Today’s Meme: Feel Free To Trust Parents Of Trans Kids. Please.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve answered the same, tired questions, over and over again, from misinformed people who have no experience with trans people. I don’t mind at all answering questions that come from good intentions, but it’s the people who seem out to get you, who tend to think they’re posing a question or idea to me that I’ve never considered before. Things like, “but what if a trans kid changes his/her/their mind? What then?” and “Don’t you think you’re encouraging/causing this behavior?” (Or some sort of, “it’s all your fault.”) And, “so if my child tells me she’s a cat I should go out and buy her a collar and litter box?” They tend to forget I’ve been dealing with this issue (and researching it) for over a decade now. Trust me, I’ve already answered your questions, and I’ve already researched all available options, weighed the pros and cons carefully, and found that the course of action my family is taking is the best one for our family’s situation.

#TransRightsAreHumanRights #PrideMonth2018

PSA: ‘Transgender’ Is Not A Sexual Orientation

Letter T - Magnolia Boxwelve minutes had passed. As I sat in the waiting room with the electronic intake forms (conveniently located on an iPad, inside of what appeared to be a dog-proof case), I began sinking further into the corner of the comfy leather couch. I yawned. It was too warm in this doctor’s office, and I was feeling sleepier by the second. I glanced at my phone. 8:45 a.m.

“I’ve been completing forms for 15 minutes,” I thought. “There’s nothing else left to cover.” 

As I continued straining to remember which family member — paternal grandmother, paternal grandfather, maternal grandmother, maternal grandfather — had which type of heart condition, cancer, or cholesterol, or thyroid problems, my name was finally called, as always, last name mispronounced.

“Martha…” (they always use my birth name, even though I’ve never been called Martha a day in my life and I always write “MARTIE” over where the chart says Martha, they still never call me by my actual name, Martie.) 

What followed “Martha” was a question-like pause. I usually get up at this point and spare them the agony of butchering my last name, but this morning I was too tired and I was moving too slow. 

“Sir…OH…sis?” she asked with hesitation.

“sir-ROY,” I corrected, with a friendly smile. 

I know my last name acquired by marriage is odd-looking and difficult. Sirois. It has too many vowels in close proximity to one another, as is the nature of some French-Canadian names. But by now, at age 43, I think I’ve heard every possible pronunciation. I usually try to help people out by explaining, “it’s like ‘Illinois…’ the final ‘s’ is silent.” Or“the ‘ois’ part at the end is the same as the ‘ois’ in Illinois. See? They rhyme: Illin-ois, Sir-ois.” Or, “just think, ‘sir’ like a knight, and ‘Roy,’ like the boy’s name. Accent on the second syllable: Sir-ROY.” 

It seems simple enough a concept to me when put in perspective. Still, even with this explanation, I’ve heard them all:

“SEER-ee-ose”

“Seer-WAH”

“Sir-OS-iss”

“Sir-AHH”

“SEER-us”

“SEE-rus”

“CY-rus”

“Psoriasis;” etc.

Once, my husband got “sir-ILL-ee-us” – seriously, where did four syllables come from – let alone the letter L?!

(But, as usual, I digress. Language & pronunciation: that’s a whole other tangent.)

letter-b.jpgefore I was called back to the doctor’s office, I read something on part of the intake form that made me chuckle, then roll my eyes, then feel a bit perplexed, then just plain irritated. Which is why I’m writing about it now. It was this section that read Please enter the patient’s sexual orientation:

ob-gyn intake1

At first glance I thought, “how nice to see the word transgender on a medical intake form. Progress–“ But before I could finish my thought, the next thought surfaced: (facepalm) “Wait… OMG. Gender is not sexual orientation! Are you freaking kidding me? If anything, ‘transgender’ should appear as an option on the page that says ‘sex.’ Furthermore, there should be a section with pull-downs for at least the following: 

  • Sex Assigned At Birth: Male/Female/Intersex
  • Gender Identity (circle as many as apply): Male/Female/Transgender/Non Binary/Genderqueer/Gender Nonconforming/Gender Fluid/Agender/Two-Spirit/Other (please specify) __________
  • Prounouns: He/him/his, She/her/hers, They/them/their(s), Ze/Hir, no pronouns, Other (please specify) __________

Then I thought, “Okay, calm down, Martie. Someone is trying. This is progress.”

And ultimately I just got irritated, because even if this is progress, it’s incorrect, so it’s not really progress.

Why does it matter? 

Because gender (and by default, gender identity) are not the same thing as sexual orientation. They are worlds apart. Gender is a social construct that is arbitrary, stereotypical, and changes over time. Gender identity is the internal perception of one’s gender, and how they label themselves, based on how much they align or don’t align with what they understand their options for gender to be. In other words, gender identity is someone’s deeply innate sense of being male, female, some combination of both, neither, or something else altogether, like a third gender. (There are many cultures and religions that recognize more than two genders.)  

Sexual orientation, however, is the type of sexual, romantic, emotional, and/or spiritual attraction (or lack thereof) that one feels for others, often labeled as the gender-based relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to, i.e. lesbian, gay, straight, etc. This is often mistakenly referred to as sexual preference. Just like gender identity and a person’s pronouns, it’s not about a “preference,” but simply, what comprises a person, how they’re hard-wired, and/or who someone is at their core. Someone may choose to come out as gay, but they don’t choose to be gay – any more than someone chooses to be straight, or bi, or asexual. Simply, we are who we are. 

To conflate gender identity with sexual orientation is actually reckless and dangerous. And it perpetuates false narratives and misinformation. Because it’s exactly that type of misconception that fuels transphobia (the intense dislike, sense of disgust, hatred, and/or fear that someone feels in response to seeing or hearing about a transgender person.)

Incidentally, transphobia is almost always the underlying cause of the brutal murders of trans women – black trans women, especially.) *HRC has long reported that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that all make them vulnerable.

In addition to the trans community already being largely misunderstood, people who are transphobic hate or fear trans people mainly because they can’t seem to separate words like “sexual deviant” and “pervert” from “transgender person.”  Transphobic people (or even people who may not *hate* trans people, but certainly don’t understand them) are typically the ones who think the mere presence of a trans person in public restrooms is a dangerous threat, or a serious violation of privacy (as if they’d even know a trans person in the bathroom if they saw one; as if trans people haven’t already been using public restrooms next to us all along before “bathroom bills,” and no one was the wiser). 

 

Conflating sex offenders with trans folks is a dangerous myth that just won’t go away. No one should be looking through the stall cracks or sneaking a peek at the next urinal over to see anyone else’s genitals for any reason. And, despite what extreme, fear-mongering Trumpeteers would like you to believe, there hasn’t been a single case in the U.S. of a transgender person sexually harassing or assaulting anyone in a public restroom. Ever. Moreover, protecting transgender people does not compromise safety in public restrooms at all. 

Many people also don’t understand that peeping, and other forms of perverted public behavior like indecent exposure, public urination, and – God forbid – child grooming for sexual abuse are all crimes regardless of who’s doing them. The mere presence of a trans person in a public restroom facility poses no more threat than your best friend in the next stall over.

Additionally, people who tend to buy into the “transgender predator in the bathroom” myth are also the same people who fail to understand that the biggest threat to their children is someone they know and trust, not a stranger in the bathroom. 93% of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows, like a family member, a family friend, and/or someone in a position of authority. Trans folks in public restrooms want nothing more than to pee and exit the facility unharmed, for the threat of violence towards them (due to transphobia) is far more greater than the threat of violence towards cisgender people in public facilities. 

Probably the reason why people tend to conflate trans folks with the concept of sexual orientation is because of the acronym – LGBT. Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual are all sexual orientations. “T” is the only letter in that particular acronym that does not refer to a sexual orientation. It refers to how one identifies, sees, and experiences their own gender within the world, whereas the “L,” “G,” and “B” refer to how someone identifies, sees, and experiences their physical or romantic attractions towards others

So the reason why distinctions like this are important – like not putting gender labels under sexual orientation labels, and vice versa – is because when we put out misinformation, we not only mislead others, but we perpetuate existing myths that are extremely dangerous and harmful, and can lead to someone losing their life. 

I was just one person in the doctor’s office that day, checking in and filling out intake forms for the first time. Countless others will have their hands on that iPad, answering all those questions, tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and so on. Chances are, no one will even notice that “transgender” appears as a selection on the screen asking about “sexual orientation.” However, chances are, someone else will notice.

Chances are, someone who doesn’t know anything about transgender people and their issues will glance at that screen, and without even thinking about it, have the “sexual predator” myth reinforced somewhere in the crevices of their brain, because a subconscious connection that somehow, slightly rings true is being made. Chances are, someone who’s transphobic will see the word “transgender” under the “sexual orientation” category, and feel a sense of rage that they may act on in some way.

Chances are, also, that someone who knows better will see it and feel compelled to take that iPad right back up to the front desk and report the error. But this particular morning in the waiting room, that person wasn’t me. Though in hindsight, I wish I had. Maybe I’ll call about it, after having some time and thoughts on the matter. And hopefully, someone will care enough to take on the challenge of getting it right. 

 

 

Gun Violence: Blame Toxic Masculinity

Also published here at Medium. 

It’s not a “mental health” issue. It’s toxic masculinity. 

Friday, May 18, 2018, another school shooting happened – this time in Santa Fe, Texas, just three months after the Parkland, FL massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The death toll at Santa Fe High School in Texas was 10, with 10 others wounded. One of the most compelling moments in the wake of this tragedy was, for me at least, a statement made by this student at the 1:13 mark that was captured during interview:

The interviewer asks Paige Curry, a student at Santa Fe High School, “Was there a part of you that was like, this isn’t real; this would not happen in my school?” Without hesitation, she replies, “no, there wasn’t.” When asked “why so?” Paige simply answers, “its been happening everywhere. I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too… so, I don’t know. I wasn’t surprised, I was just scared.” 

I wasn’t surprised.

Let that sink in.

I find it unfathomable, and yet, unfortunately accurate that our children inhabit a world where, on any day, it’s a reasonable assumption that their schools could be occupied with someone carrying assault type weapons, with the intent to terrorize and massacre as many others as possible. It’s a daily reality. Our precious children go into these school buildings every day knowing  that the lives of their classmates, teachers, friends (and odds are fair, maybe even their own lives) could be taken at any moment by guns. 

Then, when it happens (again), we all know the drill. First comes the endless stream of shock accompanied by “thoughts and prayers” across social media. Then the “breaking” news updates, first or secondhand accounts, and interviews. Helicopter footage of frightened students filing one by one out of the building, maybe with hands in the air. We begin to hear of plans for vigils, protests, and ceremonies. Sooner rather than later, we expect the American President to issue a statement of comfort and solidarity for the horrified and grieving nation. Congress wrings their hands. Nothing changes.

Often, before the details of the deceased and wounded are released, we see a photograph of the perpetrator, along with his name, age, and a verifiable rap sheet of minor or major past offenses. Sometimes there’s a violent past with many red flags. Sometimes, there’s not. Sometimes we hear from those who know him. “He was a bit odd,” they might say. Or maybe, “he was really introverted. Kept to himself; didn’t have many friends.” And yet, sometimes we hear, “we never saw this coming; he was always such a nice kid; we never would’ve expected something like this from him.”

But the one constant remaining the same almost every time? The perp is a white male.

Nonetheless, pundits argue over possible motives. Then the debates begin – the type that tear families apart – between the NRA and the anti-NRA, the Second Amendment folks and the anti-gun folks. And regardless of how many ideas are thrown out suggesting reasonable gun control measures, it just seems that in this country, the Second Amendment is sacrosanct. And since Americans can’t seem to agree that one’s right to own a gun doesn’t trump the innocent life of a kid just going to school to try and get an education, we go the next route: assigning blame.

Blame gets placed on everything from the already stigmatized issue of “mental health,” to music and rap, to violent video games and electronic devices in general, to extremist conspiracy theories, and to poor parenting skills. And everything in between. The whole process of gun debate has sickeningly become a spectator sport. Blame is placed everywhere except on the obvious culprit: white males. However, it’s not just white males. Also playing heavily into the phenomenon of mass murder is our current culture of toxic masculinity. That, I believe, even more importantly than being born with a penis, is what’s to blame, even though almost all mass murderers happen to be men. 

What is toxic masculinity?

Toxic masculinity refers to a set of widely accepted norms of stereotypical “masculine” behavior that have the unfortunate affect of harming society, and even men themselves. Words and phrases used to illustrate this concept would be what you’d expect – words like “dominance,” “aggression,” “homophobia” (feeling a sense of rage over seeing two men kissing in public, for example), needing to have “control,” feeling constantly under some presumed “pressure,” and having an insatiable need to prove one’s “manhood,” out of fear of emasculation. The worst thing for a “masculine” man to be is accused of anything remotely resembling femininity. Which is what misogyny is all about. It’s not about hating women – it’s about fearing them. I wrote a piece that explores the theme of misogyny more in depth, here. 

Toxic masculinity is also that thing that accounts for “gunsplaining,” i.e., arguing – to the point of bullying or harassment – over definitions, semantics, and technical details of weapons (including semiautomatic weapons) and interpretations of the Second Amendment. One doesn’t have to be a man to engage in behavior like gunsplaining, either. Plenty of women take part as well. These folks become masters of this diversion tactic, and they love to use gunsplaining as a means to silence “liberals,” “leftists,” or other people who call for reasonable gun control measures.

Sort of like the pretentious brand of beer snobs – not beer lovers, but beer snobs (there’s a difference) – who believe drinking anything less than micros is beneath their dignity, Second Amendment enthusiasts condescend with a familiar fervor. They look down upon anyone who dares to speak on sensible gun control if they are not completely knowledgeable about guns, gun attachments, ammunition, and external ballistics. Basically their argument is that you are not qualified to have an opinion about guns if you display even the slightest hint of inferior knowledge. Which ultimately is a very effective way of avoiding questions about why civilians have their hands on these military weapons in the first place. Gunsplaining is nothing more than a condescending ploy aimed at stopping productive discussion dead in its tracks. 

In the wake of all these military-style assaults on unsuspecting concert goers and innocent school kids, Second Amendment enthusiasts have only hunkered down harder. They’ve managed to somehow turn their love of guns (which they are fond of correcting to “love of protecting their home and family”) into a sort of extremist religious cult, or like some misguided form of ammosexual fetishism. 

So how does toxic masculinity play a role in all this? Because of American cultural standards, and how men are expected to react to everything, from perceived threats to perceived victimization. Men are raised to believe they must be the sole protector of their families, and many believe they need a gun to do so. Even if raised in a more gender neutral environment, we have a culture and society that is absolutely permeated with messages, images, photos, symbols, and more, that continue to perpetuate a very one-sided, very distorted view of what it means to be masculine, which in no uncertain terms glorifies aggression over softness. Fighters over romantics. Hyper-masculine superheroes over soft-spoken, tender guys. Certainly, there are men who possess both, but it’s the “machismo” that gets amplified.  

Harper’s Bazaar, published this piece by Jennifer Wright which astutely points out:

Rejection of all things feminine isn’t born into boys. We teach them to reject traits traditionally associated with femininity, like gentleness, empathy and sensitivity. And we teach them to do so early. We teach it every time we tell them to toughen up when they’re hurt. We teach it when we tell them that big boys don’t cry. We teach it when we tell them that girl stuff is never for them. We seemingly teach it to them through kicking their asses until they’re ashamed of ever having liked something “girly.”

How do we begin to change this? Wright states simply: “The easiest approach would probably be to stop saying that anything associated with women is shitty and beneath men. Stop treating the pleasures marketed to women as such.”

We also change it one person at a time. We do this by raising our boys with the notion that being soft and compassionate is not only acceptable, but it’s expected. We teach them to embrace and be proud of femininity, the same way we high-five our girls for being tomboys, or for being “strong.” And we begin to amplify the voices of women, of trans women – especially black trans women. We amplify the voices of trans men, queer folks, and gender nonconforming people – anyone, really, who bucks the status quo, toxic masculine stereotype that conjures images like Fred Flintstone, or even the Beast, from Beauty and the Beast (I know we all fell for that tender side, but he was a kidnapper who held a young girl captive against her will. Enough said.)

We change toxic masculinity by increasing the visibility of, and giving the spotlight and glory over to the trans non-binary folks, especially the ones who may have been assigned male at birth but identify as “they/them,” or a third gender altogether. Those who have the unwavering ability to rock the hell out of some lipstick and heels like Jacob Tobia, Jeffrey Marsh, and of course, my own trans non-binary, almost-teen, Charlie, who inspired me to take up writing and advocacy for marginalized groups. 

People may not think of it this way, but there’s actually nothing braver in this hyper-masculine culture of ours than to be a queer, non binary person sporting a penis, facial hair, and a gorgeous dress. I’d challenge any toxic masculine, stereotypical, pumped-up, ammosexual male to go out in public like that – and be taken seriously – for one week. Or even one day. That, my friends, takes some real balls. 

pexels-photo-757056.jpeg

That Time Trump Scared The Children And An Easter Bunny Mirrored All Of America

Image result for white house bunny 2018 with trump

Today, in a very bizarre speech before invited guests and media, Trump opened the FLOTUS’ annual White House Easter Egg Roll event by – once again – going rogue with his thoughts. Snarky commentary served up by yours truly… the effect of not having had coffee yet, and it being too early in the morning for my first day of spring break. Bonus: that White House Easter Bunny was a mirror, reflecting back the majority of Americans over the past 1 year, 72 days, 5 hours, 37 minutes, and  34 seconds…

The Torture Of College Application Season: Is It Worth It??

The college application process ain’t what it used to be. At least, it’s not what it was when I was first applying back in 1991. I knew this going in to the process with my oldest child applying last fall, but I didn’t realize exactly how competitive and how much of a cheating game it had become. I’ve been paying enough attention to know that colleges had been getting more and more competitive over the past five to eight years. But I quickly found out that even more recently, as more research has been released and more books on the subject published, many colleges have buckled down even more harshly with regard to admissions, to almost ridiculous proportions, prompting many current college and high school students to ask, “is it even worth it?”  Continue reading

Changing Our Social Landscape: The “New” Faces Of Trans & Genderqueer People

Also published at Medium

No, they’re not new per se. What’s new is how we’re seeing their faces more broadly, as symbolic sledgehammers of society, breaking down walls that have for decades stood in the way of authenticity.

Jacob TobiaJeffrey MarshHarry James HansonHunter SchaferCJCharlie. Get to know these (and hundreds more like them) as the lovely human beings they are. These gifted souls are Continue reading

Mr. Trump, Please Don’t Arm Our Teachers

Feb. 22, 2018 

As a proposed solution to the most recent mass shooting with an assault weapon obtained by a high school student, Trump has proposed that our teachers carry guns in school, and also thinks teachers should get a “bit of a bonus” to carry them. 

Mr. President. You think arming our teachers with guns is the solution. This is the most asinine argument ever. Have you actually spoken with any public school teachers about this? I don’t have a single teacher friend, ex-military/experienced shooter or not, who thinks this is even remotely close to being a good idea. 

Where I live, in my county alone, as of last year there were Continue reading

If I Hear The Circular Argument “Guns Don’t Kill People; People Kill People” One More Time, I’m Going To Get Sick

Originally published at Medium

Y - Calligraphy letter Y

 

all. Please stop debating whether guns kill people, or people kill people. The two are not mutually exclusive. Here’s the reality: People with guns kill people. We can’t just simply separate the two. The fact that this debate is still going on is like banging your head against the wall. Will common sense ever filter into this discussion? Your fellow Americans are grieving in overwhelming proportions of unimaginable pain, which most of us — God willing — may never know. Do we really need to argue semantics and philosophy here?  Continue reading

DeVos, Severino, And The “Religious Freedom” That Will Harm Our Most Vulnerable

A later version of this story published on Medium

Meet Mimi Lemay, an amazing Mom, trans youth advocate, and someone I’m proud to know through the wonders of technology. Mimi did this MSNBC interview in May, 2016, after the Obama era guidance was issued regarding transgender students in public schools. That guidance clarified how to best support transgender students in schools across the nation, in light of more trans students being “out.” Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s sex, including a student’s transgender status. The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released in 2016, under President Obama, joint guidance to help provide educators with the information they needed to ensure that all students could attend school in an environment free from sex discrimination, and that in no uncertain terms included transgender students.  Continue reading