Category Archives: Transgender

Gender, Privilege, and Complicity

There’s a massive blog discussion going on right now about transphobia in “radical feminism.” I’m having trouble keeping up with it, and I spend a huge amount of time online. I’m sure I’ll miss some points, but these are the ones I am thinking of right now.

First off, how can a movement committed to equality for both genders ignore the fact that there are other people being oppressed due to gender issues. In my logic, it would follow that feminism would align itself with trans liberation. I guess that’s not true. But as a feminist, and as a trans person, I see a very clear link between the two.

I think a further issue is the inability of certain people to acknowledge their own privilege, as Jack at Angry Brown Butch pointed out. I recently noticed this with a friend of mine when I realized she had no clue as to my lived experience compared to her own highly privileged lived experience. It’s probably hard for some people to extend themselves into understanding someone else and the intersecting oppressions which colour their lives, but at the same time I think it’s essential for personal growth to become empathetic and conscious of others. I’m lucky in that most people I’m close to are open enough to try expanding their understanding, but at the same time it’s frustrating to have to point it out.

Another point about the trans bashing on that thread was that the site owner failed miserably at moderating. Maybe it doesn’t seem (to some) that eliminating hateful comments from a post isn’t a priority, it’s the internet, la la la, the site owner wasn’t making the comments, etc. But take it into a real life situation. If the site owner was out having coffee with her faithful commenters and they saw a transwoman go into the bathroom and followed her to beat her up and then yell hateful invectives as she ran away, what responsibility does the site owner have if she wasn’t involved directly in the attack? You’re just as responsible for someone else’s oppression if you stand back as a spectator doing nothing. Pretty much all hate fuelled atrocities in the world have been enabled by people standing by and doing NOTHING. There is nothing that makes me feel more betrayed than having a close friend let someone get away with a racist/homophobic/transphobic/crazyphobic/fatphobic/etc. comment and then apologizing about it to me later. I can’t fight on my own all the time, and nobody should.

I did let someone get away with something really ignorant and stupid. I was having beers with two white women and a friend who’s a mix of Chinese and Japanese. We were having an okay conversation until the white women got excited about wanting my friend to teach them to make an Asian dish that was completely unrelated to her background, and which she didn’t know how to make either being born and raised in North America. She and I talked about it later, but I still felt like an ass for not calling those women out.

I also have trouble calling people out on their shit when they used the “Retarded” word. Okay, people, honestly SHUT THE FUCK UP!!! Retard is a fucked up word, and even though it perfectly describes my sister’s condition, I can’t use it because people attached so much goddamn bullshit to it. I don’t care if you think someone is severely developmentally delayed and disabled because they were an asshole or said something you don’t like. Do you even know what retarded means? And furthermore, have you ever clued into the fact that my sister who I love is severely retarded and that in effect using that word as a pejorative means you’re telling me her life is worth less than others?

So we all have a responsibility to stand up against hate and oppression even, especially, when it does not directly effect our lives. One thing which did make me feel good about this brouhaha was that a diverse group of people backed trans rights against a rabid group of phobes. And some really interesting discussions have been happening between more enlightened people about the complex issues raised in that thread. I’m going to link to some of my favorite posts, but I have to go get tattooed so it’s not going to happen now.

The Butch Jobseeker

As long as I’m talking about butch experience that other people, even femmes, completely fail to recognize, I thought I would talk about the personal economic impact of having a butch identity. Also I was inspired by a blog from Cameron at Gender 3.0 (which you can find under the surf with me section here).

There are some people of colour who sneer at queer rights activists because we can hide, while their difference is obvious (which is a stupid idea because I’m a POC and I’m not obvious). Okay, maybe some queers can hide, but not fuckin’ many. And especially not butches. And being butch is not a fashion decision, believe it or not. I don’t stand in front of my dresser pondering on whether to go with something girly in the extreme or my standard boy clothes (jeans, t shirt, bunnyhug, sneakers). Even when I do girl drag I still feel completely butch and miss having belt loops to stick my thumbs in.

I do, however, spend a loooong time trying to decide on my clothes for job interviews. Everybody does this, but not with the same issues as a butch woman. I have to balance my identity with corporate expectations of gender normativity, and no matter how carefully I choose my clothes, I fail the gender normative test every goddamn time. And I can so tell. The employer can be all excited about my qualifications but as soon as my butch self walks into the office for the interview, it’s over. And not only that, but both s/he and I know it’s over and for what reason, but we still go through the motions. They ask a few questions just to make me feel like I’m being considered, and then it’s over, shake hands, we’ll call you, and an hour of my time is wasted and I leave feeling humilated and without any method of redress.

So yeah, hard time finding jobs. The ones I do get are usually with people who know me. Sometimes butch dykes will tell each other where the few employers are in town that are dyke friendly. If this degrading job discrimination wasn’t bad enough, most people in my life (who are not butch) pester me about when I’m going to find a job, as if it’s in my control, like I can just walk into an office and say “I’m here, I will be working out of that corner office with the windows, thanks!” I’ll mumble something about being butch and that making it difficult to find work, but they don’t accept that as an explanation, because they don’t see butchphobia because they don’t know how to recognize it.

I always had a theory that being butch hinders my employment options, but I didn’t feel backed up in my theory until Cameron from Gender 3.0 said there are studies which show butch women have lower average income than femmes. It blows that whole theory out of the water that butch women are pretending to be men to access male privilege. Tell me honestly how many mainstream people treat butch women with the same esteem as bio men. And while femmes have a lot of struggles for sure, being gender normative is a huge privilege that I will never have. I had one girlfriend who totally recognized the privilege she had being high femme, which was nice, but not many other queer women recognize it. I can see it when I talk to femme friends who are job hunting, they end up with new jobs at a much more frequent rate than I, they get more interviews, better pay, better treatment. They don’t have someone go cold when they go for the interview.

Now I’m trying to keep myself steadily working on my own film career, which in some ways is good, some ways not so good. I’m still butch, still talking about being genderqueer in my films, even if I’m not saying it out loud. And I’m not entirely convinced yet that Telefilm is going to give me a million dollars to make a film about a butch woman in a psych ward. In fact, I keep getting turned down by various places when I pitch this freakin’ film. And if I won’t get funding for this, I’m dubious that I will get funded for a film about hunting down a white murderer of aboriginal women and having an extended beheading scene at the end. But who knows, maybe I will end up with like, six screenplays and one day people will be less discriminatory and someone will actually want to produce them.

Or maybe they will end up dusty in an attic, I will die penniless and alone, and fifty years hence some feminist will unearth my manuscripts and call me a forgotten genius and I’ll end up in some art history text. Poor Thirza. She was too many things too many people hate and no one ever knew what an awesome story teller she is.

And what will I do for a living? Call centres? Dear lord, someone enforce laws against discriminating on someone based on gender, and I mean all genders, not just Men and Women.