When Amtrak misgendered Chelsea Manning

Via Lectraerror on Tumblr, Amtrak has started a website called “Ride With Pride” to reach out to LGBT passengers:

Amtrak believes in diversity. For us, it’s more than a corporate buzzword. It’s an appreciation for all people. We believe every great adventure begins with an amazing experience. Our goal is to provide that experience, time and time again. It doesn’t matter who goes along for the ride.

I’m glad to hear that, but they’ve got their work cut out for them. I immediately thought about Chelsea Manning’s trip on Amtrak in 2011, and went back to re-read what she told Adrian Lamo. When one conductor saw the name “Bradley” on her ticket, he intentionally misgendered her in a way that made her uncomfortable:

(03:17:04 PM) bradass87:i went on leave in late january / early february… and… i cross-dressed, full on… wig, breastforms, dress, the works… i had crossdressed before… but i was public… for a few days

(03:17:33 PM) bradass87:i blended in….

(03:17:34 PM) bradass87:no-one knew

(03:18:06 PM) bradass87:the first thing i learned was that chivalry isn’t dead… men would walk out of their way and open doors for me… it was so weird

(03:18:19 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: awww.

(03:18:51 PM) bradass87:i was referred to as “Ma’am” or “Miss” at places like Starbucks and McDonalds (hey, im not a fancy eater)

(03:19:35 PM) bradass87:i even took the Acela from DC to Boston… whatever compelled me to do that… idk… but i wanted to see my then-still-boyfriend

(03:20:01 PM) bradass87:i rode the train, dressed in a casual business outfit

(03:20:36 PM) bradass87:i really enjoyed the trip… minus the conductor

(03:21:06 PM) bradass87:as he asked for my ID, and clipped my ticket… he made a fuss

(03:21:24 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: that sucks =z

(03:21:26 PM) bradass87:“Thank you, MISTER Manning…”

(03:21:31 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: asshole

(03:21:35 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: him, not you

(03:21:41 PM) bradass87:i know

(03:21:53 PM) bradass87:it was… an experience i wont forget…

(03:22:36 PM) bradass87:i mean… 99.9% of people coming from iraq and afghanistan want to come home, see their families, get drunk, get laid…

(03:22:56 PM) bradass87:i… wanted to try living as a woman, for whatever reason

(03:23:14 PM) bradass87:obviously, its important to me… since there were plenty of other things i could’ve done

(03:23:23 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: Overall, how did you feel about your sojourn?

(03:25:50 PM) bradass87:idk, i just kind of blended in… i didn’t have to make an effort to do so, it just came naturally… instead of thinking all the time about how im perceived, being self conscious, i just let myself go… …well, i was still self-concious, but in a different way… i was worried about whether i looked pretty, whether my makeup was running, whether i spilled coffee on my (expensive) outfit… and to some extent whether i was passing…

(03:28:12 PM) bradass87:but i went to get gas… and bought cigarettes (i know, need to quit)… and the man asked to see my ID… so i did… and he about had a heart attack… he couldn’t hold himself back, he looked up and down twice… and gave me this look like… WTF, it is the same… handed it back to me… and tried to keep himself composed… so i wasn’t worried about whether i was passing as much, because he had no idea whatsoever

(03:28:55 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: i smoze zero to five a day myself.

(03:29:44 PM) bradass87:but the point was, i guess my face is androgynous enough that i can pass with ease

(03:30:11 PM) bradass87:my prominent adams apple is the only issue i was concerned about

(03:30:26 PM) bradass87:so i wore a turtleneck, and had collar up with my coat

(03:30:29 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: yeah, i’d say that re. the former.

(03:30:38 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: which i find cute.

That’s the relevant part, but the whole logs are worth reading.

We’re not talking like the conductor couldn’t tell and made a guess. Manning was wearing business casual women’s clothes and makeup, and said that everyone else who saw her called her “ma’am” and opened doors for her. This guy saw a man’s name on her ticket and chose to make a big deal of it. That’s not cool.

And from this we can conclude that if Amtrak really wants their customers to Ride With Pride, we need to know that that kind of treatment won’t be tolerated. Contact information for a trans-friendly ombudsperson would be a big step.

Soft body mods

Many people who have transgender feelings deal with them through body modification, or “body mods.” Some feel better if they see in the mirror a body that looks more like the gender they want to be; others feel better if they are treated as the gender they want to be, so they change their appearance in order to increase the chance that this will happen.

Hair removal is a soft body mod
When we think of transgender body mods, the first one that comes to everyone’s mind is “the surgery,” meaning genital surgery. There are other surgeries that people talk about, and the modifications that happen with hormone use. There is long-term hair removal through electrolysis. Finally there are the toxic modifications produced by the “pumping” of silicone and other substances into bodies by exploitative quacks.

The body mods I’ve described are permanent, or at least very hard to reverse. There are short-term grooming procedures like makeup, clothing and wigs, which can be removed within an hour. In between are medium-term changes that Helen Boyd has called “soft body mods,” which don’t last forever but are hard to reverse in the short term.

Helen tells a story of meeting people in a bar near a trans convention and knowing instantly that they were cross-dressers, even though they weren’t cross-dressed at the time. She noticed things like pierced ears, sculpted eyebrows, lack of facial or body hair, haircuts that could work for either gender presentation, clothes that look similar to men’s clothes but were cut for women, and long fingernails with clear polish. Lots of non-trans men have one or two of those things, but relatively few have more than two.

Many non-transitioning trans people are careful about their muscles: not too big for male to female people, bigger for female to male. We may also try to gain or lose more fat in the places that look right for our target gender presentation, even though many people say that targeted fat loss doesn’t work.

There are also behavioral changes that affect how our bodies are perceived. Some of us try to walk or stand or hold our arms in a way that minimizes signals of one gender and highlights signals of another gender, and we may try to modify our voices to sound like our target gender. (The extent to which we succeed is a matter of debate, but it’s clear that some of us try).

These behaviors and postures are temporary changes, but if they become routine they can change our muscle memory and “bleed over” into our other gender presentations. If this happens with influential people, it can be copied by others. This could be part of the origin of the movement and vocal patterns we see in some gay men, that are stereotyped as “swishing” and “lisping.”

Body mods are not always permanent, and they’re not always obvious. Without being permanent or obvious, they can affect the way others see us, and the way we see ourselves. And they’re not all cheap; many of them represent a significant investment of time, money or both.

The Power of Glamour and transgender feelings

Seven years ago I talked about the notion of glamour as described by Virginia Postrel. Virginia has been working on a book about glamour, and it was published on Monday. Here’s the definition from the book (as of last year):

Glamour is not the same as beauty, stylishness, luxury, sex appeal, or celebrity. Glamour is, rather, a form of nonverbal rhetoric, which moves and persuades not through words but through images. Glamour takes our inchoate longings and focuses them. By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning. It makes us feel that the life we dream of exists, and to desire it even more. We recognize glamour by its emotional effect—a sense of projection and longing—and by the elements from which that effect arises: mystery, grace, and the promise of escape and transformation. The effect and the elements together define what glamour is.

The Power of GlamourYou can probably see why I was immediately struck by the connection to transgender feelings. My strongest trans feeling is that longing to escape from my male reality, with its career obligations and social frustrations, where I’m expected to go out and get what I want, into a dream world where all I have to do is put on the right clothes and everyone will pay attention to me, desire me, and give me what I want. (Yeah, right!)

To me, glamour explains the connection between gender dysphoria, my feeling of unhappiness with being a man, and gender desire, my desire to be a woman, to be seen as a woman. There are lots of men who are unhappy being men, but only some of us want to be women. Glamour helps us understand why we do.

As Virginia has pointed out, this is compatible with the Official Trans Narrative: if you have an innate sense of gender that doesn’t match your physical sex, then you’re likely to be unhappy and thus feel a desire to escape your birth gender classification. But for those of us not convinced by the innatist narrative, glamour opens the door to other explanations.

Since then I’ve followed Virginia on her blogs and on Twitter, and in June she mentioned that she visited my blog while checking footnotes. On Monday night I had the pleasure of meeting her in person at the book launch party, and found that I’m quoted on Page 63, connecting glamour with despair:

I came to the idea of despair based on Virginia’s characterization of glamour as a means of escape. If you’re trying to escape through a fantasy you have to be pretty desperate, right? That’s the sense of “despair” that I mean – a feeling of being trapped and having no options left.

To Angus/Andrea with thanks & best wishes - Virginia

That’s from a comment I left on an article Virginia wrote in 2008, expanding on the connection Salman Rushdie made between terror and glamour. In the book, she expands on my connection to despair by noting the glamour elements highlighted in the documentary Paris Is Burning.

The glamour response is powerful. It can move us to approach strangers, to buy houses, and to blow up buses full of people. It can also move us to cross-dress, to get surgery to change our bodies, and to declare gender transitions.

What I’ve read of the book so far has been great. I encourage anyone who’s interested in transgender feelings to get a copy. I’ll be posting more about it in the future.

The big tent and the Day of Remembrance

In my family, when we celebrate Passover we often have non-Jewish friends join us for dinner. Enjoying their company in an overtly Jewish context helps to defuse potential prejudice, and the specific activity of the night, the retelling of the story of slavery in Egypt and our exodus from it, gives them the opportunity to condemn the slavery and in turn reaffirm their tolerance for us and our different practices.

I should point out here that I’m actually not that different from our guests, being half-Scottish and pretty well assimilated. Like most American Jews, I don’t do much outside of Passover and Hanukah. My Jewishness is much more a matter of cultural heritage than religious belief. I checked online and this inviting non-Jews is apparently a relatively new tradition: there are some people who believe that non-Jews should never participate in a Seder, because it involves sacrificial lamb meat. The rabbinical consensus seems to be that since the Romans destroyed the Temple there’s been no such thing as true sacrificial lamb, and Paschal lamb is just a tasty symbol.

The reason I’m telling you about our tradition of sharing Passover is to note that we do not challenge the separate identities of our non-Jewish friends. We do not ask them to believe in our god or pray to him. We do not ask them to believe the plagues and miracles. We don’t give them a hard time if they fail to use the proper forms of addressing our god, including capitalization.

We simply ask our friends to accept the historical aspects of the story, and to reassure us that they do not approve of enslaving minority populations. We give them the opportunity to reaffirm their acceptance of us as friends and neighbors, deserving of respect and equal treatment.

I propose that we as trans people do the same with the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. This is a day (November 20), when we talk about those of us who have been killed, for being trans and presenting as women, and often for being poor at the same time, for not being white, for being immigrants, for loving men and having sex with men.

We trans people are diverse, but we have a lot in common with each other and with lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. Among our family, friends, spouses and lovers, there are many people who share goals with us. Those are the people we want to have by our sides when we are fighting for our goals, celebrating our lives, or supporting each other. Like most trans people I know, there are times when I want to be treated like my target gender (a woman), with the appropriate pronouns and facilities. These are the people who are most likely to treat me this way.

The problem is that a lot of trans people treat alliances like they’re black and white. You’re with us or you’re against us. You believe in essentialism and determinism, and you support our entire agenda, or you’re worthless. I understand why people use these ideological tests to screen allies: someone who doesn’t believe that we’re even provisionally women (or men) is likely to bargain away some of our rights. You don’t want to depend on people who don’t really share your goals.

The key is that alliances are never permanent, and if you act like they are it’ll get you into all kinds of trouble. An alliance is not absolute trust, it’s just a recognition of shared goals. When you’re dealing with goals that aren’t shared, the alliance is meaningless.

As I wrote before, there is a large number of people who believe that we shouldn’t be killed for being trans. Not killing us is an idea with broad appeal. A lot of those people will not be on board with free surgery on demand, or birth certificate changes, bathroom rights or even using our preferred pronouns. But they are on board with not killing trans people. If we don’t let them show it, that’s our loss.

We should follow Incohate Erica’s principle of nihil de nobis sine nobis: feminine spectrum trans people who are poor, nonwhite, immigrants and sex workers should be at the center of any Day of Remembrance activities. They, not me, not other bloggers and authors, and not the leaders of mainstream service and advocacy organizations, are the ones most at risk, and they should be doing most of the talking. And their loved ones, who also suffer greatly, should share center stage.

We trans people who are not most at risk should participate too, out of solidarity and because every once in a while one of us gets killed too. Our dependable allies should be there too. But on this day, and on this day most of all, we should reach out beyond our normal alliances and build new alliances around the shared principle of not killing us.

This year Queens Pride House will be observing the Day of Remembrance a day late, on November 21. I will attend, and I have made the case to other members of the support group that we should reach out beyond our normal comfort zone to people who are on board with not killing us, but maybe not much else. I hope you will consider doing the same. If you’re not trans, check with your local Day of Remembrance organizers to see if you’d be welcome. And consider writing a blog post or an editorial that will reach people who might not normally think about this issue, making it clear that you don’t think anyone should be killing us. They need to hear that.

Presentation fatigue

I thought about going out presenting as a woman today. I really had too much work to do, but even if i hadn’t it would have meant spending over two hours on my presentation. It’s mostly makeup, but it’s also showering, shaving (face and chest), brushing teeth, deodorant, picking out clothes and getting dressed. Every couple of weeks I need to spend an hour shaving my legs. I usually don’t bother painting my nails unless I’m planning to present as a woman all day. Today, instead I skipped all shaving, brushed my teeth, showered and dressed in about twenty minutes.

SAMSUNGI know this difference is not just because I’m trans. The line, “But it takes me so long just to figure out what I’m gonna wear,” in “Manic Monday” resonate with non-trans women because our society polices women’s presentation much more strictly than men’s. Laura Topham spent eight hours getting the “Essex girl” presentation, and a lot of it was procedures like hair extensions and spray tan that full-time Essex girls don’t get every day, but the average woman spends more than twenty minutes a day on her presentation. Even many men spend more than I do to go out as a guy. When I was in high school, a friend of mine would be in the bathroom for hours.

But my female presentation requires more than the average woman, and if I had transitioned it wouldn’t take as long. I would have gotten permanent hair removal, so I wouldn’t have to shave anywhere near as much, or put on so much makeup, and hormones would have reshaped my body to some extent.

If I had chosen to transition in my twenties my shoulders probably wouldn’t be as wide, so I wouldn’t have to be so careful about my clothing choices. In fact, when I first started wearing women’s clothes in my teens, I wore anything I could find. I never wore makeup, because I didn’t have much facial hair until my twenties. Going out in public has also raised the stakes. When I was fifteen, my presentation time was about ten minutes.

The presentation has always been part of my enjoyment of presenting as a woman. But not two hours of it. Not worrying that if I miss a spot on my foundation I might get sirred or even beaten up. Not worrying that if I nick my ankle I’ll have a scab for days and a spot for weeks. Not worrying that if I get my tuck wrong I’ll be uncomfortable for hours.

But of course, I will be uncomfortable for hours, because wearing heels and nylons and makeup and “foundation garments” is uncomfortable. On top of that, even a good tuck is uncomfortable, and so is a padded bra and enough makeup to hide a beard shadow. Some people put up with that every day for years. I’m okay with it once in a while.

I know some of you transitioners who are reading this are thinking smugly, “I don’t have to shave. I don’t even wear heels or makeup most days! I’m a -” Yeah, we get it. That was the point of this post. The point is that this presentation fatigue is a factor in decisions to get permanent hair removal, to take hormones, and even to get genital surgery. Presentation fatigue is a factor in transition.