Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. This past spring, she approached Beacon with the goal of bringing out some of our titles in audiobook format on Audible, and we couldn't be more excited to announce that the first few books are now available. Susie's blog, The Bright List, keeps readers and listeners apprised of new audiobooks, with Aretha Bright reviewing new titles. Today's post is a cross-post of two recent reviews.
This week is Transgender Awareness Week, and we're highlighting two new Audible titles that are enlightening listening for trans- and cis-gendered folks alike: A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein and Just Add Hormones by Matt Kailey.
Kate on Audio! -- Jewish Lesbian Tattooed Tranny, with a Titanium Knee & Scientologist Past
Kate Bornstein writes books condemned by Pope Benedict. She's a self-identified jewish lesbian tattooed masochist tranny, with a titanium knee. She's the definition of an outlaw! So how did she get this way?
A Queer and Pleasant Danger is Kate's memoir, broken into three parts: growing up a Jewish boy in New Jersey, joining Scientology as an adult (and leaving 12 years later), and finally, transitioning into a woman, coming out as a lesbian, and joining the BDSM culture. Who says getting old is a drag?
Kate's story is a deliciously matter-of-fact narrative, narrated by Alice Rosengard. Alice, coincidentally, went to college with Kate when she was known as "Al." They were friends! She called Kate up and they collaborated on the narration process— an unusual and delightful reunion.
Matt Kailey Lays It Out -- The Transssexual Experience
Author Matt Kailey answers all the questions cisgendered people might be too polite to ask--- about what it's like to change from living as a woman, to living as a man.
Just Add Hormones has behind-the-scenes details on the female to male transitioning process, with both humor and serious contemplation.
This bookassumes you don't know about the process already, and explains the basics while moving into every detail. —From the therapist sessions to the chest surgery, the testosterone shots to the "clit-dick!"
Every few weeks, I get an email from a colleague, a friend or a student asking me what pronoun I prefer. I mostly go by “Jack” nowadays, although people who have known me for a really long time and some family members still call me Judith. Then there are a few people, my sister included, who call me “Jude.” I have debated switching out Jack for Jude to try to compress the name ambiguity into a more clear opposition between Judith and Jude. But then again–and contrary to my personality or my politics—when it comes to names and pronouns, I am a bit of a free floater. This goes against my instincts and my general demeanor—I don’t hang in the middle ground on much, not politically, not socially, not in terms of culture, queer issues, feminism or masculinity. I am a person of strong opinions so why, oh why, do I insist on being loosey goosey about pronouns?
Well, a few reasons: first, I have not transitioned in any formal sense and there certainly many differences between my gender and those of transgender men on hormones. Second, the back and forth between he and she sort of captures the form that my gender takes nowadays. Not that I am often an unambiguous “she” but nor am I often an unambiguous he. Third, I think my floating gender pronouns capture well the refusal to resolve my gender ambiguity that has become a kind of identity for me.
I watch friends, one after the other, transition, mostly from butch to TG male and I wonder whether I am just sitting on a fence and not wanting to jump. But actually, as a real medi-phobe, I don’t see taking hormones, even in small doses as right for me for any extended amount of time. Top surgery? Well, yes please, but then again, would this make it even harder for me to use the women’s locker room when I swim or work out (and I do one or the other almost every day so that would really be something to think about). So, while I could “transition” and still live in the ever-evolving, improvised territory of transgenderism…well, I prefer not to.
Yes, like Bartleby, that wonderful and doleful example of a refusenik who declined to explain his refusal to work, to comply, to communicate even, I prefer not to transition. I prefer not to clarify what must categorically remain murky. I prefer not to help people out in their gender quandaries and yet, I appreciate you asking.
I still use women’s restrooms, and I avoid any and all contact on going in or coming out. If someone looks frightened when they see me, I say “excuse me” and allow my “fluty” voice to gender me. If someone looks angry, I turn away, but mostly I just ignore what is going on around me in the restroom and do what I am there to do.
I wish more people would behave like my partner’s son (he’s 9 years old) and simply ask, politely and without judgement, what pronoun anyone prefers—he rarely presumes and often asks. I also wish more people would adapt to a pronoun system based on gender and not on sex, based on comfort rather than biology, based on the presumption that there are many gendered bodies in the world and “male” and “female” does not even begin the hard work of classifying them.
So, if you are wondering about my pronoun use and would like it resolved once and for all, I cannot help you there. But if, like the UK in the 1980′s, you are ready to give up on the “imperial” systems of measurements in favor of new metrics, then consider my gender improvised at best, uncertain and mispronounced more often than not, irresolvable and ever shifting.
And ps: grouping me with someone else who seems to have a female embodiment and then calling us LADIES, is never, ever ok!
Visit the other stops on the Going Gaga Blog Tour
My Husband Betty Where Jack wonders, "When did 'vagina' suddenly become a fashionable term?"
Queer Fat Femme "Feminism is as much about naming one’s desires with precision and care as it is about expressing desire in more amorphous ways."
Sugarbutch Chronicles "Heterosexual mainstream conversations about desire love to depict women as the ones who create an environment for love and romance and men as the ones who set the whole thing on fire."
The Qu "For the Gaga feminist, in fact, the end of the normal is in sight and we don’t want the same old norms packaged back up for us and sold to us again as new norms!"
On June 5, 2011, Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, an African American transgender woman, was assaulted by Dean Schmitz, a white heterosexual man, and his friends in a violent, racist, and transphobic attack. In the face of extreme violence causing her serious physical injury, CeCe defended herself. The Hennepin County Attorneys’ Office in Minneapolis refused to recognize her right to self-defense, and instead prosecuted her for two counts of second degree murder for the death of Mr. Schmitz.
On May 3, 2012, after a jury was selected and opening arguments were set to begin at trial, CeCe pled guilty to a reduced charge of second degree manslaughter in exchange for a recommended sentence of forty-one months imprisonment, as opposed to proceeding to trial where she faced a possible forty year term of imprisonment if convicted of second degree murder as originally charged.
The following text is adapted from a speech I gave at an event on April 22, 2012 organized by CeCe’s Support Committee at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
CeCe’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 4, 2012.
Gay Pride Month and the Stonewall Rebellion
In June of 2011, Gay Pride Month, CeCe McDonald, a Black transgender woman, was the victim of a vicious, racist, transphobic attack. It is sadly ironic that she is the one criminalized for exercising her right to self-defense.
Gay Pride month is more than just a month to party (although I have nothing against partying), and it is certainly more than a parade full of politicians and corporate sponsors who want you to vote for them or buy their products.
The Gay Pride Parade and Pride Month derive from a cherished moment in queer history - the Stonewall Rebellion.
The Rebellion occurred in June of 1969 when officers from the New York Police Department (NYPD) raided the Stonewall Inn, a private drinking establishment in the West Village of New York City. The purported justification for the raid was the enforcement of liquor law violations.
The raid was nothing new. Law enforcement officers frequently used pre-textual justifications, like liquor law enforcement, to raid gay bars nationwide in order to arrest, humiliate, and in many cases abuse, all those present. This time, however, people were fed up with these unjustified attacks, and in response to the homophobic onslaught and physical brutality, people resisted and defended themselves. Led by drag queens and butches, bar patrons yelled “Gay Power” and they threw shoes, coins, and bricks at the officers and clashed with the NYPD over the next three days.
We celebrate Gay Pride in June each year to mark the moment when queers fought back, defended themselves, and said no to the violence. Thus, it is tragically ironic that, at the beginning of Pride Month, CeCe McDonald is awaiting punishment for fighting back, defending herself, and protecting her life during Pride Month one year ago.
The Facts Regarding CeCe McDonald’s Prosecution for Murder
On June 5, 2011, around 12:30 a.m., CeCe and four of her friends, who were also young queers of color, were in South Minneapolis walking to Cub Foods when they passed the Schooner Tavern. According to witnesses, Dean Schmitz began yelling at CeCe and her friends, calling them rapists who were wearing women’s clothes, as well as a slew of racist, homophobic epithets, including “niggers,” “fags,” and “faggot lover.” Schmitz further verbally assaulted CeCe, denying her gender identity, yelling out that she was not a girl, and claiming she was tucking in her dick.
When CeCe and her friends verbally responded to Schmitz and his female companions – all of whom were white – the crowd began calling them “niggers” and “faggots” and “chicks with dicks.” A physical altercation ensued, when one of the white women with Schmitz smashed a liquor glass in CeCe’s face with such force that it shattered on impact, cutting CeCe’s cheek and requiring 11 stitches.
Witnesses at the scene reported that CeCe had turned away and was leaving the altercation, when Schmitz followed her in an aggressive, hostile fashion. Eventually, Schmitz was stabbed during the altercation with a pair of scissors in the chest and he bled to death at the scene. CeCe claims she acted in self-defense.
This was not the first time Dean Schmitz had expressed racist sentiments. Schmitz was a proud racist who had a swastika tattooed on his chest. Schmitz also had a history of violence, and had three prior convictions for assaulting his ex-girlfriend’s 14-year-old daughter, assaulting his ex-girlfriend, and getting into a physical fight with his ex-girlfriend’s father.
The Racist, Transphobic Hate Violence Endured by Transgender Women of Color in the United States
Schmitz’s assault on CeCe was not an isolated incident. Transgender women of color endure egregious violence every single day across the U.S. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reported in 2010 that people who identified as either as transgender or people of color were twice as likely to experience assault or discriminationas non-transgender white individuals. NCAVP also reported that transgender women made up 44% of the 27 hate murders committed in 2010 despite being only 8% percent of the queer population (see http://www.avp.org/publications/reports/reports.htm).
Just this past month, 3 transgender women of color have been murdered. On Monday, April 16, Paige Clay, an African American transgender woman, was found dead in an alley on Chicago’s Westside with a bullet through her forehead. On April 3, CoCo Williams, an African American transgender woman, was murdered in Palmer Park in Detroit, Michigan. Her throat was slashed and her body was riddled with gunshot wounds. In March, Rosita, a presumably Latina trans woman, was found dead in her apartment in Miami, Florida, the victim of multiple stab wounds.
It was more than reasonable for CeCe to fear for her life, not only because of Schmitz’s own aggressive and violent behavior, but also because of the endemic and often deadly violence transgender women of color experience in this country on a daily basis. In light of nationwide trends, it is fair to ask what would have happened if CeCe did not defend herself. Would her name simply have been added to the too long list of names we recite at annual Transgender Day of Remembrance?
Is CeCe’s real crime that she lived?
The Criminalization of LGBTQ Targets of Hate Violence
CeCe is not the only queer of color to be physically attacked and forced to defend herself, only to be blamed for the violence and prosecuted in the criminal legal system. As my co-authors Andrea Ritchie, Kay Whitlock and I discuss in Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States, LGBTQ people, particularly those of color, report that police often focus on them rather than their assailants when they are the victims of violence, questioning their accounts of the incident and/or blaming them for bringing the violence upon themselves.
This was the case with the New Jersey 7, which involved a group of seven Black lesbian friends who were confronted by Dwayne Buckle, a Black heterosexual man in the West Village of NYC. Buckle made a sexual advance towards one of the women, and when she responded she was not interested, he shouted “I’ll fuck you straight, sweetheart!” He then spit on this woman, and later grew physically abusive, pulling on one of the women’s hair and choking another woman. A physical struggle ensued, and two unknown men ran over to help the women. Buckle was stabbed during the altercation and he cried he was the victim of a “heterosexual hate crime.”
As my co-authors and I discussed in Queer (In)Justice, the police responded to the incident and they refused to see the women as victims. Instead, the police arrested and charged them with attempted murder, framing them as the perpetrators of “gang violence.” Ultimately, three of the seven women felt compelled to plead to get a reduced sentence, and four of the women were found guilty and sentenced to three and half to eleven years in prison. (For more information: See INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence: Critical Lessons from the New Jersey 7.)
The same dynamic occurred in Monica James’s case, a Black transgender woman in Chicago in 2007. Monica was pursued by an unknown white, gay man who was yelling and screaming racists, transphobic epithets at her. A physical altercation ensued, and during the struggle she bit in him in self-defense and he knocked her unconscious. Both claimed to have acted in self-defense, but she was the one charged with a host of serious felonies. In Monica’s case, the white man who pursued her was an off duty Chicago police officer. She was charged with attempted murder, discharge of the officers’ weapon and aggravated battery on a peace officer.
Her claims of self-defense were also ignored and rejected. The State also rejected her claims that she was the victim of a racist and transphobic attack, arguing to the jury this could not be the case because the officer was gay.
While Monica prevailed and was found not guilty of the more serious charges, thanks in great part to the organizing efforts of the Transformative Justice Law Project, she was still found guilty of aggravated battery.
Why Is CeCe the Only Person Facing Charges from this Incident
Against this backdrop, it is fair to question the fairness and legitimacy of CeCe’s criminal prosecution, and there are several other unanswered questions regarding this prosecution. For instance, why is CeCe the only person charged with a crime as result of this incident?
It appears several people committed crimes that fateful night. The white, presumably heterosexual woman who hit CeCe with a beer mug committed battery (possibly aggravated battery), when she hit CeCe, causing her a severe injury requiring medical treatment. Why wasn’t she charged? Is it because the State is going to call her as a witness and rely her testimony to convict CeCe? Are the police and prosecutors crediting her testimony over that of CeCe’s based on her race and gender conformity?
This woman and another, along with Schmitz, were yelling out racist and homophobic slurs and accusing CeCe and her friends of setting out to commit heinous crimes of rape (both projecting on to CeCe and tapping into archetypes that have framed Black people as perpetrators of rape and sexual deviance since slavery and Jim Crow, archetypes that have been used to justify lynching). Is it fair to infer that Schmitz’s friends may be guilty of inciting a riot, stirring people to engage in violence against CeCe and her friends?
If CeCe was white and gender conforming would she be facing murder charges today? Or, would her case be dropped by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office like that of three other white women who claimed they acted in self-defense?
Drop Prosecution of CeCe
Paige Clay, the African American transgender woman killed in Chicago was known for saying, “If you are quiet as a mouse, no one will hear you.” Well, CeCe was not quiet as a mouse, but instead she spoke up and defended herself. And we cannot be quiet like mice either. We cannot stand silent in the face of the racist, transphobic violence plaguing the nation that is silencing, harming and killing transgender women of color. And we cannot stand silent in the face of this unfair and unjust prosecution. I believe CeCe has the right to defend herself and I applaud the valiant efforts of the CeCe Support Committee in organizing on CeCe’s behalf and calling on the Hennepin County Attorney Mike Hennepin to drop the charges. Free CeCe.
As International Transgender Day of Remembrance grows near, it appears that this year will, unfortunately, be no different from years before – we will be adding names to the list right up until the actual memorial services take place.
Our society reinforces these heinous acts of violence in many ways – through misogyny, institutionalized racism, and second-class citizenship for trans people, along with a generalized violent ideal that permeates the culture itself. The causes are many, the solutions must be many, and change is slow to arrive. There appears to be nothing on the horizon to indicate that we will not be holding TDORs for many years to come.
But there are steps we can take to reach people, and the sooner in life we reach them, the better. I support education on sexual orientation and gender identity beginning in elementary school and woven naturally into the topics of study, so that LGBT and queer people are seen as equal contributors in every area of life. I support LGBT and queer teachers and administrators being out with no threat of losing their job, and with education and training for straight and non-trans school personnel. And I support LGBT and queer functions and organizations at every school. But I don’t kid myself that this is going to happen anytime soon, or even in my lifetime.
However, I’m buoyed by some of the things that are happening at Red Rocks Community College, where I teach part-time. As with many colleges, Red Rocks has an LGBT student organization that is responsible for putting on various events throughout the year. The college also has out LGBT faculty (including myself), staff, and students.
Last week, I attended a Rainbow Registration event, designed to introduce students to LGBT and LGBT-friendly instructors and allow them to sign up for these particular instructors’ classes if they wanted to, in subjects ranging from psychology to math, and from composition to foreign languages. For many LGBT students, just knowing that their instructor is also a member of that community, or supportive of that community, makes all the difference.
This year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance event will feature a panel made up solely of the school’s trans instructors and students (or I should say “instructor and students,” since I’m the only trans instructor at the school). The purpose of the panel is to educate students about TDOR and about trans people, and some instructors are offering extra credit for their students who attend.
Red Rocks is not unique in this regard. There are plenty of other college campuses planning memorials and other TDOR educational activities, and there are plenty of other colleges that support LGBT and queer faculty, staff, and students. But there are plenty more who do not. And it is this type of education and visible support that sends open-minded students out into the world – students that might one day be influential in changing laws and policies that affect trans people.
This kind of atmosphere and these kinds of programs are not just the purview of colleges and universities. Trade schools, apprentice programs, online training programs, high schools (when they are allowed to) and, of course, businesses of all kinds can adopt a welcoming attitude and incorporate a variety of educational resources and events into the fabric of their organizational culture. In fact, schools, businesses, and local government entities are usually way ahead of the federal government on these types of issues, and these local venues are generally where the real changes are taking place.
So as we enter this very solemn week, I’m not going to offer platitudes of optimism – not when we have recently seen several horrendous incidents of violence against trans women, and when, statistics tell us, we will probably see at least one more over the next few days.
But I am going to say that there is some hope out there for the future, however minimal it might seem right now. There is the possibility for change, however far away it might appear right now. And hope might seem even more tangible when we hear what is going on in the readers’ schools, organizations, and places of business that might bring about positive change.
Tonight, a new season of Dancing With the Stars begins, featuring Chaz Bono as one of the most-talked-about contestants (sorry, Carson Kressley). Author Matt Kailey couldn't help noticing that amid all the chatter was a current of concern.
The uproar hasn’t stopped since it was announced that Chaz Bono will be one of the cast on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, which premieres tonight.
While there are many people who are supportive of Chaz and his appearance, plenty more crawled out from under their rocks to be shocked, appalled, and offended in the comments section of the DWTS website.
Of course, there are the usual yawners harping about chromosomes and destiny, but in addition, a whole new group has materialized – parents who aren’t going to watch the show because they don’t know how to explain a man dancing with a woman to their children.
The Dancing with the Stars website is littered with these concerned comments – How am I going to explain this to my five-year-old? What will I tell the children? We’re not going to be watching this season, because I don’t want my children to see this!
I understand. It is concerning when children are exposed to heterosexual dancing. At best, a man dancing with a woman seems just a tad bit edgy – and worst-case scenario, it’s just plain immoral. After all, you know what dancing leads to! I believe they covered that a long time ago in the movie Footloose (when today’s concerned parents were kids).
So I want to offer the following tips to those parents who are worried that their children will lose their innocence by watching this season’s DWTS:
Before the show starts, sit down and explain to the kiddies that sometimes boys and girls see each other across a crowded gymnasium at prom, and while the senior high band plays their special rendition of “Back to Black,” they are all simply compelled to get up and dance – with each other! Tell the kids that someday they will understand – the dancing and the words to “Back to Black.”
Pick out an innocent song from your own youth – say, “She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper or “Little Red Corvette” by Prince – and start dancing with each other. There’s no better way to break the kids in than to have them witness their own mother and father spinning around the living room together. When you’re finished, explain to them that when grown-ups fall in love, it’s natural for them to want to dance together. Someday, unless they grow up to be perverts, they, too, will be dancing with members of the opposite sex.
Go on YouTube and find old clips from American Bandstand. Show them that heterosexual dancing on television is nothing new. The only difference is that it’s now available in full color on the big screen. If they’re grossed out and scared, assure them that Dick Clark will not be hosting Dancing with the Stars.
Find the video of President and Mrs. Obama dancing together at his inauguration. When they can see that even the president and his wife dance together, in public, and on television, they will come to realize that this is perfectly normal and natural and nothing to be concerned about. It really is a beautiful thing.
Once you have done all these things, turn on Dancing with the Stars. If they start to wiggle or become uncomfortable when the various couples come out and dance, remind them of everything you have shown them.
Hold each other’s hand and sway gently to the music so they can be comforted by the image of the two of you enjoying the show. As each couple takes the stage, say, “See? It’s okay.” Soon your children will realize that there is nothing disgusting, sinful, or immoral about a man and a woman dancing together.
Nick Krieger is the author of Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender. You can read more of Nick's blog posts at ninaherenorthere.com
I might have made a huge mistake. A cardinal trans sin, really. The equivalent to tattooing my birth name on my forehead. And then shoving my forehead into the faces of friends, strangers, the whole world. I decided to use my birth name in the title of my memoir, Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender.
It started with a friend, an idea offered in the kitchen, a funny play on words, a title for my new blog back when “Nina” was still my name. Then three-and-a-half years later, this phrase ended up on the cover of my book, and I now have a friend who holds out her hand for royalties, or at least a hundred-dollar-bill bookmark, every time I see her.
Sometimes it seems like the book title just sorta happened, but I made decisions along the way, specifically the decision to let my old name linger while I adapted to my chosen name. Had I published my memoir two years ago, when “Nick” was brand new, I could not have handled “Nina” staring back at me everywhere. Shit, I couldn’t even utter the word at that time. It wasn’t so much that I disliked my old name. I was just using dog training, or maybe dolphin training, strategies. If I wanted people to call me “Nick,” it had to be all “Nick” all the time. Perpetual constant reinforcement, not only for others but for myself.
As I broke in “Nick,” the sound shaped itself to me, conformed around me, and soon it fit as comfortably as a pair of worn slippers. Once I became more physically, emotionally, and mentally at ease with myself, I was less frustrated when certain friends would mention my old name, less controlling of it. While I occasionally told them it wasn’t theirs to speak, I also understood that they were revisiting a scrapbook, a memory, and to my surprise, I found that I too wanted to hold on to my past, keep it as it was without revision. Occasionally, I even wanted to share it, whisper my old name into a lover’s ear, an offering of the most intimate piece of myself.
Now, part of me is proud to render “Nina” indelible, to have it serve as a tattoo, maybe not on my forehead but on the underside of my wrist, so I can turn it up and share the singular word that was closest to me for thirty years. To watch such a word unexpectedly change shape, morph from name into title, transform into something new, come to mean something new, seems as beautiful and wondrous as a gender transition itself. For me, seeing both “Nina” and “Nick” in the same place at the same time is symbolic of my gender, the unification of the woman and man in me.
Whether others will allow me both, to live my present while loving my past, is yet to be seen. There is implicit risk to blasting my old name into the world, to giving others access to something that has been used again and again in ignorance and fear to hurt trans people. I am still recovering from the slip-ups, mistakes, and careless cruelties, and my heart still tingles with raw sensitivity in the presence of my mother, who, despite good intentions, reverts to a “Nina”-spewing machine around me.
Which is why it seems crucial to let it all go, to reclaim my old name as mine, to own the power and let it stand for something other than pain. I also believe there is change going on around us. Trans folk and allies have fought for visibility, rights, and respect, paving the way so that I can live happily and joyfully without the weight of heavy armor and without needing to maintain a constant state of self-defense. I aspire to continue the fight, and for me that means believing in the change, not allowing cisgender (non-trans) people who have fucked up in the past to prevent me from trusting those with the potential to see and embrace me in my totality. I am making a leap of faith, hoping that my old name will be respected, as a character in a book and part of a title, not as some “real” “truth” that makes the Nick of here and now invisible.
I have been living with my decision in somewhat of a vacuum, save for one trans friend who always seems a bit bothered by the choice I made. Whether it is my old name, his old name, or the larger cause that unsettles him, I do not know. But I do know I am only one person, with one voice, and I’d like to hear yours–I’d like everyone to hear yours. So please, whether you are trans or not, how do you feel about your name? If you changed your name, how would you feel about going public with your old one? Are we as a trans community as diverse in our decisions as I truly believe we are? Are we living in a time with more space for each of us to express our unique experiences?
And as long as we’re answering my questions, can someone please tell me how long it’s going to take for me to stop unconsciously doodling my old name in all of my notebooks?
I really wanted Chaz Bono to be a transgender hero. By sharing his transition in his film, “Becoming Chaz,” and in his memoir, Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man, he is offering gender-questioning people an intimate entry into his personal experience. With his fame, he is raising much-needed awareness about a marginalized population. But as I, a writer releasing my own transmasculine memoir on the same day as Bono, follow the coverage of his story, I feel like I’m watching a slow-motion media train wreck.
The New York Times article, “The Reluctant Transgender Role Model,” by Cintra Wilson, is the latest troubling piece. Wilson, in what must be an attempt at humor, investigates Bono’s motivations with questions about celebrity damage, gender-bent Oedipal revenge, and reclaiming childhood attention. I imagine Wilson aims to connect with skeptical mainstream readers, but those types of questions push well past curious and cynical to downright ridiculous.
In a cultural climate that forces transgender people to explain themselves at every turn, I cannot be too surprised that Bono plays into another story of overcoming pain and suffering, of transition as the last resort of the suicidal. As a transgender person, I find this narrative exhausting and self-victimizing. Why do we, as trans people, need to keep proving how awful our lives are in order for people to accept us? What if we modified our bodies, not “amputated” parts of them as Wilson so crudely states, because we thought our lives were so beautiful that we wanted to experience them in a vehicle that allowed us our deepest comfort and truest self-expression?
Bono reiterates the standard transgender narrative of identifying as a male since childhood, using as evidence gender stereotypes like “playing sports” to reinforce his case. Once again, it’s hard to blame Bono. The criteria for Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders refers to gender stereotypes in its diagnosis. Although the article claims GID was only classified as a mental disorder until 1999, this is incorrect. (eds note: The article was corrected online after publication.) A diagnosis of GID is still required for many trans people seeking gender reassignment surgery, and reinforcing gender stereotypes is the necessary proof. While I cannot question Bono’s experience, I can challenge his facts and make it absolutely clear that his experience isn’t shared by all of us.
Bono says, “There’s a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For 99 percent of people, those things are in alignment. For transgender people, they’re mismatched. That’s all it is. It’s not complicated, it’s not a neurosis. It’s a mix-up. It’s a birth defect, like a cleft palate.”
First I’d like to know where Bono confirmed the gender in your brain and gender in your body theory. Sure, researchers are looking for hard proof of transsexualism, but they are having about as much success as they are in finding a definitive “gay gene” or “gay brain” structure in homosexuals. The nature vs. nurture debate will continue in gay and lesbian research circles just like the essentialist vs. cultural construction debate will continue in gender research circles. To fall completely to one pole as Bono does with essentialism is to ignore the very complicated topic of gender presentations, expressions, embodiments, roles, and identities as lived in our culture. To Bono’s claim of mismatched alignment for transgender people, this is a gross misrepresentation of all of us.
“Transgender,” in its most common usage, is as an all-encompassing term and self-defined identity available to anyone who doesn’t fit into the man or woman boxes. Transsexuals (female-to-male/FTM like Bono; or male-to female/MTF) are the most well-known group under the transgender umbrella. But there are many trans people who live and identify outside of the stifling constraints of the gender binary. Some pursue hormones without surgery; some pursue surgery without hormones; some choose only to adopt a new name; some use the gender-neutral pronouns “ze” and “hir”; some use self-identifying words that encompass both man and woman, like genderqueer or gender fluid.
Therefore, the conclusion of Wilson’s article relating to diversity is correct, except that Bono actually reiterates the black and white of gender identification by wedding himself completely to the notion of a woman becoming a man. He may offer an alternative understanding of black and white, but as for ushering in a complete wheel of gender (not sexuality as Wilson mistakenly writes) into the mainstream, Technicolor Bono is not.
It’s time for an understanding of transgender experiences and identities to reach mainstream audiences. Bono is, with his celebrity bullhorn, an ideal candidate to be a transgender role model, but after I read that he once had a tolerance for women that he no longer has, he cannot be my hero. I do hope that his story is the starting point, an impetus to expand the conversation beyond sensationalism, gender stereotypes, and the Fashion & Style pages. But this poorly fact-checked article by Cinta Wilson makes me nervous that many will now claim to know about transgender people, and about me, because they read or saw something about Cher’s kid.
Matt Kailey is the author of Just Add Hormones: An Insider's Guide to the Transsexual Experience, a Lambda Literary Award finalist. He is also a nationally recognized speaker, trainer, and writer dealing with transgender issues. He can be reached through his website and blog at www.tranifesto.com.
I'm not sure what people thought would happen when Allums played basketball as a man, but his playing ability has likely not changed. He has already said that he would not start hormones as long as he is on the team, due to concerns that testosterone might disqualify him from play by giving the team an unfair advantage.
Of course, I doubt that they have tested the testosterone levels of the women on the team, and, as we discovered when South African athlete Caster Semenya was dragged through the mud simply for being a superior runner, testosterone levels vary tremendously from woman to woman – as they do from man to man.
The subject of trans athletes is nothing new. Renee Richards broke ground in 1977 when the New York Supreme Court ruled that she had the right to play professional tennis as a woman after transitioning from male to female. But the controversy over who can play what sport remains ongoing.
When I heard about a new makeover reality show where the subjects are unhappy and insecure, the makeover artists are trans women, and the whole premise is that the trans aspect of the makeover team is a big surprise, all I could think was, "Houston, we have multiple problems."
In VH1's new reality show, TRANSform Me, unhappy women send in a videotape explaining why they need a makeover. Those who are chosen are told that the makeover artists will arrive at their home on a certain day and time to transform them. What they don't know is that the three members of the emergency makeover team are all transgender women (I would call them transsexual women myself, but over the last few years, the two terms have become synonymous, so I use the language that the women themselves use).
The show was conceived by Laverne Cox, a trans woman who has been on several television shows and has won a GLAAD award her appearance on I Want to Work for Diddy. The other trans team members are makeup artist Jamie Clayton and model Nina Poon. Needless to say, these three women are gorgeous and incredibly sexy, and they play it to the max.
Even though I have never been opposed to makeovers, unlike many other feminists I know (yes, I consider myself a feminist), the two major problems that I foresaw were: 1. that the "surprise" of the show was that the makeover artists were trans women, setting up the possibility that the makeover subjects would be freaked out or repulsed, much to the delight of non-trans viewers, and 2. that the whole show revolved around the premise that unattractive, unhappy women could be transformed into happy, confident women simply because they suddenly looked "beautiful."
I basically saw an army of offended trans people protesting that the show exploited trans women by making them a possibly unwelcome "surprise," and an army of offended activists, both trans and non-trans, upset that the show objectified all women by making physical beauty the gold standard for happiness. And there may be an offended army out there, but I'm not one of the soldiers. I love this show.
And now for the latest transsexual travesty (there’s at least one a week nowadays, isn’t there?): a transman is pregnant. Female-to-male transsexual (born female, now male) Thomas Beatie is bearded, breastless, and with child, and although he is not the first transman to become pregnant, nor will he be the first to give birth, the situation is causing a major blip on the media’s sensationalism sonar. Beatie has been interviewed on Oprah, told his story to The Advocate, and had his picture passed around like a bottle of Boone’s Farm all over the Internet, with his pregnant abdomen prominent below his reconstructed chest. He’s been called everything from “freak” to “fabulous,” and everyone with an opinion has made it known. Forgive me if I yawn.