Passing and credibility

You don’t have to hang around the trans world very long to encounter a message like “passability is overrated.” Many people go further and argue that passing should not be a goal. Yes, passing is overrated, and it means nothing in itself. But it does have value for other goals, and right now I want to focus on one goal in particular: credibility.

20140927_152708Activism needs credibility. Activism is all about convincing people. We want the public to believe that we deserve respect, that we deserve protection from discrimination and hate crimes, that we deserve access to bathrooms and medical care.

We also need credibility in our personal lives. Those of us who transition need others to believe in their transitions, to treat them as their desired gender. Those of us who don’t transition need others to believe that we can still be responsible members of society, that we should still be loved, and even that we don’t need to transition.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that attractive people have more success at convincing others. People pay more attention to attractive people (and here I don’t mean just sexually attractive). They also pay more attention to people who look “like us.” Maybe you think that’s not fair, it’s not the way things should be, and you’re probably right. We should work to make the world a more tolerant place. But there’s no point in ignoring the way that the world currently works.

The uncanny valley also turns people off. That’s the area where people have difficulty processing an image as a person or a thing, or a person or an animal. It’s also where people have difficulty deciding whether someone is a man or a woman, or “one of us” or one of them. The squirming depicted in Julia Sweeney’s “It’s Pat” sketches is a real-life occurrence. Again, maybe that’s not the way the world should be, and maybe we should change it. But we can’t ignore that the world is that way right now.

This is one reason why charismatic, attractive, passable people like Janet Mock and Chaz Bono are so popular as spokespeople for transgender activism. It’s also why such people are more readily accepted as members of their target gender. Again, that’s not the way it should be, but it is.

6 ways you can use intersectionality to help stop trans murders

You’ve heard (I hope) that the vast majority of trans people who are killed are male to female living in poverty, and many are sex workers and immigrants. Here in the United States, most of the dead are black or Latina, and often both.

intersectionality1This is intersectionality at work: if they were just poor, or just female, or just seen as gay, or just nonwhite, or just immigrants, or just employed illegally, or just sex workers, or even just trans, their risk of being murdered would already be higher than a non-trans straight white middle-class legally employed male American citizen.

Together, though, these risks multiply, and even reinforce each other: if you’re female, or trans, or nonwhite, or an immigrant, you’re more likely to be poor, and if you’re poor you’re more likely to work in the “informal economy,” including sex work. If you’ve immigrated in violation of the laws or work in the informal economy you’re under constant threat from law enforcement, and if you’re seen as poor or nonwhite or gay or female, you’re more likely to face discrimination when it comes to police protection and employment. It’s also harder to get a good education when you’re poor, which makes it hard to get work. If you can’t get a good job you get poorer, and the cycle continues.

A large amount of anti-trans sentiment is related to anti-gay sentiment. The real solution is not to convince people that MTF trans people and the men who have sex with us aren’t gay, but to make it okay for us to be seen as gay. It should be like being mistaken for Irish when you’re really Scottish in the US today: a minor inaccuracy that’s annoying at worst.

We can use intersectionality to solve these problems too. If we could bring murder rates for nonwhite, poor and immigrant trans women down to those of white middle-class trans women we’d eliminate most of the killing. If we could bring the rates for African American trans sex workers down to those of non-trans, non-sex-worker African-American women it would be a huge improvement.

With that in mind, here are some intersectional ways to help stop violence against trans people:

  • Break the cycle of poverty. Adequately fund public education.
  • End racial discrimination. Enforce equal opportunity laws.
  • Help immigrants. Create an immigration policy that makes our country welcoming again.
  • End sex worker harassment. End the use of condoms as evidence for prostitution.
  • End violence against women. Speak out against rape culture and domestic violence. Examine your own actions for ways that you might commit or condone such violence.
  • End homophobia. Support respect, dignity and equality for gay men, lesbians and bisexuals.

Which of them is easiest for you to start working on? Which is hardest?

I tried to be cured

There have been several times in my life when my transgender desire – my desire to be a woman, even though I was raised to be a man, with a man’s body – has gotten less intense, less frequent, to the point that I thought it might be gone for good.

I was tremendously relieved. I didn’t want to be a transvestite. I didn’t want a closetful of clothes that could get me mocked and rejected. I didn’t want to look into my mom’s eyes and see nothing but worry and pity. I didn’t want to harbor a secret that could get me blackmailed.

Twice I purged. I threw away all the women’s clothes I had collected, painstakingly, sometimes illegally, over the course of years. I put my past out of my mind. I no longer had anything to hide. That part of my life was over.

But that part of my life was not over. What I eventually discovered was that my transgender desires come and go with my gender dysphoria – my discomfort with my life as a man. When I feel satisfied with my life as a man, my desire to be a woman diminishes. I will not feel completely satisfied with my life, every day until I die. And when I am feeling particularly dissatisfied, life as a woman will seem like a great escape.

Life as a woman certainly seemed like a great escape when I was twelve. Of course it isn’t, I know that now. I learned from listening to women, and a few fleeting, incomplete experiences of living as a woman were enough to drive the point home. But when I’m feeling trapped and hopeless, the dysphoria returns.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think the dysphoria always gets worse. But it does come back, and with it comes the desire to be a woman, to look like a woman, to dress like a woman. That’s what happened to me after the two times I purged.

That, in turn, is why I don’t purge any more, and why I don’t ever believe I’ll be “cured.” If I did purge, I might enjoy some extra closet space for a while, but soon enough I would wind up paying again for expensive clothes and makeup.

I actually wouldn’t mind a cure for the trans feelings. None of them are very pleasant, even the euphoric post-event gratification. I’m not one of those people who think being trans is a gift. But I just don’t see it happening. Some day we may figure out how to prevent it, but I doubt we’ll be able to cure it.