Posts Tagged ‘activism’

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: “I am a junior at a socially conservative high school in Atlanta, GA. I have a transgender girlfriend, two of my closest friends are genderqueer, and I identify as a pansexual, so I am much more aware of gender issues than the vast majority of my peers (my girlfriend/friends are in college, and I am one of only two openly queer students in the entire school).

“I have debated using singular ‘they’ pronouns for multiple reasons: I want people at my school to be aware of genders outside of the binary, I personally don’t want to be part of the binary system, and I want to be judged by my self, not by my gender.

“However, I am cisgender and readily identify as female, both outwardly and internally. As much as I want to disassociate myself from gender-binary classifications, I don’t want to appropriate terminology that doesn’t apply to me as strongly as it does to people who really don’t identify with a traditional gender.

“Is ideological justification enough to use gender-neutral pronouns, or does it just become offensive/trivialization if I still self-identify as a female?”

This is an interesting question, and I can see both sides of the issue. There are some people who might see that as appropriation, because as a cisgender person, you have a choice. You don’t have to use a gender-neutral pronoun, and you will get along just fine if you choose not to.

That is part of the “cisgender privilege” that has gotten so much press in our community lately. For you, it would be a choice. For some trans people, or gender diverse people of any kind, it is often not a choice. Having to use a gender-binary pronoun would literally make some people miserable every moment of every day.

I hope that those who see this as appropriation, or as wrong for any reason, will let us know what they think in the Comments section. Because I’m going to say that I think it’s okay. (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 MarkI have a couple of unrelated letters, but they are short, so I thought I would put them together and create one post. Here they are:

A reader writes: “I am a transman who is doing some research on Transphobia within minority groups (LGB and Black communities). Unfortunately I am not having too much luck finding material due to the lack of studies, etc. Could you recommend any sources?”

I am not aware of any studies, although there are probably some out there. Readers might have some ideas or might have seen some. I would recommend contacting the following organizations for starters:

Trans People of Color Coalition

Transgender Law and Policy Institute

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

With regard to transphobia in black communities, there are some individuals who can probably give you great information, but remember that individuals are very busy and are often volunteering their time, so might not be able to respond. I would recommend:

Monica Roberts of TransGriot

Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler of blac (k) ademic

Kylar Broadus

Readers, do you know of any studies? What would you recommend?

A reader writes: “I recently came out on Facebook as a transman, and while I got a lot of support from friends, I also got 168 hateful, bigoted, and damning emails (mostly from people that I graduated from Bible college with).  One guy (a pastor of a church) even said “If you were my child and told me you were transgendered, I’d hope you would kill yourself.” (more…)

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Five Attributes of Trans Allies

handshakeLast week in my Transgender Studies class, and also at a Diversity Day presentation that I made on the Auraria Campus, we talked about allies.

In my opinion, allies are an important component of any group. They add numbers, they add voices, and in some cases, they bring a certain amount of power that is lacking because of the way that a particular group is seen in the “mainstream,” where the group is trying to gain at least equality, if not acceptance.

That last contribution is unfortunate, but true. Without allies, many groups would not be able to move forward as rapidly and as successfully as they do with outside support. Allies are an important component of any movement. I have written about allies before, but I think it’s always a good time to revisit the topic, so I would like to outline what I consider to be five important attributes of trans allies:

1. A trans ally acknowledges his/her/hir own power and privilege and is aware of it, but also acknowledges ours. In other words, a trans ally understands that we are not victims and don’t need rescuing, but also understands that the support of allies is beneficial to our community.

Trans allies prefer to help us develop and utilize our personal power in situations where they have it and we don’t, rather than take over and wield their own power while we are silenced. I have done many co-presentations with non-trans allies (who are all fantastic, by the way), and a couple of time, I have felt almost used as a poster child to make a point about the injustices to which trans people are subjected.

While I appreciate the recognition of those injustices, and while I appreciate that non-trans people just learning about the topic might be more open to receiving this information from another non-trans person, I also feel that this drains my own personal power and removes my voice – and I do have one – from the conversation.

Of course, not all trans people have the same level of personal power, and for each of us, the amount of power we have depends on the situation at hand. But when we do have it, we need to be able to use it. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I’m thinking about speaking to a Gender Studies class at the college I attend because of some ignorant comments from ignorant classmates when I took the class last semester (such as ‘I can pick out trans* people by looking into their eyes’).

“The professor thinks that it’s a great idea. (I spent the whole semester educating him.)

“I am not actively out at the school and would use a pseudonym if I do a presentation. The college has a very large student population of 40,000+, so I’m not too concerned about being known, but don’t want to be stupid.

“Besides using a pseudonym and making sure everyone has their phone and computers put away, are there any tips that you can give me before I commit to do this – like what to say, etc.?”

This is a good question that I think a lot of people wonder about, particularly if you are not a speaker or teacher. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, we as trans people are often put into the position of either wanting to or having to educate, and sometimes we are asked to do this in front of a class or group, even if we are not professional presenters.

Unfortunately, when we do speak, we are often seen as representatives of our entire group, providing information that transfers to anyone who identifies as trans in some way. Whatever we put out there is seen as fact, and how we present ourselves in front of others is seen as the way “trans people are.”

Because of these misunderstandings, and because speaking in front of a group is just plain tough, especially if you’re not used to it, there are a few tips that I can offer that might be helpful. Readers will probably have others. Here are some that I consider essential:

1. Overview: Start out with a brief introduction, including who you are (even if you are using a pseudonym), how you identify (tell them that definitions will come later), and why you are there. Explain (briefly) what you intend to talk about during the class period. Explain to them why this information is necessary and important for them as students and as human beings functioning in a very diverse world. (more…)

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Quite a few years ago, a friend and I wanted to stage a one-day get-together for female-born, male-identified (language has changed since then – this is the language we used at the time) individuals living in Colorado.

Our purpose was three-fold: to get as many of us together as possible to find out overall needs throughout the state; to try to determine the numbers of us throughout the state; and to reach out to those in rural areas who might not be receiving services or who might need connections.

This was going to be a small event, with perhaps three or four “workshops” and a main gathering area for guys to meet and have conversations and discussion. We wanted to make it free and accessible. We had a concept, but we needed an organizing committee, because even a brief event requires volunteers and planners to make it come to fruition.

When we got our committee together, we had the inevitable disagreements on what the thing should look like. But the biggest problem was with inclusion. One committee member suggested that, in order to be inclusive, we needed a space for significant others, and this seemed logical. We could have a private room and maybe have a couple of SOs who would set up some kind of programming, or just have peer-led discussions.

Another member suggested that, in order to be inclusive, we needed to invite those who were female-born but did not necessarily identify as male. Another suggested that, in order to be inclusive, we really needed to invite male-born, female-identified people as well. And, of course, we would need to invite family members, allies, and so on, plus we needed to have programming for all.

By the time we had our inclusive attendee demographics identified, we were basically having an event for everyone. It was a full-scale conference that we had neither the time or the finances to provide, let alone the human power to bring it all together. Our desire for inclusivity had basically grounded our gathering before it left the runway.

It also left us with an event that was not for the original intended audience at all and would not have served the original identified purposes. There was no real space for female-born, male-identified individuals to gather and form community. Now, the community was everyone. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I have a pressing question. A friend of mine began transition and, due to extreme medical issues, had to stop transitioning. It was crushing for them. They have only recently begun to come out of constant suicidal ideation and I am still very scared for them.

“And aside from that, their work advocating for trans people’s rights is being undermined because people assume they are non-trans due to their looks, such as facial hair. Most of the pushback they get is actually from other trans people, who assume that my friend is non-trans.

“And when people accuse them of not really knowing anything about trans rights (because their past is too painful for them to disclose right now), I’m infuriated. But any response saying, “Yes, they do,” would out them. Right now they are presenting as non-gendered and prefer to stay that way, and their past is rightfully very triggering for them.

“They’re suffering and so am I. What can I do for them? And how do I handle their treatment from some members of the trans community? Not everyone is awful about it, but the ones who are are extremely awful and have basically made it a demand that they disclose their trans history or be repeatedly accused of trying to speak for trans people without actually having any experience as a trans person.”

It’s unfortunate that some members of a community that should be the last to judge a person based on appearance are the most ardent in doing so. We as trans people should know more than anyone that you can’t make assumptions based on appearance about who a person might be – but we continue to do it. And this can cause obvious misunderstandings and a lot of pain.

And speaking of pain, let’s take the most important issue first, which is keeping your friend alive. The suicidal ideation might be gone temporarily, but the underlying cause is not gone. I am not a therapist, nor have I been trained in suicide prevention, but I think that you need to talk to someone who does have that training.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a lot of resources on their site, as well as a Crisis Center Locator where you can find a center near you. I think knowing the signs to look for is helpful, but I also think that going beyond that – getting as much information as possible and figuring out some possible preventative and emergency-intervention strategies – will make you feel more secure and less helpless in the face of potential suicidal ideation and attempts.

Second, I would recommend speaking to your friend about when, how, and if they want you to speak up for them (I am using “they” because this is what you used and it might be your friend’s preferred pronoun). I know you want to defend your friend, but if they don’t want you to, then you would not be helping by doing so, no matter how mad you get. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “A few weeks ago I was at a trans advocacy meeting, and the guy who was currently moderating mentioned that he’d not really had trans identity on his radar until three years ago. That short amount of time struck me for some reason.

“I’ve been out for eight years, and aware that I was trans for at least fourteen years. It’s a long time for me, being in my early 20s, and it’s going to continue to be a long time as I age and reach the point of being post-transition longer than I was pre-transition.

“Also for me as a young adult, I find that this older narrative of ‘always knowing’ or having a difficult and long transition is fading away among my peers. Every stage of transition was so emotional for me, whereas more and more, some of my friends have been pretty casual about the huge steps they’re taking. I also frequently meet people who realize they are trans and transition quickly, within a year or a two.

“Sometimes it’s hard to relate to other activists, and sometimes I even feel like I’ve been in the work longer and should have some sort of respect for that that I don’t often get as I move out of leadership in college activism and into the ‘real world.’

“So my question is, how does one address for him/herself having a more normative transition experience and/or being post-transition for a long time when working in trans advocacy or just relating to other trans folks? How does one address it given the direction that trans advocacy is turning with these newer narratives?”

This is a question that I get frequently in different forms, and it seems to be an ongoing issue in various trans communities. I see the experience that you write about as a form of the “old and new gender police” dichotomy, and it tends to happen when those of “traditional,” “normative,” or “textbook” trans experience and those of “non-traditional” experience work together (and often butt heads) in activism.

I would like to say a few things about this experience (are you surprised?) before I answer your question, because I see this “old school/new school” dichotomy causing hurt feelings, mistrust, and divisiveness across activist communities. What follows are some of my observations about this phenomenon: (more…)

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