Saturday, November 3, 2012

An Open Letter to Misha Collins, or, I'm Not Mad, Just Disappointed.

Dear Mr. Collins,

 I have literally zero illusions that this letter will ever make its way to you, and maybe that’s fine. Maybe this is just an exercise in me doing my best to make the world just a little less transphobic, one pointless letter at a time. Sure. Why not.

 My name is Gus Allis and I’m a queer cisgender woman living in Oakland, California. Cisgender, if you didn’t know (and I’m sorry for sounding patronizing if you do), means, in the absolute simplest terms, that I am not transgender. It means that when I popped out of my mother the doctors announced I was a girl and 25 years later I still am a girl.

 My husband, commonly referred to by all who have ever met him as “the sweetest human on the planet”, is a transgender man. His name is Joey. He’s 30 years old and from the South. He wears bib overalls and calls our dog “Mr. Woofypants” and since we started seeing each other 4 years ago, I have not had to do laundry one time. He’s great, Mr. Collins. I’m sure you’d really like him if you met him. It’s impossible not to.

 I’m sure you see where this is going. I don’t want to make this some big, melodramatic, “HOW COULD YOU???” letter. I’m not acting like something you said is in any way comparable to the verbal, physical, emotional, and sexual violence trans people face all the time. And I get it. You’re a human being who happens to be in a tv show that means a lot to me. You’re not perfect. Every human on this planet makes mistakes and says things that hurt other people. Duh.

But Mr. Collins, you are a public figure. We all know how incredibly large Supernatural’s fanbase is. People listen to you. And I’m sorry, man, but I can’t let you off the hook just because your character and show have deep, personal significance to me.

I don’t want to get into some big convoluted argument with myself (because you’ll never see this and I should be studying for my GREs or at the very least sleeping), so I’ll make it really really simple. When you tease someone, even lightly and good-naturedly, by calling them trans (or “pre-op” as you said which seriously Mish (can I call you Mish?), is like not even really what you’re trying to say here. If anything those pictures of Jensen Ackles would be pre-hormone replacement therapy), you are equating being trans as something laughable. I think that’s pretty uncool, dude. And I’m bummed you said that. My husband, that really sweet Southern boy who puts sauerkraut on his rice and beans, is not a punch line. His body and his past aren’t insults. I guess I’d just maybe respectfully request you don’t do that again. Please. Thanks.

Gus Allis

 P.S. Here is a picture of me and my husband because I guess you maybe should see that we’re like real people? I don’t know man. We're just bummed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Oakland

At 4:30 am yesterday, October 25, 2011, the Occupy Oakland Commune was evicted. 105 people were arrested. 1 person was sent to the hospital, 2 people who were in jail reported having their hands broken. At&t hates the bay, so I didn't get a text about it until 4:45. By the time Joey and I got dressed and got down there, it was too late. The cops had tear gassed and arrested everyone, pushing the legal observers and cop watchers (I'm part of the latter) far enough away so that no one could do their jobs. We stood across the street and watched with a bunch of 14 year old lesbian juggalos. It was weird. We were told that the commune was tipped off at 3:30, nearly an hour before the cops came, by the garbage collectors who came to empty the dumpsters. The workers let the commune know that there were 500 cops gathering at the Coliseum, the big sports venue in town. Joey and I stayed til 7 am, trying to figure out how we could help but it was pretty futile so we went home to start figuring out jail support online. Snow Park was cleared too, which is where the hippies and the families with children were staying. No one has any idea if those children are accounted for; there have been rumors that CPS may have been involved but those are probably just rumors. I hope.

At 4 pm, after working for 6 hours on 3 hours of sleep, I picked up Joey, C, D, and L and we went to the emergency GA in front of the Oakland Public Library. The cops had asked the library to shut down so we couldn't meet, but they refused, because book people are the best people. It started out pretty slow; GAs are always rull boring to me. There were 150 people there at 4. At 4:30, it had doubled to maybe 300. By the time we started marching, we were at 500-700. The plan was to march past the jail where our comrades were being held, then to Oscar Grant Plaza, which was where we had been Occupying. It was an amazing experience. Families stood on their balconies watching us. In the Asian area of downtown, one man had his baby in his arms. He flashed us the peace sign and moved his baby's arm up and down to wave. I cried.

Within a half hour, the cops fired rubber bullets, sound cannons, and tear gas into the crowd. There were fucking children in that crowd. Joey and D had decided not to march and to stay at the library with the other unarrestables. C can't be arrested either, but zie couldn't resist going, and I promised my mom I wouldn't get arrested (lulz) so we stuck together. When we saw the crowd slow down, we knew it was trouble and we got a little distance from it. When we heard the bangs and smelled the gas, we ran. We ran fast. We got away easily because, all throughout the night, with the exception of that group of cops and the riot cops in front of Oscar Grant Plaza, there were no fucking signs of them. Yeah, there were 4 police helicopters following us (at 500 dollars an hour cost to the city for....8 hours, maybe more, so 500x8x4=16,000 dollars for a bankrupt city to spend on a peaceful protest but OK WHATEVER) and cops directing traffic, but it was eerily quiet all night. Except for when we got to the plaza.

C and I were trying to make our way back to the library to meet up with D and Joey. We ran right into the march. They were having some sort of stand down with the cops in front of the Plaza, and C and I watched as city workers freaked out and started running up the streets, screaming at the people to get inside the businesses and lock their doors. Like we were some sort of zombie apocalypse that would eat them. C and I were laughing so hard that we didn't even realize the crowd was on the move. They started to march in our direction and we mobilized. What I saw right then, in the dusk, I cannot explain it to you. Somehow from the time we lost the crowd to then, the march had expanded to one thousand people. Maybe even twelve hundred. There were banners everywhere, a hippie girl danced around in the very front with like a fucking ribbon dancer from the 90s. And the noise... the noise of unified chants from one thousand throats.

Whose streets? Our streets.
Si se puede.
Hella hella occupied.
No justice. No peace.

I made C dance with me so we could say we danced on the edge of social war. I like poetic shit. I sent a text to a friend because I promised him I would text him if the Rev came. "At the risk of sounding very young and naive," I wrote, "this may be the Rev."

We marched to Snow Park, the other park where people had been camped and subsequently evicted this morning. I cannot explain it. It felt like we had won. The cops were nowhere to be seen and there were 2,000 people in this tiny park. It was a feeling of such immense jubilation. Joey called and we met up. I dropped C off with them because I had had enough observing time. I wanted to be in that crowd. The desire to be a part of it was just too great. I was prepared to be in there alone, I figured I was alone at Bash Back 09 and didn't get beaten or arrested, I could probably handle myself now that I knew what I was doing even better than then. But then I ran into Ca, a guy I have been casually seeing. We were supposed to have a date that night, actually, but I canceled to do this and then we met up. So he and I decided to have each others' backs and march together. It was a great third date.

From Snow Park we marched back to the plaza. It had been like... 3 hours already. I'm a little shaky on the time because I was there for 5 hours and it felt like 20 minutes. People were so happy on that stretch. There is literally nothing like screaming "Whose streets? Our streets!" at the top of your lungs, surrounded by people of all races, genders, ages, and ability levels and know, just know, that in that moment, you are absolutely right. Those were our streets that night.

Ca and I stood back, about 20 yards away from the front line at the plaza. We could hear someone talking on a bullhorn but we couldn't understand what was being said. Ca told me to stay there and that he would check it out. 20 seconds after he disappeared into the crowd, they fired the tear gas canisters at us.

At 24 seconds, by the way, in this video, you can hear me screaming, "Come on, you have to move, let's go!" at the people who are just like, casually walking away and not realizing that this is not smoke, it's tear gas. You can also hear me screaming my date's name at 1:53 because we were separated. This was the worst time of all the 6+ time they gassed us. It burned. My eyes and throat burned like I had gargled hot sauce and then splashed some in my eyeballs for good measure. Tears were flowing down my face as I tried to move the crowd. When I yelled, "TEAR GAS MOVES SO YOU SHOULD TOO!" then they started running. An Iraq war veteran who served two tours was hit in the head with a canister. It fractured his skull and he crumpled to the ground. When people ran to help him, the cops threw another canister at them. A woman using a wheelchair was also stuck just 5 feet from the cops; her chair had stalled. People ran through the gas to push her out. People ran through the gas to help the man who had been hurt. The medics came and sprayed us with LAW and gave us water. Ca and I finally found each other. The march had splintered into two groups.

We reunited after another 20 minutes of marching through bad idea streets with no exits. When we found each other, it was like a celebration. We were yelling and hugging and morphing back into one cohesive group. And then we took the streets again. At one point, an older woman of color was driving home from work (we assume) and we had blocked her way. So instead, she just (very, very slowly and carefully) drove into the crowd, rolled her windows down, and blasted really good jamz and came with us. At one point, a guy climbed onto her roof. I saw her face as she realized he was on there, and this fucking sophisticated lady with some fucking pearls on smiled the biggest god damn smiles I had ever seen. More people climbed on. There was a dance party of mostly youth of color on and around the car. It was beautiful.

Finally after 5 hours, me and Ca had had enough. We met up with our friends and we walked to the car. I got a $60 parking ticket. Oh well.

Going back tonight.

All power to the communes. Anarchy forever.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Radicals and the Media

Recently, this whole "genderless baby from Toronto" story has been consuming my social network feeds and discussions. Obviously, the concept of a child being raised without a mandatory sex is controversial, but that's not what l want to discuss here. The most important thing to learn from this story and the public's reaction is one I feel we as radicals will never learn, try as we might. To make it as simple as possible, the lesson we must learn, as radicals, as people in alternative communities, is to never talk to the mainstream media ever ever ever.

Now I understand this lesson may be harsh for some. A lot of us, myself included, suffer from something I call the Andy Paradox. Named after one of my best friends, Andy, of Transgeneration fame, the Andy Paradox describes the often irresistible urge to explain anarchism, communism, or any radical school of thought, to as many people as possible. It is our hope, we sufferers of the AP, that if we distribute our message to the masses, they will have to listen. Our message is so simple, so compassionate, that any decent human who hears it will have to take heed and embrace our politics of mutual aid and fighting oppression.

The problem is, of course, that the mainstream media hates us. It has absolutely no desire to help us in our convert the masses to liberation. The only thing the mainstream media wants with us is a story, the more sensational and controversial the better. So they will do things like deliberately misquote us, edit our interviews in completely misleading ways, manipulate our emotions to make for more volatile responses, and all sorts of tricks. The producers of Transgeneration did this to Andy, and if you've seen the docuseries, you'll barely remember an angry, raging, punk trans guy who was fairly easy to dismiss. The tricks they pulled on him were dirty (showing up to his apartment when he was incredibly sick and barely lucid, making him recall minute details of the police brutality he has endured and then editing out the context so he appeared to be without justification for his tirades, etc) and the tricks they play on us will always be dirty.

I know I will totally be outing myself as a huge nerd, but I've always been incredibly impressed with this book series' grasp on security culture, so here it goes: It's like the character Rita Skeeter in the Harry Potter series. For those of you who haven't read it (oh I'm so sure), Rita Skeeter is a reporter for the major newspaper in the wizarding world, the Daily Prophet. When Rita interviews other characters, she uses a magic tool called "Quick Quills". What this handy little writing utensil does is more of a translation service than a recording service. For example, when Rita says, "My name is Rita Skeeter" the quill writes "Supremely attractive blonde, Rita Skeeter". Or when Harry Potter answers a simple yes or no question, the quill says, "Harry's eyes well up with tears as he recounts the nightmares he's had about his parent's death."

Ok, but here's the thing: all reporters are Rita Skeeter and all of their pens are Quick Quills. I have experienced this myself, when I was a freshman in college. I agreed to give an interview to a local magazine about being a queer high school student in Milwaukee. I was nowhere close to radical at the time, I was just happy to promote visibility for queer kids. This was 7 years ago, but I still remember the absolute horror I felt when I read the published article. I never said at least 75% of the things I was directly quoted to have said. And now that article is on the internet, for anyone who knows my birth name to google, where I say such brilliant and profound things as, "Being gay in high school is really hard."

And Andy? Dear Andy, dear brilliant, passionate, amazing Andy, will probably never change. I almost don't want him to, to be honest, if it weren't for all the trouble he gets himself into. Andy is the person who converted me to anarchism, both of us sitting on his dirty, sticky with beer, wood floor in his old punk house during a party, him drunk as hell and me having a privileged girl existential crisis. His message is perfect. He could change one million minds, I truly believe it, if only he could reach them. And despite all of the incredible amounts of shit and pain he has been delivered for all of his encounters with the media, he often says he doesn't regret doing them, because he knows the message is getting out there, in some small way, to some small group. Of course, then shit he says in interviews gets used as court evidence against him in lawsuits, so really, it all evens out I suppose.

For all intents and purposes, it seems like baby Storm's parents are perfectly wonderful, kind, and caring parents. They clearly love their children and should not be blamed for inviting or acquiescing to the media's desire to profile their family. They are just suffering from the Andy Paradox. It's not an insult to their characters, indeed people who suffer from this Paradox are often noble, selfless, kind, and horrifyingly idealistic. We all need to learn a lesson from this family, and from Andy, and from every radical that tries to talk to the media. Don't do it. Your intentions are pure, but that doesn't matter. A pure heart is not enough when cooperating with evil, and any radical worth their salt knows what the capitalist media truly stands for.

Maybe we should take a leaf from the anarchists of yore, and do Emma Goldman style speeches around the country, or maybe all of us should just try to talk to our friends and family if we're privileged enough to be able to do so. But we are primary sources, every one of us, walking around on little legs. We deserve to be examined and analyzed, not the shoddy secondary and tertiary sources the media creates from us.

Fighting sizism; fighting ableism

This is a workshop I gave at the Finding Our Roots Conference this summer at DePaul University in Chicago. The theme for the conference was "solidarity", so I prepared a discussion on the intersection between the oppression fat folks face and people with disabilities face as well. Here it is:

My name is Gus Allis. My pronouns are she/her. I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and I have for the past 12 years. I’m a fat femme queer. I’m going to be talking about how fatphobia and ableism interact in a couple of different settings. While I obviously know what I’m talking about from personal experience regarding fatphobia, I am able bodied. That means that sometimes I am going to be speaking about experiences I have never had. This is a difficult thing for me to do, but I think it’s an important connection to study and I’m going to do my best. If I say something busted and ableist, I want to be called on it. I want that kind of environment for this workshop, one of open exchange and communication.

Furthermore, this is your official trigger warning for talk about ableism, fatphobia, cancer, eating disorders, and a couple of references to police brutality.

I. fatphobia and ableism in the non-radical world

I want to talk about fatphobia and ableism in the non-radical world first, because it’s so simple and easy to debunk. A lot of times, our society sees a dichotomy between the “good fatties” and the “bad fatties”. The good fatties, more often than not, look like me. I’m fat, but I’m not “death fat”, to borrow a phrase from the fat pride movement. I can do things that normative culture values. I can work. I can run, ride my bike, and am actually an athlete. I’m a swimmer and I swim multiple hours every day. All of these things make people Michelle Obama, and others find me more acceptable than my death fat comrades.

A lot of fatties, myself included, are guilty of throwing people with disabilities, fat or otherwise, under the bus while they’re defending themselves against fat hate. It’s not an uncommon thing to hear someone say something fatphobic, either online or in real life, and for ten fatties to immediately respond with something akin to, “I am plenty healthy! I’m a vegetarian and I walk 10 miles a day! I can climb 6 flights of stairs and I ride my bike everywhere! Just because I’m fat doesn’t mean I can’t do things!” I know this response by heart, because, in the past, it’s one I’ve used.

Obviously, this is fucked up and steeped in ableism. We as anarchists know that cornerstone of ableism is an unwavering, undying devotion to capitalism. Fat folks and people with disabilities are seen as lazy and worthless in a capitalist society. They aren’t able to produce capital, so they are valued less than people who can.

II. Anarchism and fathphobia and ableism

It’s easy for us, as radicals, to dismiss these claims out of hand. We don’t give a shit about production of capital, our wholes lives are dedicated against that very value. So clearly, anarchists would be less fatphobic and ableist, right?

Not exactly.

I became an anarchist in May of 2009, after a particularly volatile Bash Back conference on this very campus. I became bulimic in May of 2009, three days after Bash Back ended. That’s right. I somehow survived a childhood in Orange County California, four years of middle school, high school dances, 10 years of competitive swimming, a fatphobic mother, and a couple of abusive relationships all without developing an eating disorder. I spend a weekend with the first real anarchists I’ve ever met, and three days later I start puking.

We are just as concerned with ability as everyone else. It’s not production that we stress, it’s destruction. We care deeply about peoples’ abilities in the streets, during actions and protests. We want people who can run, who can throw bricks, who can win a chase against a cop. And, especially in the queer anarchist community, we want people we can fuck. A lot of times, people that look like me, people with disabilities, and lots of other folks, don’t fit that criteria of what a good anarchist can do.

Can we just talk about black blocs for a second, too? I think this is the perfect example of how the anarchist movement just pretends that different bodies just don’t exist. What is the purpose of masking up, wearing all black, wearing the same god damn black hoodie we swear we stole and didn’t buy at American apparel? It’s to create anonymity, right? The theory being that with all of ourselves covered in the same uniform, obviously we will be indistinguisbale from each other and it will be harder to tell which one of us threw a brick once we’re engulfed back into the crowd.

How exactly is that supposed to work for people with diverse bodies and abilities? My body is not indistinguishable from people 100 pounds less than me. People who use chairs and walkers, if they even feel welcomed to an action in the first place, are not indistinguishable. No amount of black clothing is going to change that. The only thing that will change that is if there are hundreds of fatties, hundreds of people in chairs and with walkers and with different bodies all in black.

We need to make sure that our movement doesn’t fall into the same body hierarchies that capitalism produces. The key to this, I feel, is respect for bodily autonomy, respect for a range of peoples abilities, and not assigning radical points based solely on physical abilities and attractiveness.

II. the “Health at Every Size” movement and ableism

The HAES movement is one of the most respected and popular movements in the fat pride community. This is unfortunate, because it’s deeply ableist.

What does “health” even mean in a world so destroyed that it rebels against humans by mutating our cells and organisms? How can we ever really be “healthy” when everything we eat, drink, wear, sit on, stand near, literally everything is toxic? My aunt, for example, got kidney cancer and died because she worked every day of her life in a library under really intense power lines. She wouldn’t even let a microwave into her house, but she dutifully went to work every day. Thanks, capitalism.

Furthermore, healthy/not healthy is a false binary to subscribe to. HAES’s main tenant is that fatties don’t have to lose weight to be healthy, that health and fat are not mutually exclusive. That’s great, I think that’s really great. Any movement that insists that fatties don’t have to do anything is pretty ok in my book. Except for one little thing: holding up the state of being “healthy” as the ultimate indicator of success and a meaningful life is pretty busted. It sounds so simple when I say it like that, doesn’t it?

Plenty of people will never be “healthy”. Plenty of people, fat or otherwise, have lifelong chronic illnesses and disabilities that no amount of exercise, slogans and “good choices” will ever change. Instead of holding peoples’ bodies, lives, and experiences as undesirable consequences, shouldn’t we be celebrating our friends and comrades?

The HAES manifesto has a lot of really good things to say about loving and accepting your body as it is. But I want to look at the parts that are deeply contradictory, that preach acceptance of only a certain kind of bodies: able bodies. Here are the rules for participation in HAES, taken directly from the HAES manifesto, and my analysis of them.

1. Accept your size. Love and appreciate the body you have. Self-acceptance empowers you to move and make positive changes.
I have no issues with this. This is wonderful and clearly, where the strength of HAES lies.

2. Trust yourself. We all have internal systems designed to keep us healthy--- and at a healthy weight. Support your body in naturally finding its appropriate weight by honoring its signals of hunger, fullness, and appetite.
Ok. Obviously this is super classist as well, but if I took a classism tangent every time it appeared, I’d have to change the focus of this workshop.
So first of all, do we all have internal systems designed to keep us healthy? Do people with immune disorders just fail, then? What about folks with fibromyalgia? And people with Crohn’s disease or Celiac disease? They should just honor their bodies’ natural weight, right? For many people, this is not a viable solution. Some bodies cannot be allowed to do what they naturally do, because some bodies naturally make themselves sick and in pain. This is not a sign of failing. This does not make these bodies inferior or less radical than other bodies. These are just bodies being bodies.

3. Adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Develop and nurture connections with others and look for purpose and meaning in your life. Fulfilling your social, emotional, and spiritual needs restores food to its rightful place as a source of nourishment and pleasure.
Again, here would be a wonderful place to go off on an intense classism tangent but we must resist that urge. Two of the subpoints for this rule concern food and only food, so I’m going to skip them for the sake of brevity. If you’d like to read those subpoints, or this manifesto in general, it’s online and I can give you the URL. Here’s the relevant to this workshop subpoint to this rule:
- find the joy in moving your body and becoming more physically vital in your everyday life.
Find the joy in moving your body. No, no, that’s not ableist at all. That’s not completely erasing to people who physically cannot move parts or the entirety of their bodies. That’s not like a slap in the face for people whose every physical movement causes them pain. That’s not laughable to the folks who endure taunts and abuse when they do move their bodies, when they joyfully walk or dance or travel.
What does it mean to become more physically vital in your everyday life? I honestly don’t even know. It sounds to me like a vague sentiment of ability celebration, which is fine as long as it’s clearly stated that this must be specific to individual bodies and desires.

4. Embrace size diversity. Humans come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Open to the beauty found across the spectrum and support others in recognizing their unique attractiveness.
This is pure truth. We should do this. This just feels so hypocritical to me, though, because bodies aren’t only about sizes and shapes, they’re about what we can and cannot do with them. We need to embrace ability diversity, too, and HAES doesn’t do that, in my opinion.

Why can’t it be HAES where the H stands for happiness? Why can’t it be contentment at every size, or self-love at every size? Why does it have to be HEALTH, a social value that seems more arbitrary in a toxic world? Very simply stated, I think that making health the highly valued goal at the end of the self-acceptance journey for fatties is just plain ableist.

IV. Strategies for fighting fatphobia without resorting to ableism

1. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone!
If someone is concerntrolling you, if they’re flooding you with fake worry about your body and health, you don’t have to allay their fears. You really don’t. You can tell the to back the fuck off, tell them to mind their own business, and make it perfectly clear that you are the only person allowed to bring up your body and its abilities in casual conversation. Resist the urge to be a “good fattie”.

2. You don’t have to aspire to be healthy.
Health is a value that can be important to you. Or it can be not important to you. Like monogamy, sobriety, or any other social value, health is an issue of personal bodily autonomy. If your own strength or ability to run 6 miles or the tone in your muscles is important to you, then by all means, go forth and do what you want to your body. If those things are not important to you, then they don’t have to be. Your body is not required to be anything, any shape, any ability level.

3. Don’t make fat and disabled as signifiers for bad people.
When we as anarchists demonize our enemies, primarily cops and businesspeople, we often portray them as fat. In her book Fate Shame, Amy Farrell traces the roots of fat bodies as signifying bad people to the suffragist movement, where both sides of the issue portrayed their opposition as fat. When we laugh at fat cops, make donut jokes, or taunt them for being pigs, we’re making a very clear association: fatness and disabilities are something to mock, to attack in our enemies, and to make us feel superior. This is something we do and it needs to stop.

4. Don’t make fatness and abilities im/moral.
People are fat for thousands of reasons, and they’re all valid reasons. People have disabilities for just as many reasons, and they’re also all valid. I don’t think morality should even be a part of the discussion. Social value is messed up and hierarchical.

5. Insist on the bodily autonomy of all people to be respected.
We are anarchists. We demand respect for the autonomy and bodies of queers, of people with the ability to bear children, of gender variant folks, people of color, sex workers, drug users, poly folks, vegans, kinksters, and so many others. We must extend that respect for fatties and people with disabilities. Fat bodies and disabled bodies are not the exception to this rule. You do not have the right to make comments on what people eat or don’t eat, physically do or don’t do.

Does anyone else have any ideas? I’d love to hear y’alls input on how you have or will combat fatphobia and ableism.

In conclusion:
Fatness and ability are intricately connected in a wide variety of settings. From the real world, in our jobs, schools, families, and social circles, to the radical world, in our activist groups, our direct action, our causes, and even in the fat pride movement, fatphobia and ableism often travel hand-in-hand. To fight one is to fight them both, and considering we are a movement that claims to be all about combating oppression, this fight is not optional. We have to challenge the concept that our worth as individuals is somehow based on our range of abilities, whether those abilities concern the production of capital, revolution, or hotness. We have to defeat any sort of body hierarchies and claim that no body is better, more worthy, more desirable or more admirable than another. And finally, we have to insist on personal bodily autonomy for everyone. Our bodies are our own, to love and respect and do with as we like. If we have personal goals that effect our bodies, that should be respected. But our goals and values cannot be applied to everyone else non-consensually. Personally, I love the way my body feels after physical activity. But I respect that not everyone does, not everyone values that feeling, not every body can do the things my body can do. I am not a better person for treating my body in a way I specifically want my body treated. And that’s really what I want you all to take from this workshop: every body is different and should be celebrated, not placed on a hierarchy or binary based on appearance and range of abilities.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Transmisogyny is Misogyny Against All Women: An Open Letter to Cis Feminists

My friend Asher over at posted this first, and I owe him that exposure for sure. At this moment it is the most polished of my pieces, so I'm posting it now.

Transmisogyny is Misogyny Against All Women: An Open Letter to Cis Feminists


/mɪˈsɒdʒəni, maɪ-/ [mi-soj-uh-nee, mahy-]


hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women.

I need to know something. I need to know what a real woman is. I’m a woman and I need to know if I’m real and the only person who can tell me is Bitch. Or maybe it’s Lisa Voegel. Or maybe it’s Rush Limbaugh. Ok, then I need to know two things. I need to know if I’m a real woman and I need to know who can tell me if I am. Because if I’ve learned anything during these past few years, existing on the periphery of the trans community as a cis lover, friend, sister, and solidarity stander of trans folk, it’s that I sure as shit don’t have the authority to determine my own gender identity. I’ve also learned, in no uncertain terms, that the war on trans women’s identities is a war on all women’s identity. Transmisogyny is misogyny against all women.

If you hate, dislike, or mistrust trans women, you’re misogynistic. Trans women are included in the big ol’ group known as women. Want proof? Well look at their name, silly. We call ‘em trans women, not trans chia pets, not trans beach towels, not trans schmeggeggies. Remember high school algebra? Oh hush, yes you do. Let me remind you of this lovely little mathematical rule:

If a=b and b=c, then a=c

If trans women= women and hating, disliking, or mistrusting women= misogyny then…then what? Solve for c.

Ok technically that would be trans women= misogyny but you know perfectly well what I mean and I hate that you even questioned my math.

But I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But Gus, I think trans women=/= women so therefore it’s totally not misogynistic to hate, dislike, or mistrust trans women.” And I understand that. Really, I do. But here’s the thing. Now listen carefully, my little chickadee, cuz I’m about to blow your mind.

You’re wrong.

Not only are you wrong, but even thinking that silly, silly, thing is unbelievably, incredibly, fantastically MISOGYNISTIC. And it offends me as a woman. Yes, yes it does. And here’s why. Here’s an annotated list of all the ways your transmisogyny hurts all women. Yes, even you, Bitch.

1. It Polices Women’s Identities

I listed this one first because it’s the easiest. If you are telling trans women they can’t be women, you’re telling every woman on the planet she can’t be whatever she wants. That doesn’t sound very feminist to me. It sounds more like something a pipe smoking white guy from the 50s would say to his daughter who wants to be an astronaut. Gross. Also, you’re basically declaring yourself the authority on other peoples’ identities. And really, my telling you to knock that off is for your own good. Do you have any idea how tiring that would be? Every time someone needed to know their own gender identity, they would have to contact you. Do you know how many people are in the world? Six billion-ish. I suggest, if you do keep this up, that perhaps you may want to get a gmail account, as that has an infinite amount of storage space. You’re going to need that for 6 billion emails with the subject heading, “what am I?”

But let’s get specific. The most common mistake I see here is when the queer community punishes trans women for specific aspects of their identities. Most notably, we’re talking about things that are deemed “unfeminine”. Seriously, folks, are you listening to yourselves here? You’re telling trans women that if they speak loudly/take up space/ defend themselves/have an opinion with which you disagree/wear pants/listen to metal/etc, they’re not real women. Uh, I’m sorry, what? I do all those things. You would shit twice and die if a man told me that. Why am I immune to that criticism? Why can I be butch and still be a woman? Oh, I know why. It’s because I was assigned female at birth, a great beacon of truth for my REAL gender. It’s because of that, and because of my cunt, which you recognize as legitimate. My “real” cunt is a “get out of gender invalidation free” pass. That’s convenient, as it serves for a great transition for…

2. It Polices Women’s Bodies

Here’s the real down and dirty analysis, right here. Wait for it. Wait. Ok. Now.

What the hell does a woman’s body possess that makes it a woman’s body? What does it NEED to have to be female. Did you immediately think of breasts, ovaries, vaginas? Gross. Think about that for more than two minutes and you’ll see why it’s gross. Still don’t get it? Well then go down to the nearest breast cancer walk and tell every single woman with a double mastectomy she’s not a woman. When you’re done with that, go down to your local hospital, ask the nurse where the OR is, and wait outside until you can find a woman fresh out of her hysterectomy surgery, and tell her the news. Yeah, that sounds evil, doesn’t it? Well it’s basically what you’re doing when you’re policing trans women’s bodies. You’re telling all women what they have to have on/in their bodies to be a woman. Which, obviously, is totally gross.

Also, what do you care what a human being looks like all inside out? That’s so WEIRD. How is it any of your business how many kidneys or ovaries or white blood cells I have? Like, that is legitimately weirding me out that you would even care. And can I just say, as a fat girl with a history of pretty serious body issues, it’s kind of triggering. First you wanna regulate trans women’s bodies and then what? Another person feeling like they have any authority over the validity of my body is really scary to me. And it definitely echoes of some very conservative, very anti-choice ideals. My body, my choice, fucker. Because that’s what “they” want to do “us”, isn’t it? Take away our bodily autonomy. Tell us exactly what we can and can not do with our organs. Awkward. You’re pretty much Bill O’Reilly. SO awkward.

(And seriously, this essay is totally not even getting into the super important points about people who are intersex who identify as women. This is mostly because I’m not intersex and I really can’t speak to those experiences, and also because I’m not as up on my shit with intersex issues as I like to believe I am with trans stuff. This is laziness on my part, and writing this essay has made me see this)

3. It Perpetuates the Myth of Shared Girlhood

Now, I don’t know what your girlhood was like, but I’m actually pretty sure it had nothing to do with mine. My childhood (a word I greatly prefer) was pretty much centered on reading, climbing trees, and hating my fat body. Oh yeah, I also lived in a three story mansion in Orange County, California. Kind of a different childhood than, say, my best friend who traveled the country with her hot air balloon pilot parents. Kind of a different childhood than my mother, who grew up a poor Catholic girl in the Italian part of Queens in the 1960s. To say that none of the different privileges, triumphs, oppressions, failures, and experiences of all our lives outweigh the fact that at one point all three of our ovaries released an egg for the very first time is insulting and demeaning. Our differences are important (it’s called intersectionality, maybe you’ve heard of it, “feminist”). The only thing we have in common, all of us, every single woman, cis AND trans, on this planet, is that we call ourselves “woman”. And that’s a big deal, really it is! But I think you’re being just a tad bit racist, classist, sizeist, ageist, ableist, and a hell of lot of other things by telling me that I, a white, upper class, American girl share a girlhood with every other person who was assigned female at birth on this planet.*

I mean, I guess you could say that all girls are affected by patriarchy. But really, all PEOPLE are affected by patriarchy. And, patriarchy looks different, takes different forms, and has different effects in different places, times, classes, religions, and races. So I’m sorry, I know that was totally your ace in the hole for this argument, but it’s been debunked. Sorry for not being sorry.

I hope you now see how wrong you are. I know, I know, you probably feel really really embarrassed now, and that’s totally natural. It’s embarrassing to think that trans women aren’t women. But you’ll get over it. Now all those trans women who’ve been barred from women only shelters, clinics and spaces because you were too into your weird second wave phase to be a decent person? They might not get over it as quickly. Because, honestly, as snarky and hilarious as this essay is (and it is really funny and you know it), the effects of your transmisogyny are significantly less hilarious. Misogyny kills women. Fuck prefixes, fuck specifying what kind of misogyny, what kind of woman. Misogyny kills women. How are those hands looking, Lady Macbeth?

Who I am

My name is Gus. If you want my laundry list of identities, I can give it to you. I'm a white, cis, fat, queer femme. Temporarily able bodied, probably neuroatypical. Grew up with a massive amount of upper class privilege, but I am not enjoying that priv at them moment. My gender is femmebear, my sexuality is consensual, and my politix is queer.

And I think it's time I start talking about all of the things I obsess over for hours at a time. These subjects will often be about privilege, oppression, gender stuff, life, fat stuff, maybe even some super good vegan recipes thrown in here and there.

My name is Gus. And now I'm going to talk.