Saturday, January 17, 2009

". . . really a man."

Hi! Happy to see you again! I've been stewing about this for quite awhile and was just recently reminded, once again, about a basic assumption that lies beneath much of the transphobia we see in this country and, indeed, around the world.

On the heels of a double murder involving a trans woman and her partner in Indianapolis over the past holidays, we have news of another atrocity, less violent but still heinous, coming out of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana who ruled that a transitioning woman was justifiably fired for violated her employer’s dress code . . . for men! Once again a judicial body denied the reality (and the supporting science) of what it is to be a transsexual person and it seems to me that this denial, the idea that “what you are born as is what you are, no matter what” is at the bottom of much, if not most, of the prejudicial discrimination we have to deal with in our lives.

In Creed v. Family Express Corporation (2009 Westlaw 35237), Chief Judge Robert L. Miller ruled that a transitioning trans woman was, for the purposes of the law, really a man. That Family Express Corporation’s actions because Ms. Creed didn’t follow the male dress code (from what I understand, she did follow the female dress code) her dismissal was justified and allowable.

Those three words, “really a man” are, some of the most hateful things I can hear because it completely flies in the face of my experience and personal narrative. It completely disregards my right to define myself and essentially insists that I’m a liar when I present myself in a feminine social role. This adds irony to injury when I consider how mendacious I felt when I still pretended to be a man. It was that sense of living a lie that provided a huge motivation behind my decision to transition.

When trans people are assaulted and murdered, trans panic defenses are grounded on the statement that, “I found out he/she/it was really a man and I freaked out because of that and I couldn’t help myself and . . . and . . . , etc.” The thought that the poor victim was “really a man” is held forth as justification for the violence. After all, it’s not OK to hit a woman! This idea is also the driving force behind the hateful TV ad that “Citizens for Good Public Policy” ran to lobby against the non-discrimination law in Gainesville, Florida. If someone thinks that trans women are really men in disguise it makes perfect sense to fear them, after all they are being dishonest about who the really are! Who knows what other crimes and perversions are in their minds?

When portions of the feminist community institute rules denying trans women’s entry to “woman only spaces,” justifying their prejudice using the “womyn born womyn” meme , and when we read trans women being described as “male to reconstructed females” it’s based on the fact that we were born male and that we are, “really men in disguise.” Again, a total denial of the validity of trans women’s experiences and lives, not to mention a violation of their deeply held belief that biology does not equal destiny. When gay men insist that a trans woman should just stop pretending and get over the fact that he’s gay, they fall into the same assumption: That the trans woman in question is really a (gay) man, not who they say they are.

If I meet someone new and they start talking to a mutual acquaintance about me, if that mutual acquaintance tells them, "yeah, but did you know she was really a man?" and then I get assaulted and/or murdered for supposedly deceiving people (because that piece of gossip was just tooo juicy to keep to one's self) it's the "really a man" belief that drives that anger. After all, if I was really a woman, there would be no reason to even discuss me in those terms.

When I’m out with my spouse and we meet someone who knew us before transition, it often happens that I’ll get a handshake and she will get a hug. Or I’ll get a hug and she will get a hug and a kiss on the cheek. This even happens with people who are dear friends, who support us and love us. Yet they cannot get that “really a man” thing out of their heads so they treat me other than the way they treat my partner. I’m not sure they realize when they are doing this or even consider how much it hurts and I’m not sure if they did realize it, that they would be able to change the behavior. That “really a man” thing seems to sit very deep in a person’s paradigm.

That basic assumption, the belief that men are men and women are women and they can try to be but aren’t “really” the opposite gender, is what drives all too much transphobia. Combine that with the misogyny that we see mixed in and it becomes impossible to not realize that we need more than just job protection under ENDA. We need Congress to amend Title VII itself to specifically and unambiguously include sexual orientation, expression and identity. Once that happens, we may still be considered really men in the eyes of many, but it will be, at least, illegal all over the country for them to hurt us because of it.

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