Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Nudity, Consent, and What I'd Have Said At The Skyclad Ritual

Modesty picture... to avoid my
boobs being posted on Facebook.
Content note that this post does contain a picture of my bare chest which may be triggering to some trans peopleSecondary note:  This is a mirrored post that appears on multiple blogs.

My partner and I went to a skyclad ritual at PSG (it happens every year, it's called "You Are Beautiful Skyclad").  The premise is that we collect for a brief ritual in a somewhat secluded area when it's dark and at a pivotal part of the ritual everyone takes their clothes off for as long as they want in a judgment-free zone.  In addition, most of the time I wasn't sunburnt I was going topless throughout the week, something I did not do last year aside from a couple rituals in the dark.  I, like most people, worry about how people look at me.

Anyway, the skyclad ritual.  There was a point where we could voluntarily offer why we were there.  I considered saying something--and am kicking myself a bit that I didn't, because I think the attendees could have benefited from the perspective--but the weather started to turn and so we were low-key rushed and I wound up not doing it.

First I'll explain why I went to this ritual (albeit more in-depth than I would have had I spoke there).  After the second page break, though, I'd like to talk to some of the consent issues that occurred, as this is a recurring problem that got worse this year (at least from my vantage point).



Picture of me featuring a comically tiny djembe.
I am somebody who is comically nervous about my own nudity.  I even, in a panic, cover my chest in a tizzy if it becomes partially exposed in my own home, even though this normally occurs in front of my roommates, both of whom have access to pictures of my nude body on FetLife and one of whom is an ex sexual partner who knows damn well what my body looks like.  I kind of wish I wasn't that way, because outside of other people's perceptions?  I'm very comfortable with my body.

As a non-op trans person I'm in the position where to the cis gaze I look like a particularly hairy woman if I am not wearing clothes.  I went on hormones for a few years to grow a beard and deepen my voice, but since I went off them a lot of the changes to my figure are going away, and I don't intend to try very hard to get them back.  I'm chubbier than I wish I was, but aside from that, I'm quite comfortable with my body as it is.

That comfort  makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  I'm not supposed to be comfortable.  Cis people don't like it.  Trans people don't like it.  There is literal medical literature defining me as being inherently uncomfortable with my body.

Cis people don't like it because they don't like when trans people do not seek to conform to their body norms.  There's a huge double standard here... they also hate it when we blend in well, because they pride themselves in being able to "read" transness in people, but to not even try puts cracks in the façade that looking like a cis person is the only way to be comfortable in a body.  No, I'm supposed to hate my breasts so much that I can't even bear to shower with the lights on, I'm supposed to hate my lack of a cis penis so much that I will not leave the house without a silicone replacement strapped to me or let a partner enter me.  I was supposed to want to be on testosterone forever because estrogen would make my body squishy, and Gods forbid a man be squishy.

Trans people also don't like it, although to be fair I am willing to use more nuance with them than I would with cis people's garbage opinions.  Trans people who are uncomfortable with my comfort with my body are dealing with the weight of the aforementioned cis opinions.  They're worried that visibility granted to bodies like mine will impact their access to lifetime hormones and surgery.  If I don't need them, after all, why should Aidan's parents believe he does?  I do, for the record, worry about things like that, and I also worry that my body is triggering to other trans people, but ultimately it is not my responsibility to make my body conform to a trans narrative for other people's comfort, including other trans people.

I increasingly go nude at clothing-optional events for this reason.  It's not a bravery thing, and the prospect of cis people calling me "brave" for showing my clearly-trans body kind of annoys me.  It's me making a statement that I can be comfortable and not culpable for either cis or trans people's feelings about that.  It's also a statement for trans people that you are not obligated to pretend to feel uncomfortable with your body (but if you aren't, of course).  Trans bodies deserve the right to be naked at these events just as cis bodies do, and that's something I want to advocate as loudly as possible.



So on that note, let's talk about consent and creepers.  I was somewhat uncomfortable topless at first, but I got used to it fairly quickly (at least until the sunburn kicked in; I'll be looking into more effective ways of preventing that next year, which alas may necessitate less nudity).  There were some stares, and some misgendering from behind (I don't blame them; I do have long hair and an estrogen-powered figure, so my ability to "pass" is concentrated in my beard!), etc. but it was otherwise uneventful.  Other than the skyclad ritual and a few short walks to the swim area and to the bathroom (always done either in the dark or kind of obscuring my crotch with pool noodles) I did not go bottomless.  Maybe next year, if I am feeling particularly bold, but probably not... full nudity is rare at Pagan festivals nowadays.

But... there's a reason for that.  Well, lots of reasons.  And you know what?  I already talked about that on Reclaiming Warlock a couple years ago. I want to instead talk about some consent-related issues that occurred.

First of all, I was kissed without my consent... twice.  One was somebody I knew.  The other was somebody I did not who was excited because my magickal gift exchange gift was super badass.  But it's still... ugh.  I'm becoming more and more personally comfortable with touch as I talk to people more and hang out in the in-person community more, so there was no lasting harm done to me other than annoyance, but I shudder anyway because there are so many people with histories of sexual abuse who are re-victimized by this behavior.  I know you're trying to be friendly.  I know you're expressing that you're glad to see me or excited.  But please, please, please start paying attention to this sort of thing.

Second, there was a bizarre consent incident I witnessed at a workshop where a presenter performed a fivefold kiss (which involves kissing the feet, knees, stomach, breasts, and mouth) on a volunteer without explaining first what a fivefold kiss was... at least I don't remember him explaining it first.  I asked my partner if she had detected any consent to this and she reported that she had not.  So basically this woman got her breasts kissed by a dude in front of everyone at a workshop without any pre-negotiation.  Side note:  I'm pretty sure this could have been verbally explained.

Third, my experience is heavily gendered.  I got a couple stares from people who were probably confused about my body (most probably ultimately were influenced by the fact that I am also fat; my breasts aren't cisnormative even for a fat guy, but there are lots of cis guys who come close).  But these dissipated in the first couple days.  My girlfriend, however, reported that she got a lot of stares while topless, like gross leering stares including objectifying grins.  In the article I linked earlier I talk about this phenomenon under the "creepers" header.  I'll copy the relevant passage here:
I'm surprised at how little the original article touched on the whole subject of creepers, because quite frankly there are a lot of them.  Then again, people are often unwilling to point out that these people are creepers due to the unfortunate association of open sexuality with being more socially evolved that plagues radical and alternative communities (I'll talk a bit about that later).  To use an example, the very first time I encountered nudity at a public Pagan gathering involved a woman who was minding her own business only to have some dude grovel at her feet thanking her and calling her things like "Goddess" because she was nude, as if her nudity was inherently something meant for him.  When nudity brings you this kind of attention, it makes sense that people would put their clothes back on.
For the record, this isn't about jealousy or anything like I'm somehow made insecure by other men looking at my partner; we are a polyamorous couple after all!  And I'm well aware she's beautiful as fuck and pleasant on the eyes.  But this is something that she was very uncomfortable with.  Men typically don't experience the kind of laser stares that women do, so maybe they assume that they're somehow not contributing to a toxic environment of sexual objectification, but I assure you... you are.

I saw less kilt harassment this year, but that was likely due to the absence of Celia Farran, whose "Men In Kilts" song caused a rash of women shouting inappropriate things to men last year.  I'm not saying that this is a problem equal in scope to harassment of women, because it isn't, but as somebody who would love to one day don a kilt, it makes me extremely nervous. Sidenote:  I love Celia Farran.  But seriously  Tone it down.

In short, I love public nudity, but we still have loads of consent issues we need to work out.

Monday, June 12, 2017

On Toxic Leftbook Culture

I just left a Leftbook group.  One I loved... like I really loved it.  I'd talk about shit I found on this group pretty much every day.  Called "why did you diy that???" it was hilarious, showcasing some of the worst DIY fails, useless DIYs, etc.

What is Leftbook?  I'm using it loosely, as I've seen some more narrow definitions, but generally it's used to describe pages, groups, and other areas on Facebook primarily frequented by leftists (anarchists, communists, greens, SJWs, etc.).  The themes vary, with a number of them being dedicated to something that isn't explicitly leftist, but with rules and conventions that are found in left and SJW communities.  Things like requiring trigger warnings, requiring textual descriptions of pictures for visually impaired folks, bans on oppressive content, or an expectation that there will be Discourse.

And that's great.  I love that there are places I can find interesting things that aren't political where people are actively trying not to be pieces of shit.

But I needed to talk about the shit that just happened at "why did you diy that???" because it's just not fucking OK.  And this is a long time coming.  I've already seen a couple groups I loved less wind up self-destructing over shitty rules, or rules that were applied on the whim of one or two outliers, to hell with what the actual community thinks.  Think things like demanding common in-community words be censored ("i regret to inform you that the cis are at it again" was demanding people censor the word "queer," a word that trans people fucking use).

So today is Monday, which at WDYDT??? means people post their own personal DIYs.  Everything was going fine until--if I remember right, you'll know why I might not remember later--a white teacher posted a picture of a tipi she had built as an educational tool.  And there was Discourse.  People had posted stuff like this before, stuff that wasn't in their lane, had discussions, realized they were wrong, and everything was fine.  White women posting skin and hair care DIYs to ridicule, finding they are meant for black women, apologizing, comments closed, lessons learned, done.  This is a thing that, despite our culture of disposability, happens.  We've all done something appropriative sometime.  If I was forced to make a bet over whether I will appropriate something without thinking in the future, I would bet "yes" to preserve my damn money, and I probably wouldn't even need to wait that long to get it.

But somewhere the planets were aligned just right that rather than having a real discussion on the subject, people hurled abuse at this woman.  There were even death threats.

Now think about what happens when you have a thread on Twitter or a Facebook post get popular, whether for good or bad reasons.  If you're like most people using these services, your phone is connected to them.  If you keep your volume or vibrate on, it's constant, like your phone is blowing up or malfunctioning, an endless cacophony constantly pestering you over this thing you posted.  If you're like me and are stressed out by your phone, maybe you keep your volume off all the time only to see a massive list of retweets, likes, faves, and comments every time you look at it.

It really fucking gnaws at you.  Hell, even when I post something I'm really proud of, and people are showering me with praise, it can be frustrating after a while.  But dozens of nasty comments speckled with death threats?  It doesn't matter if there was some good Discourse there.

The mods told her to keep the post up, because the rules of the group demand it.  "Accountability" they say.  Because in SJW world, you are not allowed to ever forget that you did a bad thing once.

She deleted it anyway.  She was then banned, although to be fair, the experience was so bad she was intending to leave anyway.  The mods then posted an explanation that they had asked her to keep it up, telling people that instead of deleting their posts they can ask for comments to be turned off.

And you know what?  That's abusive as fuck.  If people were blowing up my fucking phone commenting that I'm a terrible person because of some of the absolute shit I wrote in the past I would fucking delete that piece, regardless of if it were breaking a rule.

If your rules are resulting in abuse, they're shitty rules.

And there's more.  If people are sending death threats over this thing... what makes you think they're going to just stick with commenting?  You're forcing somebody to keep her name on something that's generating abuse under the misguided assumption that turning comments off is going to stop said abuse.  Are you like... new to the internet?  Seriously.  And that's not mentioning people taking screenshots to make sure if it ever leaves that part of Facebook it'll wind up on Twitter, Tumblr, or some other section of Facebook.

It's not that I don't want accountability.  To reiterate myself as a convenient example, there are plenty of total shit things I've done and especially written that I will own up to readily.  I wrote an incredibly racist (as in white savior racist) book.  I used to be a class-above-all communist and wrote ridiculous shit about that.  I engaged in seriously appropriative vegan activism.  These were all things that happened, parts of my history I will not erase.  But there's a huge difference between accountability and pillory, the latter of which I guess leftbook thinks is just fucking fine as long as it's not the State doing it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Dear Loved Ones of Trans People: It's Not About You

I wanted to talk about a terrible Guardian article.  This was written by the ex-spouse of a trans woman, and is titled "A letter to... my transgender husband: Why did it have to be all about you?"  This comes right on the heels of that ridiculous thinkpiece by a woman insisting her child is not trans (insinuating that trans people are encouraging tomboys to transition).  I'm not going to talk about these cases individually, but I wanted to put something out there:

Cis people really, really love making our transitions about them.

And then get really angry--or, more appropriately, whiny--when we don't follow suit.

Let me tell a bit of my own story.  I came out at 18 years old.  The first three people that I told were my mom, my dad, and my boyfriend at the time, in that order.  And all three of them ostensibly supported me while making very little effort to... well, actually support me.  Constant misgendering (something I still experience from my parents--I don't keep in contact with my ex, but I assume he does as well--ten years later, calling me "she" even with an appearance that any stranger on the street would assume to be male).

After I broke up with my ex, I found a post from him on a video game forum where he was going on about what a huge ego deflation it was to find out that his very first girlfriend had turned out to be a man, as if it was somehow his love had been so faulty that it singlehandedly caused me to renounce womanhood.  The thing was, I spent an irrationally long time trying to make that relationship work after coming out, telling myself over and over again things about how he just needed time to learn how to handle it, if there was no chance of him understanding he would break up with me instead of jagging me around for months, right?

When it comes to romantic relationships, there's this popular perception out there that trans people come out to our partners and then ruin everything for our own selfish desires, like how dare we seek to end a particular form of misery in our lives if our partners don't like it.  The author of the Guardian letter makes a big deal about how she asked for time to come to terms with everything, but her transgender spouse "refused," even though it was a decision "affecting both of them."  While I would never say that somebody's transition didn't affect their loved ones, this is an extremely one-sided account of how transition works in a transphobic society.

Trans people don't just realize we're trans and immediately steamroll over our relationships.  The reality is that trans people--since we grow up understanding through the media that being trans is awful, weird, deviant, and sinister--have historically been highly likely to put off telling loved ones in order to preserve those relationships.  For many of us, we learn as children to just shut up about those feelings, and start building lives as if they don't exist, digging a hole of obligations and attachments that are harder and harder to get out of or modify with each passing year.  This, by the way, is why allowing kids to experiment with their gender identities is so important; if a child knows they are trans, and have constant medical and social barriers erected to discourage them at all points in their lives that transition is only a last resort for the truly, absolutely miserable, they bury those feelings and dig that aforementioned hole.

There is a not-insignificant number of trans people--especially but not limited to older trans women--who are so invested in preserving the relationships they've built during those closeted times that they either suppress their feelings, painfully, for years, or they resort to living double lives, with or without their partners' knowledge.  I know people whose spouses know full well they would prefer to be living as women, but are so uncomfortable with the idea that they work out a compromise, like "You can present as a woman in designated places, provided I never see you."

We put up with cis people's melodrama all the time.  I could shower in cis people tears over how allegedly mean we are, yet it is perfectly socially acceptable for them to be incredibly cruel to us.

And to reiterate:  I'm not saying it's not hard for their spouses.  I'm not even saying that it's somehow single-handedly a spouse's fault if somebody puts off transition, as there are many people creating this hellish structure.  I'm saying that, despite all the indignance and whining and pouting, most of the time any compromise made, cis people require more concession on the part of the trans person than they are willing to give.  In fact, the trans person may have been making concessions long before even telling their partner by choosing to pretend they were not trans for years, maybe decades.

Related note:  Every time somebody publishes another garbage article about how selfish trans people are with our poor helpless spouses, it is also culpable in encouraging trans people to stay miserable and in the closet, which contributes to more spouses being blindsided with the issue.

My personal experience with this, though, is mostly regarding parents, who are also highly likely to be melodramatic about their child's transition, even while trying to play the part of a supportive parent.  I see highly supportive parents more and more (an extreme relief for me), and I by no means expect immediate perfection, but there are so many things I wish I had asserted when I first came out to my parents.  I made a lot of concessions, and my silence and my tolerance of their misgivings early on is probably a part of why they put me in danger of being outed whenever we are out together in public.  I'd tell myself it was just a question of my appearance, that once I got on hormones it would be different, because I'd look so male they wouldn't be able to misgender me if they tried.  This naïveté seems silly to me now, but at the time I was really banking on my future beard and voice to try making things work out better.

This would be a thing my parents would low-key discourage for almost a decade, telling me I needed to be patient.  When I finally did make an appointment with a gender therapist, my father sternly lectured at me about how I needed to learn to wait for things because I was "always jumping into things."  This was after almost seven years of waiting, of having to hear the same people whine that it was too hard to call me the right  name--a name which itself was a concession, which I adopted from a nickname they literally gave me as a child, one I hated by the way--or the right pronouns.

Finally I went to therapy anyway, got on hormones, and this has caused me lasting relief I would not have gotten any other way.  Relief that could have come years earlier, were I not constantly being patient with and making sacrifices for the cis people in my life.

To my dad's credit, he did help me finish the therapy once I had started and my therapist abruptly increased the per-session cost.  I don't believe I have terrible parents by any means.  I certainly have friends who for all intents and purposes just don't have parents anymore, so in that respect I am extremely lucky and grateful.

But by waiting to transition, I gave up years of social development that could have (who am I kidding: would have) saved me around eight years (factoring in when I came out and when I transitioned) of being uncomfortable in my own skin, being emotionally unstable, having low self-confidence, and being stressed out, the same things my parents and school forced me into therapy for as a child, things that mostly went away after transition that were not going to be solved by a chat with a school counselor.  And I can think of so many bad things that would not have happened and so many milestones I would have reached sooner if I had sought out transition sooner.

And while this was all happening, my parents used the typical melodramatic language about how they were "mourning" the "loss" of their "daughter," how they'd "never get to see me in a wedding dress" (I was openly disinterested in marriage since I was a teenager); basically, they lost a shred of their ability to live vicariously through me and because of that this was all so very hard and they couldn't possibly use language to describe me that was respectful or understand things that are quite frankly obvious to anybody with a modicum of understanding of trans issues.

I don't have patience anymore for the idea that our transitions are markedly difficult for our cis loved ones while we're supposed to tolerate them treating us like trash.

My pity for cis people on this subject is extremely limited.  A cis person looks at a trans person who decides to transition despite the pleas of their spouse, their children, or their parents as "selfish."  I envy them for their resolve and, although I know it's not popular to say it, their courage.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

How To Have A Trans-Friendly Restroom

With bathrooms being one of the big hot buttons now (like it always has been) I wanted to bring up my own standards for what makes a trans friendly bathroom (partially inspired by a couple restaurants and bars whose stories are told here).  What follows are things that stick out to me as being common issues that make restrooms less safe or welcoming for transgender people, things that aren't necessarily brought up in the big media lowdowns on the subject.

Of course, not all trans people will agree with me on all these points (in particular, a number of trans men and trans women are decidedly not on "Team Gender Neutral," and those who are occasionally sneer at single-gender signs that have a trans symbol on them), so you should consult with local trans folks when you can.

Make sure your staff--all of them--are on the same page and understand that your restrooms are trans friendly.

A few years ago our local Pride wound up a huge cluster because although they had a policy on the books that was trans friendly, not all of their staff were explicitly told about this, leading to security asking people to use different bathrooms.  Even if you run a venue that you personally would expect a trans inclusive policy to be obvious, keep in mind that basically every single community out there--including lesbian and gay communities--have been pretty bad at this in the past, and there is a very vocal minority of people who are extremely transphobic.  So make sure they know so that any policies are actually followed.

Get signage that isn't insulting and shows inclusion.

The vast majority of bathrooms just say "men" and "women," maybe with some "person in dress" or "person in pants" images.  I am on team "go gender neutral," but there are other issues that my prevent you from going that route (based on legal issues and the structure of your building).  One of my personal favorite ways of handling restrooms--especially if you absolutely can't make your restrooms neutral--is to label them with easily-understood "men" and "women" signs with a transgender symbol included to indicate that you should use whichever one you're comfortable with (our local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and a local Goodwill go this route).

If you do have gender-neutral restrooms, phrases like "all gender" and "gender neutral" are better than "unisex" (although honestly I wouldn't be bothered by the latter).

I hate when gender neutral restrooms are labeled "family."  Hate it.

Also, if you don't have neutral restrooms, can you not try and get "creative" with your signs?  Most of these rely on either some sort of constructed gender role or garment, or--even worse--a set of genitals.  A friend of mine and I were baffled one day to find a restroom that had the genders "olive" and "pimiento."  We literally had to ask the bartender what on earth restrooms we were supposed to use.  "Oh. Because you put pimientos in olives."  Gross.  Not to be outdone, my roommate found a worse one:
This isn't just insulting to trans people, but it's crude and insulting to other people, too.

Oh, once a long time ago I watched some TV special on cool bathrooms (yeah, that's the kind of person I am) and it went into a club bathroom that color-coded its bathrooms... but not in expected colors, so people were constantly walking into the wrong one, and it was supposed to be all cute and social and funny, and they even had this weird thing where there would be visual contact between the men's and women's restrooms (a slit above the sink, a weird window in a stall) and although I'm sure cis people don't really think about this sort of thing, that's a great way to get a trans person humiliated, beaten up, or worse.

Don't try to make "the trans restroom," and if you have three restrooms, don't police their use.

Again, I'm on Team Gender Neutral, and wish that all-gender restrooms were a widely available thing, but since they're not in wide use, I should mention that the last thing you should try doing is making a men's room, a women's room, and a "transgender" room.  This both has the potential to invalidate trans men and trans women and creates an environment where people can get outed very readily.  And it's not that trans men and women never want gender neutral restrooms (not all of us pass well, not all of us consider ourselves "binary," etc.), but forcing trans men and women to use gender neutral restrooms when we qualify as "men" or "women" is insulting and invalidating.

Avoid keys.

I get it, maybe your gas station or whatnot is constantly trashed and you need at least something to keep people from destroying it, but if possible avoid locking your restrooms.

If you must lock your restrooms, try to set it up so that people don't need to seek out or interact with a staff member to acquire it.  Try to avoid making it necessary for people to contact somebody over a bathroom at all.  I used to have to specify a "men's 8" when getting bowling rental shoes and having to do the same for a bathroom key or some other amenity would have been at least a dozen times more awkward than that.

Also, obey the same rules above regarding signage.  Don't be quirky at the expense of sensitivity.

Invest in good dividers.

One of the ridiculous things about bathrooms in the United States is that we tend to design bathrooms with massive gaps, leading to a lot of opportunities to see each other.  I can remember times when kids practically crawled into my stall with me, or peeked over the wall, or did a potty dance while seemingly pushing their whole eyeball into the crack between the door and stall.

Nobody likes these.  They're absurd.  But for trans people they're even more anxiety-inducing, for more reasons than you'd think.

For me it was never just the looming threat of somebody seeing my crotch that made these so unsafe.  When I used to bind my chest, I needed to take regular breaks to avoid hurting myself, and would regularly use bathrooms for this purpose.  I've given myself testosterone shots there in a pinch.  And having to do these things in an environment where people can see into the stall with ease is aggravating and makes me not want to go there.

Replace broken locks.

Lock issues are the bane of my bathroom existence.

Recently I went to a reasonably fancy sushi establishment only to find my worst nightmare:  There was one massive stall, with the toilet in the corner furthest from the door, and the lock was off-kilter and impossible to keep locked.  Basically, if somebody came in needing to use that stall, it would be difficult to see that I was in there and I wouldn't be able to reach the door to hold it closed.  And where I'm at, I could feel comfortable saying there's somebody in there, and even if somebody were to walk in I probably wouldn't be outed, but the same can't be said for every trans person.  Maybe somebody has a voice that will out them and is uncomfortable speaking, or is taking a rest from a binder without their shirt on, or the person coming in just flat out doesn't hear them.

And it's a cheap fix, too.  Practically any door can have a lock stuck on the inside for a couple bucks.  People do this with bathroom stalls all the time.

Replace missing doors.

Why do I even need to mention this?  There's a big disparity here, too, because when I was a woman I never saw businesses in the middle of goddamn downtown that neglected to replace broken doors on bathroom stalls, but as a man I've been places that had like four stalls and none of them with doors.  One time in an extreme emergency pre-testosterone I had to use one of those and it was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life, and it was a packed restroom, too.  Ugh.


Anyway, these are just some suggestions for things to do and look for, and this is of course in combination with paying attention to overall accessibility.