Time for a Potty Break

It happens to me time and time again…

I’m out in public, at the mall, at a social event, buying groceries…when it happens.

I have to pee. (Cue dramatic music)

I feel the panic rising in my chest as I determine the level of urgency of my body. And then I barter with myself…

b4b20fe235d8dc82955bfc3263a73724How bad is it, really? Can you hold it until you get home? Is there a single stall bathroom nearby? How busy are the bathrooms? Maybe you should just hold it until you get home. You really don’t have that much longer to go…

I’ve cut shopping trips short…I’ve held it in far longer than what’s healthy…I’ve fought anxiety…all over using the public restroom.

I’ve written about this before. But with all of the bills that are being introduced around the country, I feel like it needs to be brought up again. Because now things are different.

A bounty has been placed on the heads of transgender individuals around the country. A monetary value has been given to each member of the trans community.

$2,500. These bills aren’t new. Kansas is just the latest state to propose such a bill.122z2v

$2,500 for every trans person caught ‘using the wrong bathroom’. Students being tempted to turn in classmates to earn that $2,500. I can see it now.

“Sally, you have only 3 more transgenders to catch before you’ve earned enough money to pay for college. Danny, you’ve only caught 2 transgenders. You’re going to have to step it up if you want that new car you’ve been eyeing…”

It’s entirely hypocritical. Many of these same people are against any kind of gun law – saying that by putting laws into place only hurt those law abiding citizens; that criminals will still have their guns. Yet somehow, putting a law in place banning trans people from using the appropriate public restroom will prevent men from entering the women’s room and sexually assaulting them.

The reaction to these RFRA and bathroom bills have been intense, as expected. There’s been a movement of trans men and women who “pass”, taking their pictures inside the restrooms they’ll be forced to use based on ‘chromosome’ and ‘biological’ gender. And I get it…these bills are absurd, claiming that allowing trans individuals to use the bathroom they should be using (i.e. the one that they see fit to use) will somehow open the door to men sexually assaulting women in restrooms.

#wejustneedtopee is all over Twitter. And I was all for these movements…I got excited and wanted to respond in kind (even though I don’t see myself as all that masculine most days). At least at first.

trans-restroomI understood #wejustneedtopee. After all, how do you fight the absurd idea that “allowing” me to use the men’s room would somehow result in men raping women in public restrooms? You fight it with more absurdity. Show pictures of bearded, burly trans men in women’s restrooms and curvy, busty trans women in men’s rooms, right?

I was wrong. While these are indeed pictures of the absurdity these laws are implying, they’re leaving out some important groups of people. It’s not people like Buck Angel or Adain Dowling or Laverne Cox who need to worry. The trans men and trans women who “pass” – they won’t be questioned when it comes to using the restroom. Those who are non-binary or gender non-conforming or who don’t “pass” are the ones these bills target.

It’s clear the bathroom bills are poorly disguised attempts at targeted discrimination towards the trans community – specifically towards trans women. Non-binary and non-conforming individuals are caught in this too. The fear-mongering by Republicans has the potential to incite violence against the trans community, and if you don’t present as a masculine male or as a feminine female, then you’d better take a self-defense course.

And the politicians are using a very real, valid issue to gain support for these bills – rape.

These same political asshats are the ones who want to defund Planned Parenthood. They’re the same fools who claim that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” They’re the same douchebags who blame the victims of sexual assault and rape because they must have done something to provoke or confuse or entice the attacker.

Don’t be fooled. The states that have ‘bathroom of choice’ have reported a zero increase in sexual assaults and rapes in public restrooms. That’s right – all of this fear is completely unfounded. Surprise! In fact, during the first 6 months of 2015, more transgender individuals (overwhelmingly trans women of color) were murdered than in the entire year of 2014.States-transgender-law-2

I dare say cisgender women have very little to fear in public restrooms.

Yes, #wejustneedtopee – all of us. #IllGoWithYou is a start. I know we’ll see many more lawsuits than the one challenging North Carolina’s newly signed law. But in the meantime, don’t cater to the gender stereotypes by taking pictures of yourself in the restroom. It ignores the real issue at hand – the targeting of trans women and non-binary individuals. Instead, use the passing privilege you have to help cisgender folk understand that we all need to pee, and that’s exactly what we plan on doing when we walk into a public restroom.

To me, this is the only debate that needs to take place in regards to bathrooms…

TP-over-under

***A couple of footnotes…

First, I dislike using the term “passing” because it serves to reinforce gender stereotypes. I myself am a binary trans man, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is binary, nor should they be forced to conform to a binary. I use the term “passing” in this blog post because it best fits for the scenario – those supporting this discrimination against the trans community are using these ideas of an oversimplified idea of what it means to be male or female, and in the eyes of society at large, at least in regards to these bills, the binary is what this is all based on. (for those of you unclear to the term – ‘passing’ refers to a transgender individual’s appearance and ability to ‘blend in’ as a cisgender male or female)

Second, when I say the ‘transgender community’ I’m including non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals simply for brevity. My intent is not to erase the existence of non-binary and non-conforming individuals.

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Taking on The Patriarchy as a Trans Man

So it’s been decided – at least in Houston.

The trans community is nothing more than men in dresses with uncontrolled sexual urges who are compelled to attack women in public restrooms. At least in Houston.

Fear mongering has always been a tactic of those who have nothing left to fight with. So it should have been expected. And I suspect that before our side could react, the fear had stretched so far and wide that it  became its own entity.

But this entity attacked trans women only. Ads saying that somehow, this would lead to an increase in sexual assaults in public restrooms. Ads saying things as ‘facts’ with no factual evidence or basis to go on. Ads attacking trans women by degrading, demeaning, and stirring up hate.

Do these people know how many trans women have been murdered this year in the US alone? At least 22. Murdered by heterosexual men who were ‘surprised’ and attempted to use a ‘gay panic defense’ because they were, are, nothing more than cowards. Do these people understand that if a man is going to sexually assault a woman, he doesn’t need to put on a dress to do so? That he can walk right into the restroom and rape her, and no law or ordinance will either stop him or protect him?

And why? Because of the patriarchy. Men have ruled for centuries – they use their male privilege to further their own interests at the expense of women and don’t give a passing thought to it. How else do you explain the incessant need for men to control a woman’s reproductive rights?

But where’s the fear and hate-mongering towards the trans men? All of these ads attacking the transgender community are geared towards creating hate against trans women. Because who in their right mind would openly give up their male privilege? Why would someone want to be a woman? They’re weak, feeble-minded, and good for sexual pleasure and ego-stroking, right? That’s it, right?

These people think laws keeping trans people out of their respective restrooms are going to keep rapists out of women’s rooms, but fight against gun control laws because criminals don’t abide by the law.

Those who think that men in dresses will descend upon women’s restrooms are the same people who think that a woman is incapable of making decisions over her own body. This is something I’ve mentioned before – these people who are trying to defund Planned Parenthood are trying to regulate women’s bodies, and by no stretch of the imagination, they’re attempting to regulate everyone else too.

These are the same people who think gender is purely biological and if you’re a man then you were born with a penis and if you’re a woman you were born with a vagina and there’s no in-between. They think they get to make that defining choice for us.

So I’ll bring it up again. If these men think they can tell trans people which restrooms they’re supposed to use, and tell women what to do with their bodies, then it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they’ll attempt to pass legislation making hysterectomies illegal because that would be killing any prospective children one might have.

Do you think this doesn’t affect you? Do you think that your newly acquired male privilege will keep you safe? Let’s do a ‘what if’ – What if the same Republicans who are trying (and in some cases, succeeding) to defund Planned Parenthood go after other procedures that render a woman unable to reproduce? After all, when it comes down to it, a lot of men believe a woman’s purpose is to make babies and sammiches. What if one of those procedures is like I said above, to outlaw hysterectomies like they’re trying to outlaw abortion? Where does that leave us? Because remember, according to them, men are born with penises and women with vaginas, and there’s no way in their eyes, to change that.

So why the hell aren’t trans men furious over this? Because it’s easier to stay silent? Because it’s easier to quietly accept your male privilege while keeping your mouth shut and your head down? In all the forums I’m in on Facebook, none of them talk about this. None of them talk about taking the patriarchy down from the inside. Hell, none of them talk about male privilege or the patriarchy at all. None of them mention the atrocities faced by women on a daily basis, despite the fact that I’m sure at least some of them have suffered at the hands of male privilege prior to transitioning.

I’m not without culpability. I’ve sat quietly, making comments from my comfy sofa at home, while Mira makes dinner and breakfast and makes sure I’m comfortable and taken care of. I’ve failed to acknowledge all she’s done for me, and I’m truly sorry for that. But saying I’m sorry is half of an apology. Showing I’m sorry is something I’m working on, because I’ve never had anyone hold me accountable before.

It’s time to make the patriarchy implode. And if my fellow trans men don’t have the heart to take down the same group of men that essentially gave them their male privilege by perpetuating it, well, I ask you to get the hell out of the way. It’s time we realize our role in this.

I know what I have to do at home, to do my part as a feminist. Because it doesn’t stop at my front door. I’m reaching out to organizations that help women, all women, to see how I can help. And I’m going to keep making internet comments and blog posts to spread the word and spread awareness of the insidiousness that is the patriarchy. I’m going to fight for the equity of all women, because it’s the only thing to do.

This isn’t new. I’ve talked about this before. I talked about how Planned Parenthood offers services necessary to all people, not just women. But not one trans guy commented or offered their support or asked what they could do to help. And that disappoints me. I know we have struggles. Trans men aren’t exempt from discrimination and harassment. But that’s all the more reason to join the fight and get active. To say you support and to actually support are two completely different things. You want the community to support you and recognize your struggles. You turn to others for help with GoFundMe accounts for surgery. Yet when there’s a call to action on the other end, how many of you stayed silent? How many of you joined the rallies for feminism? How many of you

To the trans men of my hometown – where were you during the Feminist Film Festival? I was there. I didn’t see you. Did you know they gave a shout out to the trans community? Did you know they had a couple of films that addressed trans issues? Specifically those of trans men? No. Because you weren’t there. You weren’t there to support your sisters – trans and cis – in their fight against the patriarchy. You weren’t there to see them recognize us, and support us in our struggles to exist.

Stop hiding. Stop taking the back alley to freedom. Our ancestors didn’t have that option. The least we can do is acknowledge their struggle by acknowledging their fight. Look beyond the reach of your own hand.

You can be an accomplice, an oppressor, an activist or an ally. There’s only two choices that are acceptable. And in some situations, there’s only one choice.

Make sure you make the right one.

The Feminist Dude

This past weekend was one of my new favorite yearly events – V to Shining V. For those of you who don’t know, here’s a quick history:

In 2012, Michigan State House Representative Lisa Brown was speaking on the House floor about a bill that was attempting to put strict regulations on abortion providers and ban all abortions after 20 weeks. During the speech, she stated “And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no’.”

She was subsequently banned from speaking on the floor. Because she said vagina. The men on the floor, whom apparently are offended by the proper term for a woman’s genitals, suggested she use something less offensive, like “lady parts”.

The absurdity in this entire story grabbed the attention of Lizz Winstead, creator of The Daily LPJlogoShow, and others, and they came together to form Lady Parts Justice, to spread awareness and fight against those trying to regulate reproductive freedoms. Their yearly event, V to Shining V takes place to rally support for organizations under attack, like Planned Parenthood, and to educate people on the issues and get them out to vote and make their voices heard.

Last year was my first year attending, and was when I truly understood why I needed to be a feminist. This year was no different. Not only did the event further my resolve in feminism, but it added some new reasons.

I’m a transman, as you all know, and proud of who I am, and who I’m becoming. And part of who I’m becoming is a stronger feminist. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a Tedx talk titled We Should All Be Feminists. And it’s true. All of it. Why wouldn’t I want to be a feminist? As a transman, one might agree that certain aspects of feminism, like intersectionality and marginalization and equity are ideals and knowledge applicable to my status as a transgender individual. And one would be right. But it goes beyond that. Far beyond that.

The biggest fight in feminism right now is over reproductive freedom. The fight against abortion has become even more intense as legislation is introduced to ban some types of abortions and put restrictions on clinics. Perhaps the biggest fight is the fight to defund Planned Parenthood.

I’ve been to a Planned Parenthood clinic before. I could get into all of the things that the clinics do that don’t involve abortions. I could tell you about the STD testing and the birth control they administer. I could tell you about the sex education, pregnancy testing, and ultrasounds they provide. I could tell you about all of these necessary services they provide to those low and no income women and men (yes, the STD testing is available to men, too. After all, the place is called Planned Parenthood.) to ensure they receive necessary health care. But the fact is, abortion remains legal. And what PP does is, and has always been, within the scope of the law.

And, I am a stakeholder in all of this.

And I’m calling all of my fellow transmen to the table on this. Because we ALL are stakeholders in this.

Let’s face it. We were born with parts that don’t belong to us. But we have them, and I’m fortunate in that I don’t cringe when I think about the fact that I have a vagina. And with that, I’ve got all the other parts too. Yes, I know not every trans guy has one, but if you do, you need to take care of it, which may mean uncomfortable visits to the gynecologist. Trans health is a big issue, and it’s necessary.

But how does that apply to reproductive freedom? Well, I’m sure you’ve heard stories about women who needed emergency medical care and were denied that care because the Catholic church feels that bishops know much better than doctors. And if you haven’t heard these stories, you need to. See, the thing is, the care was denied in these cases because it would have involved procedures that are considered birth control – like hysterectomies. And if you’re a trans guy, you’re probably going to get one of these, if you haven’t already. And until you have a hysterectomy, access to proper care is necessary as well. Including exams and birth control to help regulate your cycle. And they offer these services on sliding scales so EVERYONE has access.

If we sit by and let the government and churches take away reproductive freedoms, there’s a very good chance we’ll be letting them take away some of our livelihood, too. Because it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that hysterectomies could be banned. Period. After all, if Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock can make the claim that women who are raped should be forced to carry the pregnancy to term because the baby was a ‘gift from God’, then it isn’t too far away from those same nut jobs telling us that we don’t get to choose what path we take because God doesn’t make mistakes.

Yeah, it’s a selfish reason. But sometimes in order to rally for a cause, you need a selfish reason to find that passion. It is of course, not my only reason, either.

I’m part of a marginalized community. I can be fired for being trans, despite the fact that has absolutely nothing to do with work performance. I can be kicked out of the bathroom, because I don’t “look” like I’m supposed to. I can face scrutiny whenever I need to show my ID because my gender marker doesn’t match my name or my appearance.

We need to band together and fight. I was at the Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival on September 13th. And my fellow feminists there, they made space for the trans community. They showed movies about those inside and outside of the binary, and talked about how trans women are being murdered at alarming rates. They made space for us. They know marginalization and struggle and invisibility. And they help lift our voices. So why aren’t we doing the same for them?

Yeah, I know transmen are marginalized, and often our voices are silent. But are our voices silent because someone else is holding our mouth shut or because we’re doing it to ourselves? See, when we start transitioning, we gain privilege. We gain access to the lives of men. We are allowed in spaces we were always meant to be in, spaces where women’s voices aren’t heard. But what do we do when there’s a sexist joke? When someone makes a blonde joke or talks of a woman’s body like it’s property, or a trophy to be taken? Do we speak up and say it’s not right? Or do we just shift uncomfortably in our skin, and chuckle half-heartedly, because it’s easier than doing the right thing?

This is where our intersectionality is important. We have access to these areas, where our voices will be heard and our thoughts and ideas and opinions will be taken seriously. And we need to use our voices in those spaces to say not just that the joke or comment is inappropriate, but it’s wrong, and it’s unacceptable. We have the unique ability to be a part of these spaces, and to say the things we know need to be said to other men who will listen to us.

I’m calling on all of my fellow transmen to step up. You want to be a man? Then be a feminist. Vote for politicians who will protect a woman’s right to govern her own body. Don’t stand by when another man tries to use the word ‘pussy’ as a term for weakness. Because if you do, then you’re no better than those who stay quiet when you’re being discriminated against.

In fact, you should be offended. Politicians and clergy are working hard to tell women how incompetent they are in making decisions on their own bodies. They’re finding new ways to veil discrimination – through words like ‘protection’ and ‘religious freedom’. They’ve already tried those tactics on us, and it’s worked, in some areas. And they’ll keep trying these tactics unless we use another right that they’re working on taking away – the right to vote. If you don’t vote, if you keep your voice quiet, then you’re an accomplice, or worse, an oppressor.

So you really want to change the definition of manhood, and what it means for you to be a man? Then I dare you to not just say you support women’s rights, but to fight for them. I dare you to embrace the label of feminist, and to truly understand and accept your privilege as a man, and to use that privilege to further feminism.

I stand with Planned Parenthood. I am proud to be a feminist. And I’m not afraid to say vagina.

How about you?

The Measure of an Activist

The internet has been abuzz as of late about Indiana’s RFRA, specifically, about a little pizzeria called Memories Pizza. (By the way, the business didn’t bother to purchase their domain name.)

They closed shortly after coming out on the news talking about their opposition to serving the LGBT community, specifically stating they wouldn’t cater a same-sex wedding. The owners claimed they received death threats and because of this, felt they needed to close their business for their safety.

Yet none of these alleged threats have been discovered. None of the articles posted go into any sort of detail regarding the threats. To me, a threat of death is far more serious than a threat to boycott a restaurant.

This post, however, isn’t about the validity of the threats, or why RFRA is wrong, or how obvious it’s been that Memories Pizza was chosen to be a martyr for the “Gays are Evil” movement. This post is about activism and advocacy, and how important these things are.

I comment on a post about exactly that, how these people are martyrs for the cause. Someone responded with a comment that didn’t set well with me. They said that yes, the LGBT community and their allies had shut the business down, but that we didn’t change the minds of the business owners, so essentially, nothing had changed.

I beg to differ. Shutting down a business because they have bigoted, discriminatory views does change things. Recently Mira received the honor of being a member of the Trans100 2015. One of the keynote speakers, Tiq Milan, talked about his mother teaching him about taking up space, and how he has a right to take up space, and a responsibility to take up space.

By shutting this business down, the LGBT community has shown them that we deserve to be here, and we will take up our rightful space, whether others feel we deserve that space or not. And it’s our responsibility to continue to take up our rightful space, no matter what the opposition says or does.

How do we gauge the success of our efforts? If it’s solely by the number of minds changed, then are any other efforts moot? The Woolworth sit-ins in Greensboro most likely didn’t change the minds of the shop owner or many of the other white people sitting in the diner. Because they didn’t change the minds of those people, does that discount the fact those four students sparked an interest that ultimately resulted in 1000 people protesting the segregation? Certainly not.

Those four students had enough. They took up their rightful space at that counter. And the LGBT community needs to do the same. We need to continue to take up space and show our opposers that we are not backing down. Of course I’d love to change minds in the process, but that obviously isn’t always going to happen.

To poo-poo the efforts of the LGBT community and their allies to get businesses to close their doors because of discrimination is hurtful and extremely dangerous. If enough people felt the way this commenter did, the likelihood of any kind of movement for social change wouldn’t occur, because ‘we couldn’t change their minds’.

Change doesn’t occur overnight, either. Stonewall was the catalyst for the LGBT movement. But their efforts didn’t change the hearts and minds of all people. Clearly that fight still continues. The results of their actions, however, gave others the inspiration to no longer sit back and be trampled on.

Yes. We came out in force against this business. Yes, we may have helped in shutting the business down. And yes, we didn’t change the way they feel about the LGBT community. But things have changed. And they continue to change.

We may not change everyone’s minds. But it is our job to continue to fight, to take each step forward as a victory, as fuel to continue down the path to equality. As Tiq Milan said, success is measured in the space we occupy. It’s measured in the quantity of people out fighting for a cause. It’s measured by the quality of life those fighting for rights have. Each victory, no matter how small, counts.

This is a victory. It shows other businesses that we will not back down. It shows others within the LGBT community that we do matter, and that we can make a difference.

SIDENOTE: I understand that the owners of the pizzeria became puppets of the religious right. I also understand that they were most likely approached and told if they closed their doors, they would be repaid for it. I understand they became martyrs and targeted to be martyrs. This however, to me, is still a victory. Our voices were heard.

I need to get something off my chest…

Breasts. Boobs. Jugs. Melons.

Whatever you want to call them, I have them. I don’t want them. I’d much rather say ta-ta to my ta-tas than save them.

It’s not often I have dysphoria about my gender. But when it happens, holy cow, does it suck.

Mira and I went out to the theatre as we often do, to see a play put on by one of our local acting troupes. My week had been good, albeit busy, but good. I was interviewed, with Mira, and was on TV. I wore my binder and got to dress up at work (we had clients visit) and I’d been more than content with my appearance, including my profile. But, by Friday, I think my binder was as sick of my body as my body was of my binder.

We arrived at the theatre and when I sat down in my seat, it happened. My binder shifted.

This is a godsend for those of us trans men who are pre-surgery
This is a godsend for those of us trans men who are pre-surgery

Upward. Not rolled, not moved slightly, but shifted upwards. I felt uncomfortable, but shrugged it off. Mira asked if I needed to use the bathroom, but everyone had sat down in the seats next to us, and I didn’t want to be that guy who makes everyone move in their row so he can get in and out for no good reason.

The play started, and when the lights dimmed, I tugged and shifted, hoping to move it back into place, all the while trying to convince myself it was no big deal. I got into the play, and was greatly enjoying myself. Intermission came, and Mira went to talk to a friend. I took the opportunity to go use the restroom so I could fix my binder.

genderx390_10I stood up from my seat (after arguing with myself about going), and made it out of the main theatre into the lobby, down the ramp, and about twenty steps away from the restrooms. Then I froze. Which bathroom should I use? I thought I looked like a guy. I mean, I did, didn’t I? But there would only be like one stall, and what if someone was in there? I’d look kind of odd standing around waiting for the stall, right? But I’d get weird looks if I went into the women’s room, right? I looked more like a guy than a butch lesbian, right? I could feel the panic quickly rising, ironically, in my chest. In fact, I looked down at my chest, and was absolutely convinced the binder was doing nothing for me at this point.

I felt my face flushing with embarrassment and shame. I quickly walked back into the theatre and sat down, trying desperately to keep myself together. Mira sat down and quickly saw my discontent and asked what was wrong. I felt myself getting very angry. Not with her, but with myself. I tried brushing it off and saying I had an issue going to the bathroom, but I was okay.

I wasn’t. She asked me to talk to her about it in the car on the way home, which I agreed to.

I told her about the shame I felt, and the embarrassment, and how I wanted my breasts gone. I told her about struggling to figure out what bathroom I should use. We both agreed that the group of people who go to see this group perform wouldn’t care which restroom I used, and certainly wouldn’t accost me, but I still struggled. And I cried. I was ashamed of myself for not having the strength or confidence to walk into the men’s room with my head held high. I was embarrassed by my appearance, convinced my chest was showing. And then I was ashamed for being embarrassed…and it spiraled for a bit.

We went to the store to pick up some late night junk food to help me feel better. Mira asked me if I wanted to wait in the car. I told her no. Because it’s important to me to be able to move through my days as I am in the moment, and be okay with that. Things won’t be changing physically for me anytime soon, so I need to be able to cope, and going into the grocery store is part of that.

struggle1
It’s hard to keep moving forward sometimes, knowing parts of you are trapped within other parts.

I struggle at work, knowing which restroom to use. It may seem ridiculous to some of you reading this. You’ve always known which bathroom to use. It’s not that easy for me. I mean, I know I’m a trans man. I’m a guy, I should use the men’s room. But my confidence level isn’t always that high. Especially when it comes to my chest. I don’t have large boobs, but they’re big enough to be noticed. And that’s difficult to deal with, when you know your body is supposed to look different, but there’s nothing you can do about it, at least not right now.

I’ve struggled with my weight, and the only thing I can liken my struggle with restrooms with is buying clothes – when a medium has always fit you, and now, suddenly, it doesn’t, or when you find a shirt you really like, but it’s not in your size, nor are any of the clothes you like – your confidence and self-esteem takes a very heavy hit. It’s like that with bathrooms. But more visceral. It’s a reminder that I’m not the man I want to be yet. That while my head says one thing, my body is clearly saying something different.

I understand some of the issue is created in my own mind. My breasts weren’t that noticeable, nor would it really have mattered which bathroom I used, no one would have really cared. But this struggle is real, regardless of whether what I feel is created in my own mind or actually happens.

Mira and I went out today, to buy some dresses for some upcoming events. One of the places we went to, the staff was incredibly helpful, and very kind, but she made the assumption that I was a ‘lady’, and when I made mention that I would be attending some of these events as well, tried to hook me up with a dress, and then with a ‘really nice pantsuit’. She clearly didn’t understand me by appearance. It made me a bit uncomfortable, but I’ve gotten use to shrugging it off.

bb0f129749de709cae657fe57aaef2efThere are times when I look in the mirror, and it doesn’t bother me. There are other times I look in the mirror, and I picture myself with a flat chest, and it makes me happy. And yet there are other times when I look in the mirror and it hurts, knowing I have these physical barriers which aren’t changing fast enough for me. I wish the bathroom thing wasn’t a big deal. It really shouldn’t be. I mean, I just want to go to the bathroom. I don’t want to be hassled any more than I want to hassle anyone else.

And some day, that won’t even be an issue for me anymore. Mentally, I’m quickly becoming the man I want to be, the man I’m proud to be. Physically, that will follow too. In the meantime, I’m learning how to deal. I’ll continue to struggle, here and there. Some days it will be my chest, some days it will be my voice. Sometimes I’ll wonder if I’m ever going to be happy with my appearance. Some days will be filled with doubt, and some days will be empty of confidence. People have talked about having a bad gender day. I’ll have my share of those.

But the path to who I am isn’t supposed to be easy. If it were, would it be worth it? I’ll have my days of gender dysphoria – days when I don’t want to leave the house because I’m exasperated by my genes. I will though, because it’s all a part of becoming me. My struggles shape my successes.

And I plan on being successful in my life.

(Aiutami is Italian for Help Me, and the song, Aiutami is in the play we saw that night, The Light in the Piazza. It’s sometimes how I feel…)

 

On Being a Man and a Feminist

I identify as a trans man, and as a feminist. Not because it’s trendy or because it sounds good. Not because my girlfriend is (although Mira is incredibly fierce, and I do aspire to hold some of the same values as her), and not because it’s an easy thing to be (because frankly, it’s not).

I am a feminist because it’s necessary. And it’s right. I’ve been fortunate to have been allowed to explore my masculinity as a child, and while I didn’t necessarily have strong male role models growing up, I wasn’t raised to believe that because I was a girl I “couldn’t”.

And now, though I’m fortunate enough to experience a degree of male privilege, it doesn’t mean that suddenly I don’t have a responsibility to fight for rights of women all over the world.

Mira and I watched India’s Daughter the other night. It’s about the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh that took place in Delhi, India, back in 2012. The documentary lasted only about an hour, but in that hour I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so angry and filled with such palpable feelings of injustice (which isn’t the right word either – it goes beyond a simple injustice).

The things the men said between the lawyers for the rapists and one of the rapists himself were beyond incorrigible. In fact, as Mira and I talked about later, the views of the men are reflected all over the world. Opinions that women shouldn’t be out late, they shouldn’t be out alone, they shouldn’t wear ‘provocative’ clothing – opinions reflected in that documentary, have also been spoken in the United States. The idea that women are somehow solely responsible for sexual assault is, while grossly disgusting, not a new idea.

I strongly urge all of the men I know to watch this documentary. Though if you’ve read my blog on a regular basis, you’ll know that the men in my life are my role models, good, strong, loving men who understand the strength of a woman. But sometimes that isn’t enough.

As a trans man…as a man, I have a unique place in feminism. As I’ve said, I was raised with an emphasis on the more masculine side of gender. That’s not to say that I was taught that women are lesser or othered. I was raised as a daughter. Which also meant that I did experience the inequality between men and women. I saw it in gym class, when boys and girls were held to different standards when completing the Presidential Fitness Test in elementary school. Among my peers, I was a tomboy, so I was allotted a certain amount of distance from any ‘feminine’ behavior – gossiping and standing in a group at recess.

Even then, I never thought it was right – that boys and girls had different physical fitness standards (more than once, I watched a boy get the snot beat out of him by a girl for making an off-color remark) or that because I was a girl that I wasn’t supposed to play soccer or dodgeball with the guys.

At some point, I remember being told that I had to be careful when being alone with a boy or being outside after dark by myself. Even then, it was understood that it was more important to control my conduct than to teach appropriate behavior among the young men. I’d see stories on the news about “taking back the night”, and scores of women, arms linked, walking down streets in both a protest and an effort to reclaim their rightful place in their neighborhoods. And why? Because no one else would do it. Time and time again, there would be news stories about another rape and murder of a woman – and time after time, initial reports would claim the women were prostitutes (somehow this meant their death was okay by the simple fact of their profession, or that they were asking for this because of ‘risky behavior’). The blame was always, always placed on the woman.

“She asked for it.”

“She was dressed like a slut. I figured that’s what she wanted.”

“She shouldn’t have dressed that way. If she had just been home before dark, like a good girl, and had some decency, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Because a woman’s body is not her own. We’re told this time and time again – legislators passing laws to govern a woman’s body, television and movies showing scantily clad women being sexually promiscuous, and somehow they’re the sexual deviant, not the men. Women who have been raped being forced into a place of shame and blame because somehow, by the mere fact that they are women, they should just accept that they’ll be sexually assaulted, and not fight it.

The disparaging remarks made by the rapists from India’s Daughter  are sentiments echoed by the men in our own country. I’d written in the past about the baggage that comes with claiming manhood, and this is another aspect of it. Somehow, somewhere in history, society gave men a free pass when it comes to things like rape and sexual assault. It’s even associated with male privilege, that it’s my right to assert sexual dominance over my partner, regardless of whether or not that’s what she desires. In fact, it wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape was considered a crime in all 50 states. Even then, it was still disputed as a ‘real thing’ because how could rape occur in a marriage when the woman gave herself over to the husband? Each state has their own law regarding marital rape and in several states, there are differences in the definition of what constitutes marital rape – like the severity of violence, how the rape occurred, under what circumstances the assault occurred. Suddenly it didn’t matter what the woman’s experience was – no didn’t mean no anymore. If I’m honest, no hasn’t meant no for a lot longer prior to this.

I remember my sister telling me a story about rescuing a girl from a frat party. My sister was leaving and witnessed another woman, clearly unable to make decisions for herself, being half led, half dragged up a stairway to where the bedrooms were. She grabbed the woman, made up a name and acted as though she had been looking all over for her, and rescuing the rufied woman from certain sexual assault. Although depending on who you ask, if a woman is drugged, then consent is not required.

These things are beyond wrong. And these acts of violence are perpetuated by men. It’s pretty obvious why I’d been so hesitant to call myself a man when you read articles every day about men imposing themselves on women, because it was their privilege to.

And I’ve got that free sexual assault card. I sure as hell don’t want it, but I’m not going to give it back, either, because all that means is an extra card for someone else. I’m going to tear it to shreds and burn it.

As a man who is a feminist, it’s my duty not to defend women, but to change the attitudes of my fellow-men. Enough of the victim blaming/shaming. Enough defending a woman’s right to be outside after 9 pm. Enough defending a woman’s right to wear the clothing she chooses. It’s time to change the attitudes of men.

When I’m in a space where women’s voices are not present, it’s my duty to shut down the sexist remarks and disparaging comments. And it’s not enough for me to just say that I don’t want to hear it. Systems of oppression exist not just because those preventing the oppressed group from advancing keep the wheels turning, but also because others who know these systems are wrong do nothing to alter it. Silence can be just as deadly as privilege, if used incorrectly.

So stop being silent. If you love your wife, your partner, your significant other, your girlfriend, your fiancée, then say so. If you are in a room with a group of guys, and they start objectifying women, say something.

Vida Boheme: So, I gather you like hitting ladies.

Virgil: Some ladies need to get hit.

Vida Boheme: Well then, it stands to reason that some men need to get hit back.

There’s an article that Mira shared with me, about Michael Kimmel and his efforts to promote feminism among men. The article is good, up until this paragraph:

But the real mission of these four days is explaining why feminism should appeal to men. After all, if the patriarchy confers benefits, why would guys give it up? Appeals to fairness are not enough, it seems; the current vogue is to persuade men their lives will be better if women have more freedom and better jobs and work-life balance.

This to me still isn’t quite right. I know and understand that by nature, humans are selfish and self-centered. Mira and I have talked about the benefits of being selfish in that doing for yourself often makes you more apt to do for others, or that the act of being selfish in many circumstances, can benefit more than just you. But when it comes to being selfish about the benefits drawn from the patriarchy, I would like to believe that simply seeing the negative results such a system of oppression has on those that don’t belong would be reason enough to abandon it.

The quote from the article is basically implying that we, as men, can keep women happy, and in turn, off of our backs and not nagging us, if we give women more freedom in their lives. But again, this does nothing to change our behavior as men. It still screams of male privilege and patriarchy. It’s still saying that women are not their own, that they aren’t capable unless *we* give them the freedom to be. I mean, I understand that by tearing down the patriarchy and establishing equality does just that, the fact that the article surmises the way to get men on board with being feminists is to use their male privilege to gift freedom and equality to women kinda stinks. I’m afraid that approaching it this way does nothing but stroke the male ego. The same goes for another quote in the article, about men approaching Kimmel and stating that they agree with everything the feminist movement says, but they can’t bring themselves to identify as feminists.

So do we eliminate this word from our vocabulary? Is this a new movement? To be a ‘closeted feminist’? It still equates the ideas of shame and lesser and othering to women. This is not the movement we, as men, need to be a part of. There is no shame in lifting any marginalized group to a place of equality. But to be a man who identifies as a feminist is more than just agreeing with what the movement says. It’s acting upon it. It’s modifying our own behavior, and planting seeds of change in others. That’s why it’s so important not to placate women – that’s an asinine view to begin with. How much of a pompous a-hole do you have to be to believe that a woman would fall all over you because you gave them the okay to go to work? Get the hell out of their way, man! We’re at a point where our job isn’t to focus on helping women by being their escort. Our job is to change our behavior and the idea that we somehow have a right to women, that we have a right to their bodies. Feel free to hold the door open for her, but understand, very clearly, that she is fully capable of not only opening that door, but ripping it off the damn hinges.

Instead, send out a clear message to the other men you interact with, that you will not accept other men objectifying women. Send a clear message that in spaces where women’s voices are not heard or represented, you will find a way to lift up their voices.

Don’t ‘defend’ women’s behavior. That’s not your place. Women don’t need our defense. Again, it goes to changing up the concepts of manhood and entitlement. We are not entitled to women. It is as simple as that. So stop using your privilege to dictate women’s spaces. Use your privilege to turn the system upside down.

Change the concept of manning up from one of machismo and misogyny to one of respect and pride. If you’re still at a loss as to what to do, then read this. And for crying out loud, if you are a man, and you agree with what the feminist movement says, then stop being scared that your manliness will fade if you call yourself a feminist. We exist. I promise.

No. I am a man. And I am a feminist. And I’m proud to be both.

(Mira posted this video before, but it’s so good it’s worth posting again)

Oppressor or Activist? Turns out, I’ve been both…and more.

I am an oppressor. I am an accomplice. I am an ally. I am an activist.

I have kept silent while others have made jokes about someone’s weight. I’ve felt my blood boil as someone made a racist remark, or said something derogatory about the trans community, but I kept my mouth shut.

Why? The reasons are endless – maybe some part of me thought it was true, or I didn’t feel like getting into an argument that day, or I knew if I spoke up, it wouldn’t do any good. The reasons don’t matter, though.resist_oppression_communism_will_prevail_india_revolution_operation_green_hunt_cpimaoist

Sometimes someone will make a comment about the weight of someone we both know, making a joke or some off-handed remark, I laugh along with them, while I should have, could have, said something, not in defense of their object of fun, but in response to the inappropriateness of the comment. Instead, I commented as well, not wanting to seem “weird” or “awkward” by going against the norm.

I am an oppressor.

black-tape-mouth-shut-no-speaking-700x45_660If I’m at work, where the majority of my co-workers are heterosexual and all of them, save me, are cisgender, I keep my mouth shut about many things. I haven’t officially come out at work, and so when I talk about being trans, or the trans community, I speak in hushed tones, not making eye contact, keeping my head down, as if the words I’m saying are something I should be ashamed of. When people use the word ‘tranny’, I cringe internally, but respond with “Yeah, I don’t see the big deal…” My silence is as dangerous as the loud voices of the bigots and discriminators.

I am an accomplice.

I am not proud of these situations. Because I should have stepped in and said it was wrong. I should have made it abundantly clear that their attitudes and opinions were their own to have, and solely their own to have. I didn’t. And I regret that.tumblr_m5ixrhNjhD1rpy84ao1_500

I went with Mira to a Lady Parts Justice rally. I was there to support her, but now because of the inspiring acts of the women that spoke and performed, I’ve been inspired, and I really want to speak at the next rally, to the importance of allies in the fight against the patriarchy telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.  Because if we do not stand alongside women, if we do not stop the regulation over their bodies by men who claim to know what’s best but essentially just want to dominate and put women “in their place”, then we all are subject to the repercussions of such a loss.

I am an ally.

During the last lame duck session in Michigan, there was a movement to change the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA for short), to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. There was another splinter group that thought it best to only include sexual orientation, and come back to revise the law later to encompass gender identity and expression. Years ago, I would have totally been all for the ‘half a pizza’ argument.

activistNot anymore, and not just because I’m now a part of the LGBT that has historically ended up without any slice of pizza, but because it’s simply wrong. And because of this, I went to a few ELCRA rallies, I went to TDOR (Transgender Day of Remembrance), and I want to speak out against the injustices faced by the trans community, a community I am a part of, and one that I fully embrace.

I am an activist.

I play all of these roles at varying times. When I identified as a lesbian and I fought for equality – I was an activist for the L and G, and an oppressor to the T. The B wasn’t even a concern, because in my head, they were simply confused. That has all obviously changed, for the better. I don’t want to ever play the role of the oppressor, and I think it’s even worse to play the role of the accomplice. Having the knowledge I do from my brilliant and insightful girlfriend, Mira, and my other activist friends, I’m learning when to recognize oppressive behaviors and attitudes in which I act as an accomplice.

Self awareness is just as important as self confidence. Being aware of my actions and words is just as important as saying them in the first place. I’m still going to screw up. But I will be aware of my missteps, and I will not silence my voice. If I am not empowering, I am oppressing, and I am contributing to the reason why equality has not yet been achieved.

If I don’t use the power I have from the privileges I have to raise up both the marginalized groups I belong to and those I do not belong to, then I am failing not only as an ally, but as an activist.

Everyone has some kind of privilege. It may not be obvious at first, but you know that saying – “There’s always someone worse off than you” – it’s true, and those who are “worse off” are most likely part of a marginalized group you do not belong to. If you have a place to live – then you can be an ally for the homeless, and use your privilege of stability of a roof over your head to help advocate for housing the homeless and providing them with an opportunity to achieve the same level of safety and stability you have.

If you are cisgender, you can ally yourself with the trans community, and use the power of being cisgender (and yes, you do have power, because you have privilege) in circles to support the trans community when the trans community is not represented.

I’m working on being an ally. I want to be a better ally. I feel I have the tools and the knowledge and the support to be a better ally.

Because it’s not always about my story.

How about you?

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