Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pridefest Milwaukee... OR, How To Recognize Your Complicity In Transphobia

So to begin, I'm a regular attendee of Milwaukee Pridefest, which takes place every year at the Summerfest grounds in June.  Excepting a couple years when I was way over in a different part of the state, I've gone pretty regularly since I think '06 or '07.  And as an out trans person, that has been a mixed bag of fun and troubles.

Admittedly, quite a bit of this isn't directly due to the organizers of Pridefest themselves, such as the multiple times I've been sexually harassed or that time somebody decided to chuck a used, cum-filled condom on the hood of my car or--one of my favorites--when somebody set up a history project about Lou Sullivan and wouldn't shut the fuck up about how "weird" it was that somebody would transition just to be gay.  Still others are pretty much a result of not giving a fuck, like the lack of support for trans musicians (they seem far more likely to seek out a cishet "gay icon" than a trans performer).

Anyway, yesterday I happened upon Pridefest's new blog post, in which they talk about some policy changes they're making in possibly the most annoying way possible.  It's one of those things where I read it and think "You know, I am really happy about the things that they're trying to do here, but still... what the fuck."  The policies themselves are great and exactly what I would have suggested, but the way they're advertising it is just so.... gross.  And I think it's important to explain just why it's so off-putting.

Let's start with a couple really important facts. It is a fact that there are people who report being asked to change restrooms by Pridefest security, including when people were taking shelter during a tornado warning.  Whether or not this was Pridefest's policy, it still happened.  It is also a fact that there have been cases where bringing up trans inclusion on Pridefest's Facebook page has led to defensive and ignorant responses (such as going on about drag shows when people ask why there are so few trans performers booked), whether they were meant to be or not.  Finally, it is a fact that their restroom policy was so poorly advertised that practically no trans people even knew it existed (personally, I didn't even know they had a single gender neutral restroom, and I've been attending for years).

With all that said, why is Pridefest Milwaukee spending all this time acting like they've been some sort of shining beacon of tolerance toward the trans community?  It says right on the page that this organization has been around since the late 1980s.  It's a huge stretch that any organization started that long ago which is mostly run by gays and lesbians has "fully honored" trans participation since its beginning.  Practically none of them have.  And because you can't just up and change the past, the very best one can expect from an organization like this is "we recognize that there have been problems in the past, here are the things we are doing to change that."

This is what Pridefest could have done.  It's what Pridefest should have done.  Instead, they've written a lengthy blog post trying to make it look like they were in no way complicit in the awful ways trans people have been treated on their grounds, that it's all a result of "zoning laws" and "misinformation."

But my favorite (by which I mean worst) sentence is this one:
There are no signs stating that your restroom choice must match your ID, nor do our security guards have the authority to challenge our guests’ choice of restrooms.
The reason that this sentence is such useless drivel is that practically nowhere that does police gender identities in restrooms has signs explaining this.  Venues practically never even consider that trans people might show up at their establishment until some asshole cis person complains, and even then they're unlikely to actually post anything.  This sentence makes it seem like it was somehow trans peoples' responsibility to just assume that no signage equals no policing, something that most trans people know is bullshit.

They're fixing that problem by putting gender neutral restrooms on maps and marking them clearly.  That's fantastic!  But it's still fixing a problem they were complicit in causing.  That doesn't line up with their apparent belief that they've been entirely trans-inclusive since time immemorial.  Not admitting that is a huge problem.  If they can't admit they've ever been wrong, how can we trust them to rapidly respond to other problems as they come up?

Another sentence of note:
We are disappointed that our organization, policies, and long-standing provisions may have been misrepresented.
But they weren't misrepresented, though.  The things I talked about above are things that really happened.  Their policy might have been misrepresented, but their shady enforcement of that policy wasn't.  Their lack of publicity for that policy is not a misrepresentation.  The "trans friendly" policies and amenities they're talking about are useless if nobody knows about them, especially their own goddamn security (and every volunteer is directly representing your organization).

The whole tone of this piece reeks of "we're sorry nobody understands how awesome and inclusive we are so we're going to publicize the fuck out of it" rather than "we acknowledge that our lack of proactivity has hurt people in the past and we pledge to fix that."

So in conclusion, I am genuinely glad that Pridefest is working on making pro-trans policies more open and obvious, but it's an insult to trans peoples' intelligence to frame it as "clearing up misrepresentations" without recognizing their own historical complicity in the problem.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Want To Talk About These Biggest Loser Contests At Work

This essay has depictions of extreme and likely unhealthy diet tactics.

I'm going to start with the conclusion here, first: If you're in charge of a Biggest Loser contest, or considering suggesting one, or have any power in deciding whether to start one... I'd like you to strongly reconsider that.

I am overweight by about, oh, maybe fifty pounds.  Like many other people, I have struggled to lose weight, something which I continue to attempt time and time again and will likely continue to attempt for the foreseeable future.  And with apologies to those for whom even the mere mention of the subject is enough to make them angry, I am not really ashamed of dieting.  One thing I am pretty adamant about, though:  Dieting should be a choice people make based on their own preferences.

There's a phenomenon that's been going strong for a couple years now, which is the idea of a workplace weight loss contest.  Usually they call it "The Biggest Loser" after the hit TV show, and there's often a cash prize.  The contest that inspired me to write this has a cash prize for the winner of $500 ($100 is pretty common), something I overheard over the water cooler recently.

Right now the person winning the local Biggest Loser contest has been doing it primarily by fasting throughout the day, eating very little when he does eat, and trying his hardest to lose water (through sweating before weigh-ins among other more concerning things).  His reasoning is competitive... he only diets during Biggest Loser contests, and only because he wants to win the cash prize at the end.  He'll gain it back when the contest is over and then next year do it all over again.  This is a well-known fact.

Although this is a really extreme case, I was reminded of when my mother was still working.  Her workplace also had a Biggest Loser contest which she did pretty well in... basically by eating nothing and beating the hell out of herself emotionally if she ever did eat anything enjoyable.

Note I'm not even talking about the television program "The Biggest Loser."  A lot has already been written about how absolutely nasty this program is.  But you know what?  At the very least, the television show has trainers.  And while I have no doubt there are workplace programs that also involve some sort of trainer or savvy person, I have yet to actually encounter one.  Instead I encounter people with stories (most of which they think are just hilarious) of people going to great extremes to win the contests.

This is the sort of thing that naturally happens when you reward people for losing weight as quickly as possible with anything other than their own self-satisfaction.  When your only standard is sheer weight, it doesn't matter exactly how that weight is lost.  It could be fat, but it also could be water, muscle, or some other human body component and it would still count as weight loss.  This leads to financially desperate or particularly competitive people in those situations deliberately losing weight they know to be temporary (water, especially) and not eating anything close to a nutritionally adequate diet for that hundred or so dollars.

Has there ever been any winner of a workplace "Biggest Loser" knockoff who has long-term maintained their weight loss?  Probably.  But everything about this method of motivating people is destined to promote temporary, rapid, unhealthy weight loss without concern for whether or not it's actually good for the person in question.

More importantly, what do programs like this do for people who are already an average weight?  Already underweight?  Or perhaps more importantly, people with eating disorders?  Is having a month or two long contest in which a bunch of people who may or may not have any idea what healthy weight loss even looks like obsess over every calorie going to be good for people who are an inch from relapse, who may be too ashamed to even bring it up?  And as somebody who has an easily-triggered eating disorder, I would not make the case that you should stifle discussion about food or diet among co-workers, but this particular phenomenon is a particularly nasty and harmful one even if people don't have eating disorders.

To reiterate the conclusion I stated at the beginning, I have seen practically no evidence that this practice is anything other than useless weight-shaming ridiculousness that doesn't result in what it's meant to result in.  If you have any say, please stay away.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why I Freaked Out And Left The Munch Last Night

Note: This essay has to do with the local kink community (although it talks about problems that are found much less locally) and has reference to some really uncomfortable kinks, including references to rape play and violent race play. Venues, names, and very specific stories not relating to myself are not mentioned due to typical munch etiquette.  When I use phrases like "man in a dress" I am specifically referring to actual men in dresses and not trans women.

So although I want to get this out there, I'm also aware that I'm taking a bit of a social risk in even writing this if it happens to be read by any of the involved.  The thing is, the kink community has a very bad habit of taking any open talk of systemic problems within the community and labeling them "drama" to avoid actually dealing with them.  If you were triggered at an event and say something about that, it's "drama."  If you mention a poor response to a sexual assault in the community, it's "drama."  So something tells me that the statement "your policies are transphobic and you're probably pretty transphobic too if you defend them" will probably be taken by that community, crumpled up, and thrown into a wastebasket marked "DRAMA" to be ignored or possibly used as another piece of evidence as to why they need their transphobic policies to begin with.

To start the story off, I've been in the kink community in at least some capacity for maybe seven or eight years, mostly with online involvement as well as a little in-person stuff through campus events, largely because I lived in the middle of nowhere.  A couple months ago I moved to an area with easy access to not just one munch but three munches in addition to two high-profile play party groups, a different group specifically for bottoms and switches, and a local chapter of a national organization for people in full-time consensual M/s relationships, among others I am less aware of.  It was one of my goals to go to these so that I could get an "in" in the local community and cease to be that rando on FetLife practically nobody has actually met in person.

What started this mess (or rather, this particular part of the mess) is that as soon as I started associating with local people on FetLife, I started seeing their events and organizations.  One of them consistently has not one but two transphobic policies.  They are:
  1. Must wear "gender appropriate" clothing (seems to be limited to public events)
  2. Must use bathroom of "biological gender" (seems to be a universal rule)
I contacted one of the organizers to ask about this, and she responded back that the reasons they hold this policy include (words in quotes are her own words):
  1. We live in a conservative area.
  2. The policies are put in place by venues, not the organization.  They cannot find a venue that would not have this policy.
  3. Some "flamboyant" people were using women's restrooms "in drag" and making "actual women" uncomfortable.
I asked why, if the problem was so specific, the policy is so far-reaching.  She hasn't gotten back to me on that and I suspect she won't, having possibly already taken my concern and thrown it into that aforementioned "drama" wastebasket.

I was considering just not going to the munch last night for a variety of reasons, many of which admittedly had nothing to do with this, but much of it was centered on the fact that I expected the person I was talking to about the transphobic policies to be there and I quite frankly didn't want to see her face last night (either she wasn't or she looks significantly different from her picture).  I finally decided that I'd probably be fine, maybe I'd meet somebody new or something, and so I went.

And it was fine at first.  It was a small enough group that I wasn't ignored, and we had great conversations before the presentation.  And just in case any of the people in attendance are reading: Unless you're responsible for the policies I'm talking about, none of what happened was actually any of the attendees' faults, not directly anyway.  Rather, hearing people talk about the play party in question with its ludicrous "biological gender" bathroom policies and the sorts of things that go on there just flat out pissed me the fuck off.

Because here's the thing:  We are talking about events taking place specifically for people to have kinky sex, often with and/or in front of strangers.  So basically what you're telling me is this:
  • You're able to find a venue that will allow you to construct a St. Andrew's cross, tie a naked person to it, and whip them with a flogger but unable to find one that will allow visibly trans women to use women's restrooms.
  • Your clientele is expected to be comfortable with people (consensually) choking and closed-fist punching each other during sex but God forbid a cis woman is uncomfortable with trans people using the restroom in her presence.
  • Somebody can wear a collar that says "slave" on it attached to a leash but if a man wears fishnets that's just too far.
  • You can find space where a man can (consensually) act out a rape scene that could easily be confused for a real rape by bystanders, but you couldn't possibly find somewhere that wouldn't object to a crossdresser temporarily using the women's room.
  • The area is conservative which is why trans support groups have been able to hold meetings at a fucking Denny's in a pinch but an open kinky sex group couldn't possibly find a bar or restaurant that won't object to trans people who need to take a piss.
  • All of this gender conformity is so goddamn important that you would enact a policy so broad and sweeping that if really enforced would mean I'd have to use the women's room.  Because somehow that would make women so much more comfortable.
I feel like it should be self-evident why with these things in mind this is bullshit, but I have a few things to close on.

First I need to acknowledge that there's no way that these policies would actually be enforced for me.  Transphobic bathroom policies were not written to keep fully integrated trans men out of men's rooms, and if I show up in drag they will probably treat me with the same level of bullshit they would treat a visible trans woman or a crossdresser.  The problem is that I don't want to be the exception to a shitty, transphobic policy; I want the policy to stop existing.  It's not just about me and my comfort, it's about knowing the local community would easily sell out their own for a paltry amount of social acceptance and then chant ludicrous reasons why this is totally reasonable.

Second I should mention that this has nothing to do with "kink shaming" or painting your kink as morally better or worse than transgenderism or crossdressing.  I wrote a while ago in the essay "When 'Kink-Shaming' Really Isn't" that I'm an exceedingly open person when it comes to accepting other peoples' kinks.  I talked about plantation play parties and Nazi themed scenes and rape play... all of which are used as coping strategies by a not-insignificant number of oppressed people and people with a history of sexual assault and all of which are not necessarily indicative of being an actively dangerous person to non-consenting individuals.  It has to do with the ludicrous assumption that these policies have something to do with valid discomfort or venue demands or "the area is just conservative" among people who seem to have no problem finding space to act out things that are significantly more socially unacceptable in the vanilla world than a man in a dress, among people who are expected to uncritically accept wildly violent play.

Third, even if the original reasons for these policies were totally reasonable (and they are not), the fact that they responded with such a widely-sweeping policy over what was likely not a widespread issue is telling of the kind of regard they have for trans issues in general.  There could have been other ways to word this policy that wouldn't have been so transparently transphobic, but they chose to go with that instead and continue to defend it.

In conclusion, listen, I know it's hard to find places for your events, but this is fucking ridiculous.  In doing so, I can't imagine this community is safe for practically any local trans person.