Guest Post by Fran Stewart
Fran surprised me with another wonderful post today in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance. Enjoy. ~Rosie (TDoR 2013)
My name’s Fran Stewart, and I’m a transgender woman. “Transgender” is an intensely personal term, and it means different things to everyone who uses it. To me, it means that I was born with a body that didn’t make sense to my mind, and now I live in a body that fits me much better into the world. You might well know a transgender person and not be aware it. We’ve learned over the years that it’s wiser to keep it to ourselves.
I am out. Though I want the world to treat me as the woman I am, to simply BE a woman, I tell my secret.
I am out because I’m a storyteller, and some of my best stories happened when I was (or thought I was) a boy. Heck, some of the real gems happened while I was transitioning! The words come easily to me.
I’m out because it’s funny! When you get your leg hair caught in an Epilady, you can either laugh or cry, and laughing is just more fun in a group.
I am out because I’m proud. Hiding my past makes me feel like I’m ashamed of it. I’m not. This is how I was born. If I’d been born in a taxi, would I be ashamed of it?
I am out because I pass for “normal,” what ever THAT’s supposed to be. When you’ve seen me on the street, you’ve seen the woman I am, not the man we all thought I was. I can tell you my secret and surprise you, and be safely able to fade back into anonymity.
I am out because I want to learn and teach. There’s more about the spectrum of gender than I can ever know, and I’ve seen more than most. I don’t like feeling ignorant, and It’s worth learning I was wrong to find what is more right. Every discussion, I get to teach and learn things.
I am out because every person I tell is one less person who might freak out when Uncle Lloyd says she’s actually Aunt Vanessa or when the new woman at work has a rather deep voice and a notable Adam’s Apple.
I am out because I still have support. I told my family—they still love me. I told my friends—they still surround me.
I am out because I have money. Unlike many transgender people, my secret never cost me my job, or my marriage, or my safety net. I had the rare insurance that covered most of my therapy and surgery.
I am out because I have a home. I’ve never been thrown out of an apartment, exiled to a back seat or an underpass.
I am out because I’m lucky—I have never been screamed at in a mall, spat on by a passerby, chased out of a bathroom. Instead, when I’ve revealed my secret I’ve had fantastic discussions and meaningful debates, even with complete strangers and clergymen.
I am out because I’m alive—nobody ever beat my skull in or buried me in a shallow grave. Nor did I drink myself to death to save the world the trouble.
I’m out because I am a minority’s minority’s minority: a lesbian, transgender woman, who is happy, strong, secure and loved. I tell my story to give hope to the many who are miserable, sick, afraid, and alone.
I am out because I’m angry. I’ve been to groups. I’ve heard all the stories I describe above, over and over. Your mothers and fathers, your children, your uncles and aunts, shamed, ostracized, brutalized, cast aside, expurgated from your history. Wonderful, kind people. Fine people, ground up even finer for want of the tiniest amount of love, the smallest benefit of a doubt, the least amount of patience.
I’m out because with all this good fortune, I feel the need to push my luck. Good things happen when I tell my story: looks of shock, laughter, hugs. More often now, the best thing: “Really? Huh.” And then a shrug as we move on to more important things. That’s the world as it should be. It costs me nothing to be an ambassador, to answer questions. To pay back all the patience and good grace that I received.
I’m out because I can see the future. The kids I meet are even less nervous about gender and its spectrum than I am. Crossplay and fluidity allow us to figure out exactly who we are. The games they play evolve too fast for terms to even keep up. The Internet is awash in children reinventing gender.
I’m out because although the world can be horribly cruel, I find that the best way I can make it better is to live like it could be otherwise. I tell my story for those who can’t, or don’t dare to, tell their own. I speak for the murdered, the suicides, the institutionalized, the browbeaten, the homeless, the sorrowing wounded I met at every support group, the fatherless, the friendless, the child-bereft, the shamed, the terrified. Because I am proof that it DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THAT WAY.
I am out, on this Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we note the HUNDREDS of transgender people brutally and violently killed this year, because…because it’s so easy to make it better. To ask “Is it sir or ma’am, please?” To say “Why should I care what bits you were born with? You’re a woman!” To say “I don’t understand, but I love you and I’ll try.” To say “You look good today.” To say “What’s your damn problem? Leave her alone!” To say “Please tell me about it, when you’re ready.” To say “Let me teach you some basics.” To simply say “Around me, you don’t need to be afraid, or watch your words, or be on edge. Just be yourself, the best you know how.”
I’m out because so far it’s worked for me, and I’ve seen my good fortune spread. I hope that if you read this far, you will keep it going, and that one day November can become a month of thanks and family, unalloyed with sadness.
Also by Fran Stewart:
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Guest post by Sara
Sara asked me to help her share this story of coming to terms with who she is and how she feels about the way the world treats her. More about Sara at the bottom of the article.
From a very young age, I remember being subjected to the idea that I needed a man to “rescue me”, to “make me complete”. We are shown Disney movies in which the princess needs to be rescued, comedies where the leading lady is doing everything she can to nab a man, and movies in which women are portrayed as “lacking” if they aren’t married to a man.
So while I’ve been conditioned my whole life to believe I need “rescuing” and that my life is not full unless I’m sharing it with a man, is there any wonder I’ve hesitated to name myself as gay?
Is it any wonder that I’ve spent my dating life cycling through men, trying to find the one that would fit, yet never been able to be fully happy?
The feelings I had towards women were shameful and disgraceful, according to my religion, my parents, and even society. I wasn’t allowed to be attracted to women. I wasn’t allowed to act on those feelings. I was expected to grow up, get married (to a man of course), and pop out babies.
Yet at the age of 16, I couldn’t deny the attraction to women any longer. I started telling people I was bisexual, because that seemed to cause less revulsion than stating I was actually gay. I truly thought this was the truth at the time, and for many years afterwards, because I believed I was attracted to men. There may even have been a period in my life where I was attracted to men, just not sexually. I just went along with the gender paradigm and did what was expected of me.
I can honestly say that I still find some men attractive. Don’t get me wrong, I do. But as soon as I remember they have a penis hidden beneath their clothes, that’s it. I’m out. I just can’t do it anymore.
I can’t stand feeling disgusted, dirty, and guilty after sexual encounters with men. I can’t stand feeling this way even during these encounters, which happens a lot more often these days.
I can’t deny who I am any longer.
I. Am. Gay.
But, it’s come to my attention that I’m not gay enough for some people.
Let that statement sink into your brains for a few minutes there, folks.
I’m not gay enough.
When I had identified myself as a bisexual woman, I felt like I never really had a place. I wasn’t straight enough to be straight, and now I’m not gay enough to be gay. What the hell?
So, because I’ve had long term relationships with men, instead of women, I am not a viable prospective mate for a lesbian. I’ve been told that they would be too worried that I’m just “going through a phase” and would eventually leave and go back to a man.
It doesn’t seem to matter that during every sexual encounter I’ve ever had with a man, I’ve been picturing a woman so that I could get through it.
Oh, you’ve been raped? Abused? Molested? I don’t want to date someone who’s choosing women just because she hates or is sick of men.
You know what? I’m not sick of men. I also don’t hate men. I’m just not sexually attracted to them. The thought of having sex with a member of the opposite sex literally causes me the most horrendous anxiety attacks.
I’ve been told that early sexual trauma can cause homosexuality. I don’t know how true that is. What about the men who were molested by other men when they were little? Does it make sense that they would choose to be attracted to the same gender that caused them so much heartache? In my case sure, maybe it makes sense. After all the horrific sexual abuses that were perpetrated on me, maybe I do feel safer with my own gender. Maybe that is why I am more attracted, sexually, to women.
I certainly don’t feel like I had a choice in my attraction to my gender. But I’ve stuck with men for all my serious relationships, because I was conditioned to believe that it was expected, nay, required of me. I wanted to get married and raise a family, and God forbid I try to do that with a woman!
So I stuck with what I knew: Men. Even though I wasn’t attracted to them sexually. Even though I had to close my eyes and picture a woman every time I had sex. Even though by doing this, I was shutting away a very large part of myself in the process, and causing problems in my relationships.
I remember actually saying the words to my first long-term ex, “I think I might actually be gay.” I can’t say that I remember his reaction to that, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a positive one.
But finally, I’m ready to admit the truth. No matter how much easier it would be for me to be straight, no matter how much I wish I could be straight, I’m not.
I. Am. Gay.
I brought it up at a very small prayer meeting the other night with a few other women and my pastor. They were so loving and supportive, and told me that they will love and accept me no matter what. That means so much to me.
I got the strength that same night to finally admit it to my husband. He was shell-shocked and very discouraged, but he didn’t get angry with me, and he didn’t say that he hated me. He did say that he wished I knew this 4 years ago before we met, or at least 2 years ago before we got married. I feel badly because I know this is hard for him, he doesn’t know how to handle everything, and I wish I could somehow make it easier on him.
But then on my way in to work this morning, I remembered these conversations I’d had with openly gay women in the past, and it bothered me. A lot. Which is why I’m writing this.
You don’t have the right to judge me just because I’ve always dated men.
You don’t have the right to tell me that I’m not gay, or that I’m not gay enough.
You don’t know my story, and it’s not fair for you to jump to conclusions about me before you do.
Hasn’t the gay community suffered enough from discrimination? Why would you want to put me through the same things that others have put you through? I deserve to be loved and accepted too, flaws and all, just as I would do for you.
But if I’m not gay enough for you, then maybe you’re just too narrow-minded for me.
UPDATE: COLORADO RIGHTS DIVISION RULES IN COY’S FAVOR! (See updates at bottom.)
This is Coy Mathis. She’s six years old and, until recently, attended first grade at a school in the Fountain-Fort Carson School District in Colorado. In December 2012 Coy’s school contacted her parents, Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis, and told them that Coy would no longer be allowed to use the girls’ restroom, as she has done since Kindergarten.
You see, Coy Mathis was assigned “male” at birth. But she has known since she was able to know things that she is a girl.
You’re probably imagining a horrific tale of parental complaints and classroom bullying, but none of that has happened. The school district has decided to preemptively address a problem that does not exist, but that they imagine might occur in the future.
From Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis:
They gave Coy three options for where to go to the bathroom; the boys’ room, the staff bathroom with adults, or the nurse’s bathroom which is used by sick children.
Coy is not sick, she is not an adult, and she is not a boy.
Coy is a girl. She wears girls’ clothes, is addressed by everyone at the school using female pronouns, and has been accepted by her classmates and teachers as a girl. But if the school separates her from all her classmates to use the bathroom, they are singling her out for mistreatment, and teaching her classmates that it’s okay to discriminate.
Coy’s parents have removed her from school and have brought suit against the school district. The attorney for the district, W. Kelly Dude, provided the following explanation (using male pronouns to describe Coy):
The school “took into account not only Coy but other students in the building, their parents, and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older.” He went on to add, “However, I’m certain you can appreciate that as Coy grows older and his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body, at least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls’ restroom.” (via Housing Works Advocate)
The fact that Coy first told her parents that something was wrong with her body when she was four–the fact that Coy’s doctors have diagnosed her with gender identity disorder and recommended that she live as, and be treated as, a girl–well, the facts of Coy’s life and identity apparently don’t count. But imaginary possible future student discomfort and parent complaints? These are IMPORTANT and we MUST ACT NOW. You know, just in case.
Here’s Coy’s mom Kathryn Mathis on how Coy described the feelings she was having:
“She just kept crying and said she was scared that she was going to grow up and have a beard and a hairy chest and everybody would know she was born a boy.”
Seriously? This is all my kid would ever have to say to me (and it should be all anyone needs to hear). And I would fight the whole world to protect her right to be who she is.
We can all join the Mathis family in fighting for Coy by signing their petition on Change.org.You can also contact the Fountain-Fort Carson School District and let them know what you think. Let’s make a world that loves, accepts, and celebrates Coy and kids like her for who they are.
I went looking for news on the case, and there isn’t much, but I wanted to include this from Coy’s mom, which goes a bit farther toward explaining the process they went to before deciding the right way to proceed. From Huffington Post:
“It was kind of a long process because she had been telling us for some time, and we thought, ‘Well maybe it’s a phase, maybe if we just confirm to her that she really is a boy?’ you know, try and encourage her toward boy things, then her phase would be over maybe,” Kathryn Mathis said. “So it really took a lot of learning, research on our part because she was consistently telling us the same thing, that she was a girl. So we read lots of books, we contacted lots of support groups. We contacted her pediatrician and a child psychologist and it was very lengthy. And eventually we were told that we needed to support her and how she was, and you know, how she really was.”
Jill Filipovic also writes about Coy in a recent article on the Guardian.
Watch a 17 minute Dateline video featuring Coy: Crossover Kids
CO. RIGHTS DIVISION RULES IN COY’S FAVOR!
From the New York Times (6/23/13):
In a sharply worded ruling, the division concluded that the Fountain-Fort Carson School District needlessly created a situation in which the student, Coy Mathis, would be subject to harassment when it barred her from the girls’ bathroom even though she clearly identified as female.
Telling Coy “that she must disregard her identity while performing one of the most essential human functions constitutes severe and pervasive treatment, and creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive,” Steven Chavez, the division director, wrote in the decision.
The dispute over whether Coy, 6, should be allowed to use the girls’ bathroom was seen by some as a critical test of how state antidiscrimination laws were applied to transgender students.
Read more at NYT.
That’s the theme question and writing prompt for Day 2 of #FemFest. This is my answer–today, anyway.
Yesterday I spent a considerable portion of my day thinking about how to talk to two young women who–independent of one another–pooh-poohed the very idea and existence of feminism as something that either didn’t concern them or that they didn’t feel a part of. In talking to the first woman, I learned that as a “working-class black woman,” she didn’t feel at all welcome in or comfortable with feminism–in fact, she believes feminism is pretty exclusive. Being white and new to active feminism, I don’t feel equipped to talk much about why that is (I’ll write more about this in a future post), but I did my best to assure her that my brand of feminism, and that of most of the feminists I’ve encountered, is the inclusive kind.
In the second case, a young blogger declared that feminists are a bunch of whiners who feel inferior–who believe they’re not yet equal to men and are fighting to become equal, which is silly because duh, we already are. She declared that, as a strong woman, she couldn’t possibly be a feminist, because feminists are obviously weak if they think they’re not equal.
In both cases I gave it my best shot, but I have no idea whether I got through. Frustrated, I turned to Jenn Pozner for help during her daily waiting-for-the-subway-Q-and-A.
@jennpozner How do you talk to young women who buy into the stereotypes about feminism and feminists?
— Rosie R. (@MMASammich) February 27, 2013
While I waited for her to respond, I pondered whether my question was a) stupid, and b) answerable via Twitter. After ten minutes, I was certain I’d caused poor Jenn to roll her eyes so hard she passed out. I wondered whether I should call 911. Then this popped into my feed:
Patience+info+clarity+humor…& I listen. MT @mmasammich How do u talk 2young women who buy into stereotypes about feminism &feminists?
— Jennifer L. Pozner (@jennpozner) February 27, 2013
I went back over my attempts at communicating with these two women, and I felt pretty good about them. And I realized how close I’d come in the second case to not even trying. Who was I to tell a young woman that she was wrong in her assumptions about feminism? And why would she listen to me? I’m one of THEM! I even closed the tab with her post in it and tried to move on, but it just kept niggling at the back of my brain, so I went and found it again and I told her some of the reasons I think feminism is important:
It took me many years to get past the lies society taught me about feminists and feminism and to call myself a feminist. Feminism is not about seeing your gender as unequal. It’s about noticing that our society doesn’t treat us as equal and deciding we’re fed up with that and want it to change. Feminists are the reason women have the right to vote, own property, get a bank account without our husband’s signature.
I still shave my legs and wear makeup, and I don’t hate men. I don’t feel inferior–but I am tired of being treated as though I’m inferior, and I’ve decided not to tolerate it anymore. Believe it or not, I’m stronger than a lot of people. I’ve survived some of the worst humanity can dish out, and I’m still here. Still fighting for what I believe in. As for things that aren’t fair, I’d much rather write about them and talk about them and work to change them than do nothing, but I certainly do my best not to whine. ;)
I think you’ll find that there are as many kinds of feminism as there are women (and men) who identify as feminists. Some of us are pretty cool people, once you get to know us. :)
That comment has not been approved and published, and it may not be. But I believe there’s a good chance that blogger will see things at least a little bit differently over time because I took a few minutes to be patient, provide clear and concise information, keep things light, and most importantly, to pay attention to what she was saying and respond to her specific criticisms.
And this is why my feminism is important. Because when I hear that something I wrote helped someone “get it” or made them feel something or helped bring them to a place where they felt comfortable declaring, “Yes! I am a feminist!” I know that I have to keep writing and talking and working for change. When I see my daughters’ eyes opening to the patriarchy that oppresses all of us (male and female), I know their lives will be better for that understanding, and that they will go forward and carry on the fight until there’s nothing left to fight anymore.
Feminism is important because there are still people out there who think women ought not to vote, work, or have a place in government. Because rape culture teaches us that our bodies are not our own, but made for men’s pleasure. Because boys are taught that it’s bad to be “girly.” Because the patriarchy hurts us all.
I am more than my body. More than my role as a mother and lover. I am more than a vehicle to transport my breasts and vagina to a man’s bed. I am more than a baby-making machine. And so are my daughters. And I will fight until the day I die to create a world in which they don’t feel the need to apologize for being female.
This post has been part of Feminisms Fest (#FemFest on Twitter). Learn more.
What is feminism to you? Why is it important?