|Posted by Transgender Education Collaboration on July 30, 2012 at 8:30 AM||comments (0)|
With all eyes on the UK for the Summer Olympics, I thought it would be fitting to discuss Oxford University’s recent policy change to eliminate references to gender in their dress code policies. Previously, students who are legally male were required to wear a suit and tie to formal school events and exams, while students who are legally female were required to wear a skirt or pants, stockings and a ribbon around the neck. Personally speaking, I would feel ridiculous wearing stockings and a ribbon around my neck! And it would most certainly impact my performance on exams.
School dress codes, in one sense or another, have been used to conform and assimilate for hundreds of years. Some even argue that school dress codes can be an equalizing mechanism both inside and outside the classroom. One can see evidence of this in the Native American and Mexican American boarding schools, and still today in private schools across the nation.
As a graduate of twelve years of Catholic School, I have a love-hate relationship with school dress codes. Both the benefits and drawbacks I found in wearing uniforms relate in some way to identity and individuality. I hated the fact that girls were expected to wear skirts every day. Even though wearing pants was an option, I was only one of a handful of girls who chose to wear pants a majority of the time. On the other hand, I was glad that I was able to look like my classmates even though I felt different from them; I believe this cut down on a lot of teasing that would have been present had I attended a public school. In this way, I benefitted from belonging to an in-group that included people who, in any other circumstance, could have been my bullies.
Although many schools with dress codes have relaxed the policies for female-bodied students, allowing them to wear pants in addition to skirts, rarely have we seen a move in the other direction for male-bodied students. I applaud Oxford for being inclusive of all genders and gender identities. Go, Oxford!
|Posted by Transgender Education Collaboration on July 21, 2012 at 5:30 AM||comments (0)|
It has occurred to me recently that we are engaged in a war of words.
I often become deluded in thinking that I blog in a vacuum - that I work steadily to spread the word about transgender people and their plight, and that the world goes merrily on around me in a sort of neutral state. I'm an optimist, really. I want to assume the best in people, so I think of the outside world as a blank canvas for me to paint upon, and if my brush touches them, they'll be colored by my experience, and educated by my words. I naively assume that I'm the only one trying to change the world for transgender people. I'm not the only artist at the canvas.
The other day, I was happily surfing the web, when I happened across the blog of a cisgender woman speaking on the subject of transgender rights. As I read her words, I became more and more appalled and upset. She said many things that I won't repeat here, not only denying the existence and experience of transgender people, but going as far to state that she was offended that we had the NERVE to say we weren't our biological genders. I looked further, and saw that this wasn't just one single ignorant rant on her blog, after which she was done. No, this was her ENTIRE BLOG. Post after post after post, decrying the existence and experience of transgender people.
This deeply troubled me. Ordinarily I'm the sort of woman that can let this stuff roll off my back. I can usually just tell myself, "these sort of people exist, but that doesn't make your own experience any less valid. Ignore her, and she will go away." This particular morning, though, I wasn't able to shake it off. I was so upset that I began to cry as I read her words. It was like a train wreck that I couldn't draw my eyes away from.
I don't even know what to say. I think the thing that pains me most, is that there IS NO TALKING TO THIS PERSON. You can't educate them. They're the bad, closed-minded sort that won't listen to a word you say. You can stack all the evidence in front of them that you want, and they're just going to continue to insist we're our birth-genders. I'm not so much bothered by her specifically as much as the IDEA of her... that there are people like her, and that there's absolutely nothing to be done about it.
It's not that I found her words personally hurtful... I was getting really upset that there are people who think like this, and worse, there are people who listen to people who think like this. Think of it this way : My blog has the power to change lives, right? People read it, and think, "This is what a trans woman is like. This is what her life is like. This is what being transgender is like. The pain, the experience, the whole 9 yards. I understand, and it has changed my perspective."
Now, think that her blog can do the same thing. People will read it. Some people will actually listen to it, and it will change their perspectives. Having people who love me and accept me is wonderful, and I don't mean to discount the value of that at all, but having allies doesn't mean that someone out there may have their opinion of trans people changed by this woman, and that there's nothing I can do in my power to stop that from happening. If she's loud enough, and if enough people listen to her, things like LAWS can change. "Oh, let'm think that" just isn't acceptable, when the prevalence of this line of thinking is why people like myself and my friends have to fear for our lives on a regular basis. It's hard to have faith that living in a cisgender world is even worth while when there are utterly immobile obstacles such as her, trying their hardest to actually create MORE immobile obstacles for people like myself, simply because we dare exist.
TEC Blog Disclaimer: All Blogs are the property of their authors and reflect the opinions of their authors
|Posted by Transgender Education Collaboration on July 16, 2012 at 8:00 AM||comments (1)|
Welcome our new guest blogger, Eli, who will be sharing with us every other Monday.
It is growing increasingly difficult to answer what should be the easiest, most obvious questions, like - what is your name? What is your gender? Even at the age of 32, I am still figuring these things out. I identify as agender, which (to me) means that I feel neither man nor woman, and ascribing to or being perceived as either of those set of norms causes me dysphoria. As an educational scholar with a penchant for sociology, I am always tripped up by the wording we have to use to describe people whose gender(s) fall outside of the socially-constructed binary. Trans* people have to define themselves as "othered" simply by virtue of the fact that there is a center (the male/female strict binary) and we are, to steal a phrase from bell hooks, at the margins. Or perhaps, some of us are off the page entirely. But we still have to define ourselves by explaining how we are not in the binary, or how we differ from the established gender system.
This past weekend I was at a family gathering where we ended up talking about my pregnant cousin's choice of names for her soon-to-be-born child, who will be assigned female at birth. We discussed the fear of giving a child a name they do not like. Although my family still calls me by my birth name, and does not know (yet) of my desire to be called something else, I proudly stated that there should be no problem with a child or an adult choosing to change their name at any time, for any number of reasons. A couple of my family members agreed with me which was comforting, but I know this is all theoretical until I come home and request to be called something different.
I sometimes wonder what it's like for people who feel connected to their birth names; I know lots of people whose names just really seem to 'fit' them. My birth name was so common that in grade school and high school, there were at least three other girls (in my year alone!) with the same name. Being the introverted nerd that I am, I wasn't the most popular person with that name, and therefore mostly tended to ignore any call that included my name. Although I have never felt 'connected' to my given name, over the past couple of years I have struggled to find a name that I do feel a connection with. I was looking for a gender neutral name that fit me, my personality, and also was not overly common (been there, done that). I went through three different names before deciding on Eli.
In about a month, I will be starting a PhD program in Teacher Education at Michigan State University. Since becoming aware of the pervasiveness of the gender binary - in school curriculum, social infrastructure and mass media, just to name a few - it became clear to me that this was what I was meant to do with my life. It is becoming more and more common to have children as early as first grade identifying as transgender or genderqueer - the issue is even getting national media attention. Consequently, I believe it is imperative that teachers and administrators at all levels have adequate training on how to be an advocate and ally for gender variant youth.
I firmly believe it will be easier to start in a new place with a new name so that it's easier for everyone to get it right. I'm asking my professors and other colleagues to call me Eli. I'm spending the money to change my university email account to remove my birth name. I'm excited to begin this journey! New name, new place; it is exhilerating to be able to re-invent yourself after feeling stuck in a rut for so many years. This includes being active with the Transgender Education Collaboration! So many thanks to M for allowing me to participate in this wonderful organization.
A Bit About Eli
Eli is originally from Missouri and recently made the exciting move to Lansing to begin a PhD program in Teacher Education at Michigan State University, working with both K-12 and higher education settings to create trans*- and queer- friendly curriculum and pedagogy. Eli's goal is to positively impact how we teach and learn about gender identity, gender expression, and gender norms. Eli has worked as a part-time college instructor for four years teaching both cultural geography and multicultural education courses. Some folks who inspire Eli include bell hooks, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Angela Davis, W.E.B. Dubois, Audre Lorde and Paulo Freire. In their free time, Eli loves playing with their dog, Marley, taking photographs of nature, playing video games, juggling (literally and figuratively), cooking, and spending quality time with friends and family.
|Posted by Transgender Education Collaboration on July 7, 2012 at 8:55 AM||comments (1)|
At my office, I'm completely out as a transgender woman. As I transitioned, I slowly spent more and more time as Sara, and my office was the last bastion that my former self was hiding, and that castle finally fell a little over a year ago. I've been full time since April 2011. Since I transitioned on the job, I don't see much point of trying to stealth here. My office is very progressive, my H.R. department is very supportive, and my coworkers are very nice! I've had a small handful of people ask me about my transition, and I've been more than happy to answer questions.
Today, a few coworkers and I were chatting around the water cooler. One of these coworkers was telling us the story of how her boyfriend - excuse me, EX boyfriend - cheated on her. It left my other coworker and I shocked, appalled, and angry on her behalf. We sputtered various supportive comments, and described various quarries and reservoirs bodies could be stashed. At one point, I said, "My GOODNESS, what on earth goes through the minds of men!?"
My one coworker just stared at me inquisitively. The other coworker, the one with the cheating boyfriend, was wide-eyed, and said, "Wow, REALLY Sara? Did those words just come out of your mouth?"
I was quick to laugh. "Hey! If I knew what it was like to think like a man, do you honestly think I'd have transitioned?" I defended myself. My coworkers shrugged their shoulders, and muttered their concessions that I had a good point, and conversation moved on.
This was a funny exchange - or, at least, it was in my humble opinion - but this is honestly an internal dialogue I catch myself having all the time! When confronted with attempting to interpret the actions, interests, or thought processes of a man, I catch myself saying, "Well, I was a man once, and I never..." I have to stop myself right there, because I'm already wrong. "No, Sara," I tell myself, "You never did that, because you were never a man! You may have lived in the role, and you may have even had the physical credentials to blend in amongst them, but you have never THOUGHT like a man."
This is a common misconception, I think, about transgender people - that, because they "were" a different gender once, they understand and can interpret that gender's commonalities. I won't argue that it does give us a certain anthropological insight, having lived amongst the natives of a foreign tribe for so long, but to say, "You were a man once," is simply a false statement. I was no more a man in my previous 30 years than Jane Goodall was a gorilla in the mist. I dare say, that if I actually DID understand how men thought, it may not have been necessary for me to transition.
This is a difficult concept for me to grasp, since I spent 30 years mimicking a man. I went through all of the motions so efficiently, I fooled even myself! I can only imagine how difficult of a concept this is for other people to grasp, as well. After all, people don't usually have to think of a person in the context of changing gender. It is, however, something to just keep in mind. Food for thought!
TEC Blog Disclaimer: Blogs are the personal writings of their respective authors.
|Posted by Transgender Education Collaboration on June 30, 2012 at 4:30 AM||comments (0)|
One of the biggest personal issues we experience as transgender people is dysphoria. Dysphoria, for those who do not know or fully understand, is the extreme depression caused by the disparity between our bodies and our minds. My mind tells me, for instance, that I'm supposed to be gently curvy, with a smooth face, narrow shoulders and ribs, with female genitalia. However, when I look in the mirror - or, really, am in any other way harshly reminded - I see that what my mind tells me isn't necessarily how things are. I'm not curvy at all, unless you count carrying my weight in my belly (a typically male place) instead of my hips, thighs, and butt (more typically feminine). My face still has some stubborn hair on it that has grown back since my last round of laser hair removal, and sometimes causes "beard shadow" to appear on my face. My shoulders and ribs are too wide for a typical cisgender woman, and makes fitting into tops cut for a more hour-glass shaped figure difficult. It should go without saying that external genitalia on a woman such as myself causes some ... issues... of its own.
Being reminded socially also causes dysphoria. For instance, if one were to call me "sir" or "mister," or - heaven forbid - use my old name, I would quickly become dysphoric. I would feel even more trapped and confined by the body that does not fit me and does not represent me at all. I would feel ugly, and unfit to be viewed by the people around me. If my dysphoria got bad enough, I would possibly harm myself, and consider ... more permanent options for releasing myself from the bounds of my body, to make the pain go away. Ultimately, freeing ourselves from dysphoria is the single driving reason for our transitions - I live as a woman because I cannot stand to spend another minute as a man. Not because I wanted to. Not because I'm doing this for kicks, or to freak people out, or because I just think girls are so pretty that I wanted to be one. I FLED from the pain of being expected to act like a man.
This quick, violent spiral of depression and anxiety is not something that most cisgender people truly understand, sadly. They can't. I can describe to someone all day long what dysphoria feels like, and they'll still never really KNOW what it's like. It doesn't compare to your standard "body issues." Plenty of people are uncomfortable with their bodies, sure. Very few of those people, however, are willing to commit suicide to make the pain and uncertainty stop.
... And that's OKAY!
We know you can't possibly understand. That's why it hurts us so much when you say, "I know how you feel." If we're complaining about our bodies, please understand one basic fact : the discomfort you feel about your body - having a little extra around the middle, your teeth not quite being straight or white, your shoulders being a tad too big for your frame, your breasts not being full enough for a top - does not even remotely compare to dysphoria.
Hearing this serves as a reminder of all the privilege I don't have. When cisgender girls roll out of bed in the morning, they'll be identified as women. Without makeup, without clothes to help accentuate or disguise their shapes, without having to shave anything, people will look at them and say, "this girl over here." When they're intimate with their partners, they don't need to think, "will they reject me because I don't have the appropriate bits for my gender?" When they walk into a restroom, they don't need to watch their back, and pay extra attention to the reactions of others in that room, because if they get misgendered, they might be beaten or killed.
In short, hearing the words, "I know how you feel," or anything akin to it, is like walking up to someone who survived hurricane Katrina, and saying, "I know how you feel. Sometimes it rains where I live too." As trans people, we don't need you to understand. In fact, anyone experiencing dysphoria probably doesn't WANT you to understand how horrible that pain can be. We just need you to appreciate that we ARE hurting, and we will need your support and love to get through it.
So, instead of trying to make the person's dysphoria seem small in comparison, by saying, "I know how you feel... sometimes I get a bit of hair on my upper lip," try saying something like, "I'm sorry. I know your facial hair really bothers you. I want you to know I think you're beautiful, though, no matter what hair you might have on your body." We'll thank you for not trying to appropriate our pain and anguish.
Lastly, don't be afraid to ask HOW you can help. Some may just ask to be held as they cry. Some may want you to help take their minds off of the pain. Many of us won't know, but at least you've put the power in our hands, in a moment when we feel most powerless.
|Posted by Transgender Education Collaboration on June 23, 2012 at 8:00 AM||comments (0)|
Today we introduce one of our new regular guest bloggers. We are excited to be featuring new bloggers!
Hi, everybody! My name is Sara Jakubowski. I'm a 32 year old transgender woman, living in the Metro Detroit area. I've been living full time in a female role since April of 2011, so in a lot of ways, I'm still discovering new things about living life on the other side of the gender-line.
For that last year since I've gone "full time," I've been keeping a blog of my experiences, at www.suddenly-sara.com. Now, the good people here with the Transgender Education Coalition have asked me to join forces with them, which I agreed to readily! I'd like to thank them for the opportunity to be a regular feature here on this site.
It's always a bit difficult being handed a deadline, and being told, "Write something." I'm certainly not saying this as a knock to the wonderful people here with TEC; quite the contrary, such a request shows a lot of trust in my creativity and clarity as a blogger. That said, it's something I struggle with my own blog, and again with this one. Often, I look for inspiration for topics around me. Some of the most seemingly unrelated things can get me to thinking about how my life as a transgender woman is effected by them, and those trains of thought often turn themselves magically into blog posts.
I'm actually writing this on June 19th. Today is my 8th wedding anniversary. My wife and I have not been together for 2 years now - some would argue we haven't been "together" for much longer than that, but that's a whole different story. I mused, though, that I had entirely forgotten about today having any significance, and how June used to be such a meaningful month for me. My coworker asked me a rather insightful question as I mused : "Do you think you'd be the woman you are today without her support?" I was immediately able to answer, "No."
There is quite a bit one could say on the subject of my ex, and my relationship with her. We certainly had our fair share of problems, and I often wonder when - not if - we would have divorced even if I had been cisgender. In spite of those problems, though, she was always supportive of me and my gender variation. Even when I had no idea where any of this was going, and I thought I just liked wearing pretty things, she was supportive. I would even go so far as to say, when I first told her that I liked dressing as a woman that fateful Halloween party, and that I'd like to maybe do that more often, the very fact that she was accepting right at that moment shaped my entire future. If she'd have told me she was uncomfortable with my dressing in female clothing, or worse, called me a freak, I would have shoved Sara back in the closet so far she'd have suffocated! It might have been years - decades - before I let her back out, if ever again. In many ways, Sara was conceived the very second my wife nodded thoughtfully and said, "I can deal with that. Okay."
That was only step one, of course. Recreational crossdressing doesn't quite compare to hormones, surgery, and living full time in this gender role. There was a long process of self-discovery that she was at my side for, as well. When I was paralyzed with fear, having come so far and realizing that I needed to transition if I was ever going to be happy again, she was the one that encouraged me to seek help, and motivated me to make that change. Ultimately, she put my happiness and well-being before her own. She helped me live.
In retrospect, every single person that didn't balk at my coming out to them was a significant point in my transition. Every person who showed support, told me I was beautiful, made an effort to use my female name and female pronouns, who lent me clothes, gave me makeup tips, and most importantly, every single shoulder I cried on along the rocky path to womanhood helped me live. There is no doubt in my mind, I would not be the woman I am today without my allies cheering me along the way.
So, my lesson to the cisgender community is this : You may be weirded out by all of this. You may think you're losing the guy or girl you've known all these years, and they're becoming someone you don't know. You may not understand. You may even object for personal reasons. None of that matters one bit. The support you show to a fellow human being today can literally count for life or death in the future. None of us go through this world alone, but it can sometimes feel like it. Loving and accepting someone for who they are, and genuinely being there for them can change lives.