The Power of Fathers (and Siblings)

I re-read my last post and was kicking myself for focusing on mothers and spouses, and not mentioning fathers and siblings. As a father myself, I always get annoyed when I read “parenting” magazines that assume that the parents are all female, so I feel I owe it to all the other fathers out there to set the record straight. I should also put in a word for siblings. Krystal Heskin’s sister has been very vocal in supporting her memory. Siblings can do a lot for each other.

A mother’s concern makes a bigger splash in the news. I could come up with a dozen examples of high-profile mothers in the news right off the top of my head, but it’s hard to think of fathers. Two that come to mind are controversial: Michael Berg and Juan Miguel Gonzalez. Of course, their sons weren’t trans as far as we know, and I can’t think of any well-known fathers of transgender people, let alone of murdered transgender people. I have no information on the fathers of Gwen Araujo or Krystal Heskin. I imagine that many of the transgender prostitutes who are murdered would not need to work in such a dangerous field if they had more support from their fathers.

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Whose Dead? Whose Day?

The subject of unity and the Transgender Day of Remembrance leads me to an unpleasant issue. Helen Boyd had a relatively innocuous post about the Day, and then a transwoman named Arlene Starr attacked her for presuming to use the phrase “our dead.” You see, Helen is not trans herself (although she has described having transgender feelings), she’s “only” married to a transwoman. Kind of the way I’m “just a cross-dresser.”

The problem is, God forbid I’m ever killed, who would suffer the most? My wife, my son and the rest of my family. Who worries the most about me getting attacked? My wife and my mother. The same is true, by and large, for Helen’s husband Betty. Think about Sylvia Guerrero (PDF), mother of Gwen Araujo, and Jennie Heskin, mother of Krystal Heskin.

Think, also, about the impact that spouses and mothers have had on public policy when their children’s lives are at stake. No one wants to be against motherhood, and very few people want to be seen as coming between a mother and her children. (The less said the better about those who are against marriage for transpeople, or who would come between a transperson and their partner.) I’m very proud that my own mother has been active in this area, and I think it’s made a difference. Our loved ones are natural allies in this.

Most importantly, as Marlena Dahlstrom wrote in the comments on Starr’s blog, partners and other loved ones can be targets too. Private first class Barry Winchell was brutally murdered in 1999 for dating a transwoman, Calpernia Addams, who has since become a nationwide community leader.

(Interestingly, as the article I linked discusses, people downplayed Addams’s identification as a woman and Winchell’s identification as heterosexual in order to construe his murder as a gay murder and fit it into a wider debate about gays in the military. While it is certainly related to those issues, it is not the same. I think this raises similar issues about claiming the dead and demanding reforms based on them as I mentioned in my last post.)

Remembering Our Dead

Last Monday, November 20, was the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, to mark all those who have been killed for being transgender or gender-variant. It isn’t something far off in the past, either: just the day before, Gregorio Sandoval was brutally stabbed to death in Antioch, CA, about 45 miles east of San Francisco.

It is remote for me in other ways, though: I’ve never been attacked for being trans, and nobody close to me has. I think it has to do with being white, middle-class, not rejected by my family, and not involved in casual sex or prostitution. I’ve been a bit reluctant to post about the Day of Remembrance because I think that some of these killings are terrorist acts designed to keep transpeople afraid. I think it is somewhat dangerous for me to go out in public cross-dressed, but not nearly as much as if I were black or Hispanic or a sex worker, lived in a poor neighborhood or had casual sex with men. I’m wary about demanding rights or services for myself based on the sufferings of others.

I’m also wary about telling people what to do. I firmly believe that some of the blame for these deaths lies with the black and Hispanic community leaders, especially the religious leaders who spew hate from the pulpit. But as some lovely Latina teenager said to me the other day after I complained about her holding the subway doors, “Figures it would be a white guy.” Well, this white guy sees other transpeople as brothers and sisters, and I feel that it’s partly my responsibility to use my white middle-class privilege to publicize these horrible murders. We need some unity to overcome this, and we need to take advantage of what different members of the community bring to the table. I was pleased to see that my old high school is listed as having an event commemorating this day.

NY Times: P&G will open “Charmin” holiday bathrooms in Times Square

Curbed is linking to a New York Times article about how Charmin toilet paper is planning to sponsor a twenty-stall bathroom in Times Square for the holiday shopping season. The article is vague, but as far as I can tell it will all be individual stalls.

There’s no mention of transgender people in the article, and ideally, it should be taken for granted that we’ll be welcome. The PR possibilities are intriguing. If a TG person were denied use of the bathroom, would that be good press, or would people be sympathetic to Proctor and Gamble? On the other hand, would it be possible to get a positive photo-op, say with some glamorous drag queens? Would P&G be too afraid of freaking out the square tourists?

Transgender Verbal Hygiene: Feelings or Actions?

I first posted this on May 6, 2006, and I’m surprised I haven’t reposted it here. Thanks to various people from the My Husband Betty Message Boards for helpful feedback.

Introduction

In linguistics, there are many who frown on the idea of conscious control of language use, individual or collective, such as in the book published in 1950 called Leave Your Language Alone. People who try to control language are sometimes called prescriptivists, a term that conjures up images of stuffy grammarians writing pedantic articles about punctuation. However, in her 1995 book Verbal Hygiene, Deborah Cameron argued that there are all kinds of reasons to advocate or attempt language change, and some are good (eliminating sexist generic statements like “A good doctor talks to his patients”) and some are bad (using natural variations as shibboleths to discriminate against people from stigmatized ethnic groups). Cameron’s point is that the important thing is to be aware of the reasons and to subject them to an open decision-making process.

With that in mind, I have some things to say about the use of the word transgender. I am not doing this to discriminate or belittle people, or out of blind deference to tradition. I’m also not out to demonize anyone or blame anyone else for these problems. I have specific reasons for arguing against a current change in usage, and for a specific way of thinking about the term. I also want people to be aware of the effects of the language that they use, and the consequences of their choices. I’m going to be drawing on the field of lexical semantics, which itself draws on psychology, artificial intelligence, computer science and philosophy. (more…)

Bathrooms: Amnesty International on the Sforza incident

Amnesty International has put out a press release on Christina Sforza’s case, specifically focusing on the NYPD Midtown South Precinct’s inadequate response to the situation. I hope this will get some action on the matter.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA
PRESS RELEASE

Friday, October 27, 2006

NYPD Must Investigate Response to Alleged Assault of Transgender Woman at McDonald’s, Says Amnesty InternationalCharges Against Sforza Dropped But Justice Still Not Served, Group Says

(New York) — Amnesty International called on the New York Police Department to investigate possible human rights violations by its officers in their handling of the case of Christina Sforza, a transgender woman involved in an altercation at a McDonald’s restaurant in Manhattan. Sforza claims that officers responding to the incident failed to exercise due diligence in not taking seriously her claim that she was the victim of a hate crime, that they subjected her to false arrest and that they further abused her while in their custody. All charges against Christina Sforza were dropped on Thursday, October 26. (more…)

Bathrooms: Tom Chandler’s Questions

Thanks to MHB message board regular Veronica for linking to an op-ed piece in the North Country Gazette, an Upstate New York newspaper, on the bathroom issue. The article takes a skeptical viewpoint on transgender rights, but unlike some of the nastier knee-jerk right-wing blogs, doesn’t stoop to crass insults.

Most of the concerns expressed by the author, Tom Chandler of the New York State Tyranny Response Team, are understandable for someone who knows nothing about transgender rights. They’re phrased in the form of questions to New York State gubernatorial candidates. I have no idea whether any of the candidates will read them or respond to them. I’m not running for governor (although I encourage you to vote for Malachy McCourt), but I’ve got answers to Mr. Chandler’s questions.

Will men who feel they are really women now have to get sex segregated jobs such as rape crisis counselor, (there are still jobs even progressive women argue should be for women alone)? Will you ever be able to deny a man is woman enough to do a job that he feels proves he is a real woman?

There is in fact an example of a transwoman in Vancouver who wanted to become a rape crisis counselor, but was denied, and in fact, the trans community is not unanimous in believing that she has an automatic right to any such job. Some of us do recognize the role of socialization and childhood experiences. But this is a slippery slope argument, and without much more evidence, I don’t accept the idea that outlawing harassment of transpeople in bathrooms will lead to a flood of demands for justifiably sex-segregated jobs. (more…)

WorldNetDaily rant completes right-wing attack trifecta on Grand Central bathroom issue

First FreeRepublic, then Drudge; now WorldNetDaily has run a story on the Grand Central bathroom agreement.  What’s next, Michelle Malkin?  Jonah Goldberg?  The blog “Good As You” has a post covering most of the errors in the article.  I’ve only got a couple of things to add.

First of all, I’ve read WorldNetDaily before, and I’m aware it’s not exactly the pinnacle of journalistic ethics and style, but still, if you’ve read the Daily News and New York Post articles I’ve linked to in previous posts, it’s obvious that the quotes are all taken from one or the other of the articles.  Yet the WorldNetDaily article gives these newspapers absolutely no credit for the work they did of interviewing Helena Stone and the three “woman-on-the-street” subjects, not even a link.  That’s called plagiarism, and it would earn a failing grade if any of my students turned it in.

Second, to expand on the point made by the Good As You blogger, I’ve been in both men’s and women’s bathrooms in Grand Central Station.  My memory’s a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure that, unlike some public bathrooms (Rockefeller Center, for example), the partitions between toilet stalls are floor-to-ceiling.  The fact that these particular bathrooms have been a focus of paranoia is especially bizarre given that they actually have more privacy than your average bathroom.  They also tend to be well-trafficked at all hours of the day and night.

I do have to give the WorldNetDaily “exclusive commentator” credit for giving background on the harassment that Stone experienced at the hands of the MTA Police, so that the idea of sensitivity training doesn’t seem like some knee-jerk liberal response.