay-friendlier Congress. Discarding trans rights into a pit full of rabid, conservative lupines is a habit Frank has acquired over the years by repeatedly talking about how freaky it would be if trans people and non-trans people had to share showers. (It’s worth noting that I’ve never actually heard any trans advocate suggest what Frank is so nervous about.)

Since then, there’s been a huge amount of bitterness over the decision by Frank and Nancy Pelosi, with the backing of the most powerful gay lobby in the country, the HRC, to go forward with the non-inclusive ENDA. Prominent trans activists working with the HRC felt compelled to resign. The HRC put out a jaw-droppingly tone-deaf PR plan to win back the hearts of the trans community. Pretty much every trans person who was paying attention to this debacle felt that it was far too little, far too late. Here in New York, HRC representatives were publicly excoriated at the local LGBT center by a crowd of activists, trans and non-trans alike, and picketed by a few dozen silver-haired veteran queer activists outside the heavily symbolic Stonewall Bar.

But now, apparently, a trans activist has really crossed the line, to paraphrase the headline of an editorial just posted by Kevin Naff. Naff is the editor of the Washington Blade, the nation’s second-largest gay paper:

The recent remarks by Meredith Bacon, president of the board of the National Center for Transgender Equality, denouncing the Human Rights Campaign’s handling of the ENDA debate, serve as a vivid and disappointing reminder of why the trans movement hasn’t progressed as far as the gay rights movement.

“[A]s the chair of the NCTE Board of Directors, I can assure all who read this blog that NCTE will not work with HRC in the foreseeable future, until the current leadership is completely purged, and until we are convinced that, unlike its predecessors, any new HRC leadership is totally committed to working for transgender rights,” Bacon wrote.

“As long as HRC is controlled by and is dependent upon white, rich, professional gay men, such collaboration may never occur,” she wrote.

Her comments are offensive, counterproductive and totally unacceptable. She should either retract those comments and apologize or be removed from her position post-haste if her organization is to retain any credibility whatsoever in the gay rights movement.

Now that… that is over the line! How dare she… how does she think she can get away with this kind of “name-calling,” as Naff puts it? You know, calling people nasty names lke “white,” and “rich,” and “professional gay men.” No wait, that can’t be what he means. Everyone KNOWS the HRC is beholden to affluent, mostly-white gay folks; they provide the money, they influence the agenda. Nobody even bothers to argue otherwise. It’s how most of the large non-profits in this country work.

Maybe the point is this: how dare Bacon claim that rich white men won’t eventually come back to help other oppressed people! It’s a totally offensive assumption, and wounds the sensitive feelings and dignity of rich white professional liberal dudes everywhere, whether they’re gay or not! I mean, the HRC and its overlords are totally liberal, I mean progressive, and will always fight for the little guy, right? It’s not like the HRC endorses Republican candidates who oppose reproductive rights, affirmative action, and perform racist caricatures of Asians. Oh, oops. They DID do that. But it’s not like the HRC supported the Bush Administration’s plan to privatize Social Security. Oh, oops. They did that too, in exchange for promises that gay partners might be able to receive benefits in a privatized program. Oh yeah, you can totally trust those Bush adminsitration guys. Just like you can trust the HRC, apparently.

How dare she say that her organization won’t trust the HRC anymore? It’s appalling, this lack of trust, and she ought to be removed from her position, or none of you trannies will ever work in this town again, I say! Harrumph, harrumph. Can’t have these people insulting the rich white professional men now, now can we? Absolutely improper. Totally unacceptable.

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Why so angry?

So I’m reading this piece in Broadsheet the other day about a new paper on a study demonstrating that white women are most affected in terms of salary and promotion for being fat,* and against my better judgment, I looked in the comments. As you might expect, the usual suspects brought up the usual moral panic about fat people and healthcare (as do the commenters at a posting on the New Economist’s blog about the study, and their comments are even worse), but one person made an interesting observation:

In addition to the “you can if you really WANT to,” the “prove yourself” and all the other self-help that is more useful and more kindly meant, people have bought up the insensate, profane and semi-literate rage that is often expressed by men and women alike when the subject of obese white women is dragged into editorial columns yet again.

From the especially vitriolic women, I think it’s a way of women establishing superiority over other women while expressing fear of losing status in their subtext. “I’m not like that. I’m not fat. I’m not disgusting. I’m special — but, oh God, what happens if I gain weight? No, I’ve got to hate this so I won’t and can maintain my special perfect thinness.” Barf. And many of them do.

From the especially vitriolic men, it’s “how dare these THINGS not do everything they can to ‘prove themselves’ in our eyes, but instead OFFEND those eyes. They’re not LISTENING TO US.” These characters, especially the semi-literates, seem to think it’s the right of every man, regardless of how he looks, to have arm candy of his very own and to judge women who don’t meet that standard for whatever reasons. Thyroid, anyone? Water retention? How about pregnancy? Want a woman with a big belly to hide out lest your eyes be offended? Repeat after me, and without four-letter words, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.

I really wonder if this is the extent of it. The gibbering and incoherent rage that comes up when this subject is raised is really astonishing, especially that from men, and especially men who seem to think that they’ll be FORCED to find fat women attractive if fat somehow becomes acceptable.

Which I always think is rather revealing, because who’s to say fat women think you’re attractive, punkin?

But I do think this status thing ties into this terror of having to accept fat people, particularly fat women, and especially particularly fat white women. It’s like some kind of advance case of cooties or something, where the very idea of being seen as accepting a fat person as a human being might contaminate that person. And I’m sure a lot of it is simple social anxiety and far too much emphasis on status and the “market value” of one’s mate (which seems to be a big thing in libertarian circles these days). Because you might secretly be attracted to fat women, but you wouldn’t want anyone else to know about it, so you have to loudly proclaim how disgusting they are.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t a significant feeling that fat women — you know, the kind of women who are supposed to be unattractive and unsuccessful at love — are getting away with something by having sex and relationships and being seen as attractive while not in possession of a body that shows proper conformity with the prevalent standards of beauty and the time, money and energy required to achieve them.

Thoughts? Why do you think there’s so very, very much anger and seething rage directed towards fat people, and especially fat women?


* There was no effect on the wages of white men, and black men actually benefited from gaining weight (probably because they were seen as less sexually threatening or something). Black women had an interesting wage progression: the thinnest black women made less than average-sized black women, but wages declined if they got heavier (though not as significantly as they did for white women). One commenter suggested that part of the disparity could be explained by white women getting a premium for being thin.

Not in my house!

Attitudes like Sherri Shepherd’s are why there are still so many queer & trans youth out on the streets. At least attitudes like hers in kind, if not in degree. She tried to make some kind of point about how she wouldn’t just go off at her son if he wanted to wear a dress… but you know, if you have a serious problem and even a moral opposition to some part of your child that they can’t change about themselves? And you say that there’s no place for that in your house? It’s only a hop, skip and a jump before they have no place in your house. Seriously… how many more generations before good parenting means letting kids grow up, whether they’re trans or not, straight or not, while expressing their gender however they want to?

I found the clip via Feministing, where there’s some trans 101 going on in the comments as usual, along with people tsking at Barbara Walters for assuming that a child might be trans. That’s funny, I watched the video and it seemed to me like she spent more than half the time saying that it’s quite possible the child isn’t trans–which is quite true. When you take a step back, it starts to look really obvious which is the possibility that nobody wants to deal with or think about, isn’t it? Also, the question came up: is it all right to forbid your son from wearing a dress for his own safety? It’s not a bad question. But I think it needs to be asked with the understanding that for a whole lot of trans people, it’s far more than an issue of whether people are going to make fun of you or beat you up. And asked with the goal in mind that regardless of who a kid grows up to be, we ought to be working towards a home and school environment where kids are protected from persecution based on gender expression.

Some mildly good news

… so it turns out that U.S. employers are not going to be forced to fire millions of employees. The Department of Homeland Security is trying to crack down on anyone whose records don’t match up properly, which is like firing a shotgun into a crowd because you think there might be a bad bad man hiding somewhere in there. Who cares if some other misfits and collaborators get hit? Oh wait, that’s standard operating procedure for our government already, isn’t it? From the National Center for Transgender Equality:

The DHS rules would have required employers to either fire employees or face stiff penalties when employee records do not match information in the Social Security Administration (SSA) database, such as name, Social Security number, or gender. Transgender employees who are listed as one gender in SSA records, but who live and work in another gender, would have been one of the groups at greater risk of losing their jobs as a result of the DHS enforcement procedures.

Of course, the DHS is not actively trying to get trans people fired; they couldn’t care less about trans people. They’re going after immigrants who are working with false or fudged records. Trans people are just collateral damage. Still, with so many trans people out there unable to change their “official” gender because of absurdly strict federal policies, it makes sense that NCTE and other trans groups signed onto efforts led by immigration and labor groups to stop this madness. Forcing employers to fire people? Last month, a judge agreed with the concerns brought up in the lawsuit against these rules, and now the DHS is retreating to come up with new policies that they hope will stand up better under legal scrutiny. Let’s hope that doesn’t mean some end-run that allows them to require firing or fines, but I’m sure that’s their intention.

This saga, along with other stuff around the federal “Real ID” and other broad-crackdown measures following the lead of the PATRIOT Act, is a really good example of why we all need to band together to fight against increasingly totalitarian “security” restrictions. It’s not just intersectionality, although there are definitely a ton of trans immigrants out there, for instance, who have a doubly difficult time making their way through the system. It’s that the jackbooted “security sweeps,” even if they’re just bureaucratic maneuvering and fines at this point, are squarely aimed at anyone whose papers aren’t in order. At any sign of unorthodox activities or behavior. That’s a shotgun firing at a whole lot of us.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that these new harsher rules were blocked, the Social Security Administration still has a policy of sending out “no match” letters to employers when there’s some mismatch between federal government records and an employee database. I’m not sure what the regulations are around how large an employer must be before having to submit employee records (is it all employers who file W-4s?) — and I’m one of the lucky few who has all of my records in matching order. But this is the kind of thing that keeps many immigrants, along with trans people and others, working in the cash economy. A letter to an employer can out a trans person when details of their gender are not relevant to their job at all, and some employers think it’s completely fine to just fire a trans person for this kind of mismatch. Other trans people have had their drivers’ licenses revoked due to this kind of federal-overmind “make sure nothing fishy’s going on” procedure.

A Thanksgiving Story

A week ago, it was the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A couple days later, of course, it was Thanksgiving. Two annual events that I often have rather mixed feelings about. Obviously I’m almost a week late in writing this post, but more stuff kept happening last week, so it’s only now that I’m getting around to telling the whole story.

The Day of Remembrance has never been my favorite anniversary. I know a lot of trans people who feel the same way: why is the only day devoted to talking about trans issues all about people who have died? All too often, TDOR events have felt to me like some kind of semi-obscene pity party, an opportunity for many LGBT politicians, community leaders, and other professional gays to express their solemn condolences about all the dead trannies before going back to whatever they were doing the next day and mostly ignoring all the most vulnerable parts of the trans population: the poor, the youth, the homeless, sex workers, the HIV positive, people with many overlapping oppressions, and a whole lot of trans women of color.

This isn’t to say that the downcast faces and sorrow aren’t real, or that people don’t know folks who have really died. At some TDOR events, it’s friends and loved ones who are reading the list of the fallen, as opposed to a well-meaning white lady who can’t quite pronounce the names (yes, it’s happened). It’s important to commemorate the dead, to draw attention to the incredible murder rate of trans people–14 times the national average in the US, according to one estimate. 2007 was the year when Erica Keel was run over repeatedly by a man who threw her out of his car, a man who wasn’t even brought up on hit and run charges, much less murder. This was the year when Ruby Ordeñana/Rodriguez was found strangled on a San Francisco street corner, then was subsequently called a “psychopath” for no reason by a radio shock-jock, and had her funeral hijacked by the Nicaraguan embassy, who ordered the funeral home to dress her like a boy at her father’s request. This was the year when at least nine other trans people were murdered or died from lack of medical treatment and a year when odds are we’ll hear of at least a few more.

But why has the TDOR become the key “trans day” of the year? It’s an evening where trans people gather with our friends and family and allies to light some candles, read some names of victims that most of us didn’t know, and then disperse to go home in the night. I couldn’t possibly put it better than Little Light did:

I think it breaks most of us a little, knowing that sometimes the only time in a year we all get together is to read a thick stack of names of those of us who have been ground into the ground, punctured, stolen, crushed and rent apart, all in order to satisfy someone else’s ideas of what the world ought to be–and to tell all the rest of us, look out. You could be next.

I’ll leave the beautiful eulogies to a natural priestess and poet like LL. As for me… I mostly just get pissed off.

So I was thinking about a lot of things last Tuesday.

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Transgender Politician Sued for “Fraud”

So this is utterly repulsive: City Councilperson Michelle Bruce is being sued for fraud by her failed opponent. Why? Because Bruce is a transgender woman.

Four years after she won a City Council seat, making her what is believed to be Georgia’s first transgender politician, Michelle Bruce is battling a lawsuit by an unsuccessful opponent who claims she misled voters by running as a woman.

Michelle Bruce, a transgender member of the Riverdale, Ga, City Council, is being sued by a woman she beat in an election.

Ms. Bruce, a tall woman with shoulder-length graying hair, said she has always identified herself as transgender.

“I’ve always been Michelle,” she said. “If someone has a problem with that, I can’t help them. It’s a personal issue.”

Ms. Bruce, 46, who runs an auto repossession business, began her political campaign in 2003. Running unopposed, she landed one of four Council seats and promised to attract more jobs and residents to Riverdale, a town of 12,000 about 12 miles south of Atlanta, lined with rundown strip malls and used car shops.

Three rivals ran against her in the Nov. 6 election. She captured 312 votes, not enough to avoid a Dec. 4 runoff against the second-place finisher, Wayne Hall, who earned 202 votes.

The third-place finisher, Georgia Fuller, who collected 171 votes, filed a lawsuit claiming election fraud.

The complaint, identifying Ms. Bruce as “Michael Bruce,” says she misled voters by identifying herself as female. It asks a judge to rule the November election results invalid and order another general election.

Ms. Fuller did not return calls seeking comment, but her lawyer said voters in Riverdale tended to favor female candidates, particularly if they were incumbents.

“It gives her an unfair advantage,” said the lawyer, Michael King. “It’s not just sour grapes. The people need to know whether the election is fair.”

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