Archive for the ‘Allies’ Category

Question MarkA reader writes: “I was hoping I could get your opinion on this issue. I recently read a diatribe by a cisgender gay man stating that those who identify as girlfags are being disrespectful to cisgender gays and lesbians, as well as gay transmen.

“I agree that the term does sound pejorative, and it would be better if a new term was coined. But I believe that it is a legitimate identity. What do you think?”

I had never heard of this term before, so I had to look it up. On Urban Dictionary, “girlfag” is defined as: “A woman who is very attracted to gay/bi/trans men. She may (or may not) also feel she is (fully or partly) a ‘gay man in a woman’s body.’ Girlfags identify primarily as queer, and are often attracted to more types of people than just gay/bi/trans men.”

I think every identity is legitimate. I also think that reclamation of negative or harmful language can be beneficial in certain circumstances. However, I have three criteria for reclaiming pejorative language, and I feel that all of these criteria need to be met before a word or words can be reclaimed:

1. The people reclaiming the language must be aware of the history of the language – the word or words to be reclaimed – and how that language was used against people in the past (and still today). What is the origin of the language? How did it come into general use and how did it come to be used against a group of people? What were and are the ramifications of that use? The people reclaiming the language need to be fully aware of this and make a conscious decision to reclaim the language based on their thorough knowledge of the past. (more…)

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Question MarkHere are some short questions and short answers. I (and I’m sure the writers) would love to get reader input on any or all:

A reader writes: “When someone says they are a transsexual man, does that mean that they are a woman contemplating their sex identity or a man contemplating their sex identity? Pardon me if this was offensive, it was purely out of curiosity so I don’t mess up in the future.”

No offense taken. It’s a legitimate question. (Here’s a link to some vocabulary terms that might also help: Trans-lations.)

In most cases, when a person says that he is a transsexual man, what he means is that he has transitioned in some way from female to male. In other words, he was assigned female at birth, and now lives as a man. When someone says that she is a transsexual woman, she means that she was assigned male at birth and has transitioned in some way to female.

This is particularly confusing when the press refers to a “transgender man” when they actually mean a “trans woman,” and vice versa. I could go into a long diatribe about the whole “transgender” and language thing, but I won’t (because nobody wants to hear it again).

Suffice it to say that when people refer to themselves as a man or a woman and any form of “trans” is in front of that, they will generally mean that they are living in a sex and gender that were not assigned to them by the outside world at birth.

A reader writes: “I’ve always felt like I was male from being a young child, and now I feel ready to begin my journey. My question is: I understand there is no guarantee with hormones, but do people who are younger when they begin hormones see results sooner?”

Hmm. That depends on the person. I don’t think there is any research behind this. In my experience, it seems to me that people who are younger when they begin often have “better” results. By that, I mean that I have seen young people masculinize relatively quickly when compared to older people (but “quickly” is just a matter of a few months), and it seems to me that they generally get better facial hair and muscle tone. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “Can a person be both a part of the community and an ally? What I mean is, is an ally always an outsider to T/LGB? Is a transgender person necessarily an activist or informer, the way an ally is? What about those who question their gender but are otherwise supportive and politically/socially active?

“The third question applies mostly to myself, but my questioning isn’t at the heart of this email. Whatever I am labeled, I want to move transgender issues forward, giving clarity to others. If I hadn’t set out to find out all the information I know now, I think I would have a very distorted view on gender. It is not difficult to imagine a trans-ignorant/transphobic world beyond myself, especially with all the things I hear in my family and at school.”

To answer your question, I think that we need to look at the differences between an ally, an advocate, and an activist. To do this, we’ll use good old Merriam-Webster:

Ally: a person or group that gives help to another person or group.

Advocate: a person who works for a cause or group.

Activism: a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action, especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue. (Oddly, there was no definition for activist, but based on this, an activist would be a person who does this)

So, when we look at these definitions, we can see that an ally is not a member of the group to which that person belongs. An ally is an “outsider” who gives help to that group. You could be an ally to the transgender community, or you could be a member of the transgender community, but you couldn’t be both.

Now, you could be a member of the LGBT community and be an ally of the trans community – if you were a non-trans lesbian, gay man, or bisexual person. You could be an ally of the LGB community if you were trans and straight-identified or queer-identified. But if  you are trans and gay-identified, for example, you would be a member of the gay community and the trans community – not an ally of either. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “My first close contact with a transgender individual was following a car wreck where the victim was later discovered to be transgender.

“Besides taking care of the patient’s physical/medical needs during transport, which, following a trauma, always includes exposing the majority of the body to examine for bruising, swelling, etc., I learned a lot about all the additional issues this person had going on. Things got a little complicated pretty fast.

“Fortunately, I was the only paramedic in the back, so was able to eventually establish how the lady wanted to be referred to, her new name, and the other issues involved, including being homeless at that time. I was able to become an advocate for her (with the other personnel).

“It takes a lot of courage for some transgender folks to discuss things with a perfect stranger, especially when in a serious medical situation. However, it would have made things much faster for the secondary care issues, and protecting the modesty of the patient even more, if the patient had given me just a little warning initially.

“Perhaps this could be a discussion on your blog sometime.”

I’m glad that you were able to have this discussion with this individual during this time of crisis. In many cases, people are not able to speak up at all about their situation or their needs – they might be unconscious or injured to the point where communication is impossible. Or they just might be too traumatized or in too much pain to communicate much.

This is a tough one, because I know that medical personnel need as much information as possible about a patient, particularly in an emergency, so that they know the proper ways to treat that patient – and even, as you say, to protect that patient’s modesty or privacy.

And even in an emergency situation – actually, especially in an emergency situation – using the correct name and pronouns with a trans person is extremely important. It’s scary enough to be in that type of situation without experiencing any kind of prejudice or misgendering. It’s also very comforting to have an advocate, so thank you.

But sometimes, even when a person has the capability of speaking up, that person might not feel comfortable disclosing a lot of information – or might not even think about it. Here are some reasons why a trans person might not disclose personal information about his/her/hir body in an emergency situation: (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I am a white, 21-year-old straight male and my girlfriend is a white, 20-year-old female, both of us from Glasgow. I regard myself as not being racist, homophobic, transphobic or in just about any other way discriminatory. I identify with the ideals of equality for all.

“My girlfriend is very much a feminist and, like myself, is also in support of essentially universal equality. But there came a topic recently which brought some conflict between us. My girlfriend spoke of a situation whereby at a club, there was what looked to be a man dressed as a woman; some of her friends who went to this club with her briefly discussed between themselves ‘what he was,’ i.e. what gender was this person born as.

“Immediately during our discussion she branded this as being potentially transphobic; I disagree with this. Now, I was not there at this club and as is only fair in my eyes, I gave the guys the benefit of the doubt; I argued that it’s perfectly plausible that they were doing so simply out of sheer curiosity, or to know what pronoun to use should they want to talk to the person. My girlfriend did not suggest that there was any malice at all in what they were saying to themselves.

“I suggested then that regardless of the context in which it was said, I didn’t feel the statement itself was directly transphobic, as it implied no hate or negative feelings, and I also said that I felt it important to defend their right to speak freely among each other about such things, as she went to the lengths to suggest that they shouldn’t be able to say such things.

“I would never accept this being within remote earshot of the person, or anyone else who could potentially take offence, but I thought it simply a stretch to label them as transphobic. Rude, yes; ignorant, yes; childish, yes; but transphobic? I saw this as a bit extreme. (more…)

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Question MarkBelow, we have two letters regarding allies (the second one is a stretch, but I figured it could loosely go with an “Ally” theme). And here they are:

A reader writes: “I am a cis teenager who tries her hardest to be a good ally. Recently, I was talking with someone I’d just met (‘Bob’) who attends my school. We walked past another student, who is trans (we’re in an intersectional feminist club together and he’s talked about it). Bob referred to the trans kid using female pronouns.

“I know that the trans kid only transitioned last year, and Bob had met him before his transition, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t know that the trans kid had transitioned. Instead of confronting Bob, I continued to talk about the trans kid using male pronouns. Bob got the memo and then used male pronouns.

“Was that the right thing to do? I wasn’t sure if I should have confronted him more directly (‘Actually that kid uses male pronouns’), but I didn’t want to out him, even though he’s out at school as far as I can tell. I also didn’t want to just let it slide and use the wrong pronouns. In case this situation comes up again, do you have any advice on the course of action that I should take?”

This is a tough one and an easy one. It’s a tough one because, as an ally who knows this person from a particular club only, you might not necessarily know if he is out everywhere. If you refer to him by male pronouns outside of the club, and he is not using male pronouns outside of the club, then you will out him. But if you refer to him by female pronouns just because someone else does, then you will disrespect his identity, whether he’s out or not, but particularly if he is out everywhere.

The easy part is that you can ask him. You’re in the club together, and even if you don’t know him well or have never talked to him directly, there’s nothing wrong with approaching him and saying, “Here’s the deal. What do you want me to do from now on?” (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I do not identify specifically as trans, but I present as gender-queer. Basically, I wear a suit and tie most of the time. I am a lesbian and have many friends on the trans spectrum.

“The fact that I am rather out and dress the way I do at work has encouraged students who are seeking help to turn to me. Recently, I was asked by a student to help my colleagues understand transgender student issues. In response to that request I made two presentations at our annual teaching conference, despite that this is not really my area of expertise.

“Well, there was a good response, and now I am the go-to person and I feel very out of my depth. I need some general advice. I want to help my trans students be who they are in safety, help educate other students, intervene where necessary on campus, and help set up a wider support network on campus for those who have recently expressed an interest in helping me.

“I know this is a very broad question, but what are your opinions and thoughts about this? What advice can you give me?”

I’m thinking that you want an opinion on whether or not a non-trans person can be a resource for information and education both about and for trans people. My answer is yes, I think that you can. However, it takes some finesse to do it right.

The problem is that you really can’t speak for trans people, because this is not how you identify. But what you can do is speak to the broad range of diverse gender identities and expressions that are out there, because you embody that diversity. And what you can do is enlist the help of trans students (and faculty?) who are willing to speak out and aid you in your presentations and with collecting resources. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “Early in the spring a friend of mine who facilitated a ‘Women and Transfolk’ night at a local community shop took a job out of town and asked if I would take over for her while she was gone. I volunteer there, so of course I said sure. Things were going really well until last night.

“A transgender man came in. He asked what the ‘Women and Transfolk’ night was. I answered that it was for women and people who identify as women. This is an answer I’ve heard given by other people at the shop. I guess I never thought about it.

“He asked something along the lines of where he fit in and I said, ‘You’re a woman.’ Honestly, I had no idea they were transgender. I see a lot of different people at the shop because it’s such a welcoming environment. I just thought they were a woman wearing baggy clothes and I really didn’t mean to offend them.

“They were really mad, and commenced to shame me about it. I felt horrible and apologized. They told me I was being shitty, and I said I didn’t mean to be shitty. They asked if other trans people ever came in and I said no, not really, but I’m not sure. I mentioned a trans woman who has started to attend regularly, and a lesbian couple. I felt like I was just listing the people who I see coming in here regularly, but he took it as me thinking that gay and lesbian people are trans, which I know is incorrect.

“I feel so horrible, and it was such a big misunderstanding. At the same time I feel like my character had been attacked. I never really think about who I’m helping in the shop. I just see people. I feel like this person asked a series of very direct questions and was kind of looking for a fight.

“Regardless, I really don’t want this to happen again. I feel like where I ran into trouble was explaining the ‘Women and Transfolk’ night properly. How would you explain this to someone who you just met? In a way that would not exclude or offend anyone who would fall into the broad category of any person who is underrepresented during the normal hours of a certain type of shop?”

Don’t beat yourself up too much. We’ll get to that later. There are definitely some things that  you can do so this doesn’t happen again. But first, I’d like to address the “Women and Transfolk” night, which could become highly problematic in the future (and it kinda already has). (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “My daughter’s best friend is a young male who is now living as a female. It is a relatively new change, and my daughter isn’t sure how to support her. She has known that he feels that he is in the wrong body ever since they became friends, and has been very understanding of this. She recently changed schools, and is worried that her friend will have difficulty with people accepting this change.

“She is asking for advice on how to support her. I don’t really know what to say. I’m fine with the change, and I think that it is important for my daughter to support her friend, but I am at a loss of words to give her any advice or guidance. I should also mention that the children are in second grade, which means that they are both very young, and there is no real info that I could find for such a young age.

“I was hoping that you might have some insight on how I should respond to the question ‘How can I help her through this change?’ Please keep in mind that both are seven. I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I would ask her friend’s mom, but as supporting of her child as she is, she is obviously mourning the loss of her son. She is accepting of her new daughter, but is also very overwhelmed. I can’t really ask her. Thank you for any advice you may have.”

First of all, thank you for being so supportive of your daughter and of her friend. Also, kudos for raising such a caring child. I would first like to suggest that you contact TransYouth Family Allies. They might have some good suggestions and help for you. If you are in Colorado, you can also contact Trans-Youth Education and Support of Colorado. These are also good resources to give to the child’s mother.

I am also not completely convinced that talking to the child’s mother is a bad idea. It sounds as if your daughter and her daughter are close friends. If that is the case, she might appreciate the support from one of her daughter’s friends. You can always approach her with the idea that your daughter wants to be as helpful and supportive as possible, and you would like some ideas to give to your daughter. You can say, “If and when you might want to talk about this, just let me know. If not, I understand, and that’s fine.”

In response to your daughter’s question about how she can help, I would say that she can just be there for her friend and hold on to the friendship. Other things that your daughter can do to be supportive include: (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “Our good friends have a daughter, Linda (I changed the name that the reader sent in, because I didn’t know if it was real or fictional).

“Linda dresses and carries herself in a very masculine way.  She has done this for as long as we’ve known her – five years or so. She shops in the men’s section of clothing stores and seems to identify more with being a male.

“Several times we have all been out for dinner and the server will refer to Linda as ‘he.’ It’s not surprising and I can see why they mistake her for a man.  However, what confuses me is why no one speaks up. My husband and I want to say something to correct the server.  We feel like we should defend Linda, but we don’t say a word. Linda doesn’t either – and doesn’t seem fussed by the mistake. And her parents don’t acknowledge it in the moment or afterwards. We all just go one as if nothing has happened.

“I feel like we are not being honest. I want Linda to know we love and accept her. She may be perfectly okay with being mistaken for a man. Still, I wonder if it is best to keep quiet and say nothing. Her parents seem to be in denial. I am most concerned about Linda and want her to be able to express herself fully.

“She still lives at home and seems to be pretty isolated from people. I want to be supportive, but it feels like we’re all silently dancing around the situation. Maybe it’s none of my business. Bottom line, I care about Linda and want the best for her. Her parents may have difficulty, so I don’t feel comfortable saying anything to them.

“I wanted to get your input on how/if I should say anything to Linda or her parents.”

First of all, thank you for your concern in this situation. It sounds as if you care a great deal for Linda and her parents.

Second, the short answer is: No, you should not say anything to Linda (at least not at the time) or her parents, and no, you should not correct the server on Linda’s behalf.

There could be so many things going on here that it’s impossible to list them all, but I will throw a few out there, and, in all of these cases, you are better off keeping your mouth shut: (more…)

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