Christina Sforza’s experience

Blogger RachelPhilPa linked both to my post about Ian Harvie’s bathroom experience and a YouTube video of Christina Sforza describing her assault by the manager of the McDonalds on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street (which I also reported). The video was taken a year later and nothing has been done. Sforza’s story is very disturbing. I admire her courage for pursuing justice after that kind of treatment.

Last year I emailed the staff of Council Speaker Quinn (the McDonald’s in question is in her district) and got some encouraging responses. This Amnesty International report says that Quinn’s intervention allowed Sforza to file a complaint (it’s not clear whether against the manager or the police officers). However, I have not heard anything since last year. The report also gives contact information for Commissioner Kelly, an advisor to District Attorney Morgenthau and Speaker Quinn.

Gender, Safety and Desirability

Streetsblog recently featured four different articles that highlighted the role of gender in the success of public spaces and practices. In the first post, traffic psychologist Ian Walker attached proximity measuring equipment to test how closely (i.e. how dangerously) motorists came when overtaking him. He found that they came closer when he wore a helmet than when he was bare-headed, presumably because they felt he would be protected if they hit him. But they gave him the most space when he wore a long wig and (he assumed) passed for a woman from behind.

In another post, the New York Observer reported that a new group of women are seen riding bikes in New York: young, attractive, and most importantly, forsaking jocky spandex for a host of femme signifiers: dresses, skirts, high heels, long hair, baskets, perfume, pink, Hello Kitty. They include famous actresses and models such as Naomi Watts, Chloë Sevigny, Gisele Bundchen and, most recently, Sarah Michelle Gellar. Streetsblog pointed out, however, that Copenhagen, um, women are way ahead of New York, riding bikes in skirts and heels in great numbers.

Today, in a discussion of the soaring popularity of cycling in Portland, Oregon, the comments turned to Portland’s concern with the numbers of women cyclists. “Women cyclists,” the city’s transportation office asserts, “are the indicators of a healthy bikeway network.”

Bryant Park (1960), Charles W. CushmanStreetsblog commenter Gretel pointed us to a New Yorker report about Danny Gordon, whose job is to count the numbers of men and women in Bryant Park, every day at lunchtime. The idea comes from a man named Holly Whyte, a sociologist and founder of the Project for Public Spaces. “Women pick up on visual cues of disorder better than men do,” Gordon’s boss, Bryant Park Corporation president Dan Biederman told the New Yorker. “They’re your purest customers. And, if women don’t see other women, they tend to leave.” New Yorker writer Nick Paumgarten added, “Presumably, a female preponderance not only emboldens more women but also entices more men.”

Paumgarten acknowledged that it’s not always easy to classify people by gender. “Sometimes I’ll make it a man, sometimes I’ll make it a woman,” Gordon told him. “And, if I realize afterward that I was wrong, I’ll change the next person.” For Biederman’s purposes it doesn’t matter if Gordon gets it slightly wrong, because what really matters is how many women are perceived to be in the park.

Biederman’s assessment of the role of women in the success of a public space is probably correct, but I would guess that when safety is an issue (as it was in Bryant Park in the ’80s, and as it is in cycling now), the critical issue is that women, overall, are more vulnerable than men, and are perceived that way, by themselves and by others. They pick up on visual cues of disorder because those are likely to be cues of danger for them. When people see a place full of women (who aren’t being held captive in some way) they take that as a signal that the place is safe. When people see women engaging in an activity, they take that as a signal that the activity is safe.

I’ll even go further than Biederman and argue that the women aren’t all equal in that regard: the femmer the women, the more vulnerable they appear, and the more femme women, the safer the space appears. If I see Bryant Park at midnight full of leather-clad women with crew cuts, I won’t get the same feeling of safety as if I see it full of women with long hair wearing high heels and dresses. (Of course, there’s no feeling of safety if the women appear to be prostitutes.) Similarly with cycling: a few frail-looking women in dresses indicate safety much more than a lot of athletic-looking women in spandex.

How does transness fit into this? I think it has a lot to do with passing. An FTM once told me that he knew he passed when he saw a woman cross the street to avoid walking past him. I knew I passed late one night when a strange woman curled up next to me on the subway and fell asleep. Maybe some women would be reassured by seeing a non-passing MTF in the crowd, maybe they wouldn’t. Something to look into, perhaps.

Bathrooms: A Masculine-Spectrum Perspective

Masculine-identified, female-bodied comedian Ian Harvie and his friend, comedian Margaret Cho, were harassed and assaulted (can you think of a better word for a private citizen grabbing your breasts without permission?) in the women’s room at a Halloween fundraising party in the Waldorf-Astoria.

Read Cho’s telling of the story first for the quick introduction.

Then read Harvie’s telling for some priceless details.

This was a bit of an eye-opener for me.  I’d heard that masculine-spectrum genderqueer people got questioned in women’s rooms, but I didn’t know the extent of it.  I really appreciate now the extent of their predicament: use the women’s room and get harassed like Harvie, or use the men’s room and get arrested like Dean Spade.  Yeesh.

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.

Continue reading “The Power of Fathers (and Siblings)”

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.

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.


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. Continue reading “Bathrooms: Amnesty International on the Sforza incident”

The mythical transgender bathroom stalkers

The most disturbing aspect of the negative reactions to the recent settlement between the MTA about the use of bathrooms by transgender people is the coalescence of a new “talking point” about transgender bathrooms: the fear that they will allow peeping toms, rapists and child molestors to enter the women’s rooms unhindered. People seem particularly disturbed at the idea that the judgment as to which bathroom to use is left entirely up to the pisser. Here’s a quote from the New York Daily News article:

One rider feared predators might dress as women and lurk in the women’s room.

Jerry Fuhrman, “From On High“:

If I choose to go to New York, have a few shots and beers, decide to “consider” myself a woman for the night, and camp out in the women’s restroom at the Ritz-Carlton to see what I can see, am I now protected by the law?

I know where I’m going on vacation …

Here’s a taste of the venom and hysteria in the FreeRepublic discussion thread, but then again, what do you expect from Freepers?

Now, will any provision made for safety for “real” women who don’t want to be preyed upon by rapists and thugs dressing in drag to gain access to, literally, sitting ducks? Or do they have to just suck it up in order to appease the freaks?

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised at the thoughtful and reasonable attempts to clarify the issue by poster Dukat. I wonder how long Dukat will last on FreeRepublic; they have a reputation for purging posters who don’t toe the party line.

The tricky thing about the safety argument is that, like all lies and hysteria, it’s based on a kernel of truth. The sad fact is that women are disproportionately victims of violence and are less safe than men anywhere they go. Everyone is more vulnerable when they’re half-dressed and peeing, shitting or grooming themselves. Combine these two, and a public bathroom can be a very scary place for a woman. Gossip isn’t the only reason women go to the bathroom in groups. Continue reading “The mythical transgender bathroom stalkers”