Guest Post by Fran Stewart
Fran surprised me with another wonderful post today in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance. Enjoy. ~Rosie (TDoR 2013)
My name’s Fran Stewart, and I’m a transgender woman. “Transgender” is an intensely personal term, and it means different things to everyone who uses it. To me, it means that I was born with a body that didn’t make sense to my mind, and now I live in a body that fits me much better into the world. You might well know a transgender person and not be aware it. We’ve learned over the years that it’s wiser to keep it to ourselves.
I am out. Though I want the world to treat me as the woman I am, to simply BE a woman, I tell my secret.
I am out because I’m a storyteller, and some of my best stories happened when I was (or thought I was) a boy. Heck, some of the real gems happened while I was transitioning! The words come easily to me.
I’m out because it’s funny! When you get your leg hair caught in an Epilady, you can either laugh or cry, and laughing is just more fun in a group.
I am out because I’m proud. Hiding my past makes me feel like I’m ashamed of it. I’m not. This is how I was born. If I’d been born in a taxi, would I be ashamed of it?
I am out because I pass for “normal,” what ever THAT’s supposed to be. When you’ve seen me on the street, you’ve seen the woman I am, not the man we all thought I was. I can tell you my secret and surprise you, and be safely able to fade back into anonymity.
I am out because I want to learn and teach. There’s more about the spectrum of gender than I can ever know, and I’ve seen more than most. I don’t like feeling ignorant, and It’s worth learning I was wrong to find what is more right. Every discussion, I get to teach and learn things.
I am out because every person I tell is one less person who might freak out when Uncle Lloyd says she’s actually Aunt Vanessa or when the new woman at work has a rather deep voice and a notable Adam’s Apple.
I am out because I still have support. I told my family—they still love me. I told my friends—they still surround me.
I am out because I have money. Unlike many transgender people, my secret never cost me my job, or my marriage, or my safety net. I had the rare insurance that covered most of my therapy and surgery.
I am out because I have a home. I’ve never been thrown out of an apartment, exiled to a back seat or an underpass.
I am out because I’m lucky—I have never been screamed at in a mall, spat on by a passerby, chased out of a bathroom. Instead, when I’ve revealed my secret I’ve had fantastic discussions and meaningful debates, even with complete strangers and clergymen.
I am out because I’m alive—nobody ever beat my skull in or buried me in a shallow grave. Nor did I drink myself to death to save the world the trouble.
I’m out because I am a minority’s minority’s minority: a lesbian, transgender woman, who is happy, strong, secure and loved. I tell my story to give hope to the many who are miserable, sick, afraid, and alone.
I am out because I’m angry. I’ve been to groups. I’ve heard all the stories I describe above, over and over. Your mothers and fathers, your children, your uncles and aunts, shamed, ostracized, brutalized, cast aside, expurgated from your history. Wonderful, kind people. Fine people, ground up even finer for want of the tiniest amount of love, the smallest benefit of a doubt, the least amount of patience.
I’m out because with all this good fortune, I feel the need to push my luck. Good things happen when I tell my story: looks of shock, laughter, hugs. More often now, the best thing: “Really? Huh.” And then a shrug as we move on to more important things. That’s the world as it should be. It costs me nothing to be an ambassador, to answer questions. To pay back all the patience and good grace that I received.
I’m out because I can see the future. The kids I meet are even less nervous about gender and its spectrum than I am. Crossplay and fluidity allow us to figure out exactly who we are. The games they play evolve too fast for terms to even keep up. The Internet is awash in children reinventing gender.
I’m out because although the world can be horribly cruel, I find that the best way I can make it better is to live like it could be otherwise. I tell my story for those who can’t, or don’t dare to, tell their own. I speak for the murdered, the suicides, the institutionalized, the browbeaten, the homeless, the sorrowing wounded I met at every support group, the fatherless, the friendless, the child-bereft, the shamed, the terrified. Because I am proof that it DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THAT WAY.
I am out, on this Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we note the HUNDREDS of transgender people brutally and violently killed this year, because…because it’s so easy to make it better. To ask “Is it sir or ma’am, please?” To say “Why should I care what bits you were born with? You’re a woman!” To say “I don’t understand, but I love you and I’ll try.” To say “You look good today.” To say “What’s your damn problem? Leave her alone!” To say “Please tell me about it, when you’re ready.” To say “Let me teach you some basics.” To simply say “Around me, you don’t need to be afraid, or watch your words, or be on edge. Just be yourself, the best you know how.”
I’m out because so far it’s worked for me, and I’ve seen my good fortune spread. I hope that if you read this far, you will keep it going, and that one day November can become a month of thanks and family, unalloyed with sadness.
Also by Fran Stewart:
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Guest post by Fran Stewart
Fran is a dear friend and a great writer I was thrilled when she said she wanted to write a post for MMAS. I hope this will not be her last. ~Rosie
I started my girlhood very late. I’d reached my mid-thirties by the time I realized there’d been a mistake. Up until then I’d muddled through life as the straightest, most translucently white suburban male nerd you’d expect to see. When I came out as a transgender woman, I had a lot of catching up to do.
Fear paralyzed me in the early days: will I lose my friends? My family? My wife? Would people laugh at me in the street? Would someone beat me up for being “a he-she?”
I want to talk about a different fear today, though. I wasn’t used to one of the fundamental assumptions most women make every day: I am now a target—not just for being a T or a lesbian, but simply for being female. Just as my salary automatically went down, my risk of rape, robbery, and general mishandling jumped.
My friends began to point out risks I took without thinking. I’d jog one block down an alley to my parked car instead of walking three on the street. I’d assume the friendly intent of anyone who talked to me. I’d walk whistling through dark parking lots at night. Growing up male in a small, safe town just doesn’t breed much situational awareness.
Some people, though, went deeper. “You talk to panhandlers? I’d never do that,” I heard. “You can’t just walk down a dark street. Stick to the lighted areas. Think of what might happen.” I heard a difference in the warning tone: you’re not afraid enough.
Amidst the dizzying swirl of neoadolescent emotions, something about that message went against my grain. Not afraid enough? I was terrified to walk out of the house! I rehearsed for hours how to answer the phone with proper feminine vocal pitch. I cringed at every checkout line, waiting to hear “sir,” expecting a disapproving eyebrow raise, the look on every face that says I see you and I know what you’re up to. Now I’m not being afraid enough?
I related one story to a therapist: in a crowded public area, an aggressive panhandler stopped my wife and me in a paid parking lot. “It’s after six,” he said. “Street parking’s free! There’s a spot right over there. I’ll even hold it for you. I just ask you give me part of what the pay lot would cost.” I looked. I could see the spot he was pointing out. I agreed.
After moving the car, we gave him several dollars of the ten-dollar parking fee. “That’s it? That’s all I get after all the money I saved you? Come on! Screw you!” We apologized and walked away. My wife was upset at the risk I’d taken and my lack of awareness.
I explained my thinking: the street was busy—a plaza full of people. The man was polite initially and correct about the street parking. I felt I’d weighed the risks.
“You can’t talk to people like that. You can’t know what they’re going to do.”
“I don’t think so,” the therapist replied. “I’d never have done that. You can’t talk to people like that. You can’t know what they’re going to do. I don’t think you’re used to thinking about these things the way women do.” We discussed the event for half an hour; I left perplexed and frustrated at her flat denial of my reasoning.
I straddle a mental crevasse: for thirty-odd years I was reared as a man. I was an Eagle Scout. I had to fend off military recruiters in high school. I had no idea what lessons I should or shouldn’t have learned to be a healthy, normal woman. I looked to role models to learn those lessons. But this one still felt wrong. Was I missing something when I assessed the situation? Was risk assessment just useless for women?
As I asked more people, a divide emerged. Some friends adamantly agreed with the therapist: couldn’t I see how dumb I’d been? Some said I’d done okay, though unusual for a woman. A few said I was spot-on—women shouldn’t take shit from people for being women.
Then an activist friend, a sharp-minded New Yorker whose advice I’ve always prized, told me a story. She was at a subway stop late at night and a creep accosted her.
Without thinking twice she turned on him. “Are you serious?” she yelled. “Get the fuck out of here! What’s wrong with you?”
She chased him out of the station in a cloud of shame. “When I told my boyfriend about it he was really worried about the risks I take,” she said. “But this is me. I didn’t think about it—I just did it.”
This is the most valuable lesson she’s taught me: there are as many ways for women to look and act as there are women who’ve ever lived. Anyone who tells you there’s one right way is selling something you don’t need.
“You’re very lucky, in a way,” she said. “You’re redefining yourself. Choose what kind of woman you want to be—what bits of the old you to keep and what new stuff to bring on. Be your own kind of woman.”
So, years later, what’s the result? A new balance. I’m more aware of my surroundings in public. I’ve taken a great self-defense course. I don’t take my safety for granted. But I also feel strong in public. I consider my risks but then walk confidently. I smile at strangers. I do these things because that’s the kind of woman I am.
I feel sad to say that I’ve lived a charmed life, though I feel I have. I’m living the life everyone should have by right: my own.
Also by Fran Stewart:
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Guest post by Ro
Note: Ro transitioned several years ago. However, she lived in an isolated setting and had no access to transportation. Late last year, she moved to a village and what follows is her incredible experience. (Originally published on Facebook.)
This is perhaps the most important post I have made on Facebook. Please read.
I am blessed with the best friends ever. What follows should stun you. In November, I moved to a very small village in Wales. When I got here, I didn’t know anyone. I would go down the pub and hang out. I wanted people to get to know me. For the most part, I would just sit there and nod and smile at people. However, I did meet two of the most amazing people I have ever known.I have known this couple for only two months now. Absolutely the nicest people I’ve met in Wales. They live very close to me. It’s one of those friendships where you feel like you’ve known them for years. They have known and supported my new gender identity since the first time I met them.The wife and and another female friend went with me to the pub when I first used the woman’s loo two weeks ago. They came as my support team. How cool is that?
I went back to the pub with the wife again last Thursday when I was told by the bartender that I couldn’t use the proper loo. Even though we had just met, my friend was outraged. She walked out of the pub with me and was so very concerned about how I was feeling. She knows me better than I know myself. I was sort of in shock and it took a few days to sort out my emotions. I posted about it here and got remarkable advice and support. Thank you!
She and her husband are boycotting the pub. How cool is that?
I met her, her husband and their 2 wonderful children at a different pub on Sunday. They told me they had been talking with their families and friends about what had happened. They made an offer that totally floored me.
They, their relatives and their friends have made an incredible offer: they want to go to the pub with me again. Not only are they going there to stand up for me, they are offering to go dressed in the clothing of their opposite gender.
Not only will the men dress as women and the women as men: they will go to the loo for the gender they present.
Let me repeat that: New friends, their family and friends (who I haven’t met) will not only support me in my legal right to use the appropriate loo, they will cross dress and use the appropriate loo. Most of them have never met me.
As soon as I was alone, I had a good type of cry. How do I deserve friends like this?
Again, I live in a sleepy little village where everyone knows everyone. A couple I only recently met, their friends and family (again, who I haven’t yet met) are willing to do this wonderful, amazing and brave thing.
I told them that I want to meet with the pub landlord first and discuss the issue. If he doesn’t agree to do the legal thing, I don’t know if I will take them up on their offer.
But, regardless, I stand taller and more confident that these amazing people are willing to stand with me.
I am blessed. I am amazed. I am lucky.
This is why we’re here people: to stand up for each other. I never thought I would meet such wonderful people.
I am grateful to them beyond words. And I am grateful to each of you who support me here on FB.
If others stand tall for me, I must stand tall as well.
Life has never been better. How cool is that?
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
UPDATE: COLORADO RIGHTS DIVISION RULES IN COY’S FAVOR! (See updates at bottom.)
This is Coy Mathis. She’s six years old and, until recently, attended first grade at a school in the Fountain-Fort Carson School District in Colorado. In December 2012 Coy’s school contacted her parents, Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis, and told them that Coy would no longer be allowed to use the girls’ restroom, as she has done since Kindergarten.
You see, Coy Mathis was assigned “male” at birth. But she has known since she was able to know things that she is a girl.
You’re probably imagining a horrific tale of parental complaints and classroom bullying, but none of that has happened. The school district has decided to preemptively address a problem that does not exist, but that they imagine might occur in the future.
From Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis:
They gave Coy three options for where to go to the bathroom; the boys’ room, the staff bathroom with adults, or the nurse’s bathroom which is used by sick children.
Coy is not sick, she is not an adult, and she is not a boy.
Coy is a girl. She wears girls’ clothes, is addressed by everyone at the school using female pronouns, and has been accepted by her classmates and teachers as a girl. But if the school separates her from all her classmates to use the bathroom, they are singling her out for mistreatment, and teaching her classmates that it’s okay to discriminate.
Coy’s parents have removed her from school and have brought suit against the school district. The attorney for the district, W. Kelly Dude, provided the following explanation (using male pronouns to describe Coy):
The school “took into account not only Coy but other students in the building, their parents, and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older.” He went on to add, “However, I’m certain you can appreciate that as Coy grows older and his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body, at least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls’ restroom.” (via Housing Works Advocate)
The fact that Coy first told her parents that something was wrong with her body when she was four–the fact that Coy’s doctors have diagnosed her with gender identity disorder and recommended that she live as, and be treated as, a girl–well, the facts of Coy’s life and identity apparently don’t count. But imaginary possible future student discomfort and parent complaints? These are IMPORTANT and we MUST ACT NOW. You know, just in case.
Here’s Coy’s mom Kathryn Mathis on how Coy described the feelings she was having:
“She just kept crying and said she was scared that she was going to grow up and have a beard and a hairy chest and everybody would know she was born a boy.”
Seriously? This is all my kid would ever have to say to me (and it should be all anyone needs to hear). And I would fight the whole world to protect her right to be who she is.
We can all join the Mathis family in fighting for Coy by signing their petition on Change.org.You can also contact the Fountain-Fort Carson School District and let them know what you think. Let’s make a world that loves, accepts, and celebrates Coy and kids like her for who they are.
I went looking for news on the case, and there isn’t much, but I wanted to include this from Coy’s mom, which goes a bit farther toward explaining the process they went to before deciding the right way to proceed. From Huffington Post:
“It was kind of a long process because she had been telling us for some time, and we thought, ‘Well maybe it’s a phase, maybe if we just confirm to her that she really is a boy?’ you know, try and encourage her toward boy things, then her phase would be over maybe,” Kathryn Mathis said. “So it really took a lot of learning, research on our part because she was consistently telling us the same thing, that she was a girl. So we read lots of books, we contacted lots of support groups. We contacted her pediatrician and a child psychologist and it was very lengthy. And eventually we were told that we needed to support her and how she was, and you know, how she really was.”
Jill Filipovic also writes about Coy in a recent article on the Guardian.
Watch a 17 minute Dateline video featuring Coy: Crossover Kids
CO. RIGHTS DIVISION RULES IN COY’S FAVOR!
From the New York Times (6/23/13):
In a sharply worded ruling, the division concluded that the Fountain-Fort Carson School District needlessly created a situation in which the student, Coy Mathis, would be subject to harassment when it barred her from the girls’ bathroom even though she clearly identified as female.
Telling Coy “that she must disregard her identity while performing one of the most essential human functions constitutes severe and pervasive treatment, and creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive,” Steven Chavez, the division director, wrote in the decision.
The dispute over whether Coy, 6, should be allowed to use the girls’ bathroom was seen by some as a critical test of how state antidiscrimination laws were applied to transgender students.
Read more at NYT.
That’s the theme question and writing prompt for Day 2 of #FemFest. This is my answer–today, anyway.
Yesterday I spent a considerable portion of my day thinking about how to talk to two young women who–independent of one another–pooh-poohed the very idea and existence of feminism as something that either didn’t concern them or that they didn’t feel a part of. In talking to the first woman, I learned that as a “working-class black woman,” she didn’t feel at all welcome in or comfortable with feminism–in fact, she believes feminism is pretty exclusive. Being white and new to active feminism, I don’t feel equipped to talk much about why that is (I’ll write more about this in a future post), but I did my best to assure her that my brand of feminism, and that of most of the feminists I’ve encountered, is the inclusive kind.
In the second case, a young blogger declared that feminists are a bunch of whiners who feel inferior–who believe they’re not yet equal to men and are fighting to become equal, which is silly because duh, we already are. She declared that, as a strong woman, she couldn’t possibly be a feminist, because feminists are obviously weak if they think they’re not equal.
In both cases I gave it my best shot, but I have no idea whether I got through. Frustrated, I turned to Jenn Pozner for help during her daily waiting-for-the-subway-Q-and-A.
@jennpozner How do you talk to young women who buy into the stereotypes about feminism and feminists?
— Rosie R. (@MMASammich) February 27, 2013
While I waited for her to respond, I pondered whether my question was a) stupid, and b) answerable via Twitter. After ten minutes, I was certain I’d caused poor Jenn to roll her eyes so hard she passed out. I wondered whether I should call 911. Then this popped into my feed:
Patience+info+clarity+humor…& I listen. MT @mmasammich How do u talk 2young women who buy into stereotypes about feminism &feminists?
— Jennifer L. Pozner (@jennpozner) February 27, 2013
I went back over my attempts at communicating with these two women, and I felt pretty good about them. And I realized how close I’d come in the second case to not even trying. Who was I to tell a young woman that she was wrong in her assumptions about feminism? And why would she listen to me? I’m one of THEM! I even closed the tab with her post in it and tried to move on, but it just kept niggling at the back of my brain, so I went and found it again and I told her some of the reasons I think feminism is important:
It took me many years to get past the lies society taught me about feminists and feminism and to call myself a feminist. Feminism is not about seeing your gender as unequal. It’s about noticing that our society doesn’t treat us as equal and deciding we’re fed up with that and want it to change. Feminists are the reason women have the right to vote, own property, get a bank account without our husband’s signature.
I still shave my legs and wear makeup, and I don’t hate men. I don’t feel inferior–but I am tired of being treated as though I’m inferior, and I’ve decided not to tolerate it anymore. Believe it or not, I’m stronger than a lot of people. I’ve survived some of the worst humanity can dish out, and I’m still here. Still fighting for what I believe in. As for things that aren’t fair, I’d much rather write about them and talk about them and work to change them than do nothing, but I certainly do my best not to whine. ;)
I think you’ll find that there are as many kinds of feminism as there are women (and men) who identify as feminists. Some of us are pretty cool people, once you get to know us. :)
That comment has not been approved and published, and it may not be. But I believe there’s a good chance that blogger will see things at least a little bit differently over time because I took a few minutes to be patient, provide clear and concise information, keep things light, and most importantly, to pay attention to what she was saying and respond to her specific criticisms.
And this is why my feminism is important. Because when I hear that something I wrote helped someone “get it” or made them feel something or helped bring them to a place where they felt comfortable declaring, “Yes! I am a feminist!” I know that I have to keep writing and talking and working for change. When I see my daughters’ eyes opening to the patriarchy that oppresses all of us (male and female), I know their lives will be better for that understanding, and that they will go forward and carry on the fight until there’s nothing left to fight anymore.
Feminism is important because there are still people out there who think women ought not to vote, work, or have a place in government. Because rape culture teaches us that our bodies are not our own, but made for men’s pleasure. Because boys are taught that it’s bad to be “girly.” Because the patriarchy hurts us all.
I am more than my body. More than my role as a mother and lover. I am more than a vehicle to transport my breasts and vagina to a man’s bed. I am more than a baby-making machine. And so are my daughters. And I will fight until the day I die to create a world in which they don’t feel the need to apologize for being female.
This post has been part of Feminisms Fest (#FemFest on Twitter). Learn more.
What is feminism to you? Why is it important?