Experimental drug being used to “fix” intersex genitals

This is a post that I wrote for Feministing a few weeks ago. I wanted to cross-post it here because this issue, of kids born with intersex conditions, definitely comes up for birth workers. While you may not have had this experience yet, it’s possible that one day you will be with a family when their child is born with an intersex condition. This could lead to all sorts of responses from the midwives or doctors you are working with–including the decision to perform surgeries on the infant.

It’s a huge issue, and one that is difficult to tackle in a blog post. But it’s one that I would like to keep writing about. Just as I talk about gender and the ways folks identify outside of the binary of male and female, there is also the biological fact of gender diversity, exemplified by folks who are born with intersex conditions.

At the moment of birth, when the doctor/midwife/practitioner wants to issue the hallmark phrase–“It’s a boy/girl!” if there is any confusion around this, it becomes a huge issue.

Maybe it shouldn’t be–and maybe one day we’ll move away from such a strong propensity toward gender categorization. In the meantime, we’re dealing with doctors who would rather employ experimental hormonal treatments in utero and perform radical medically unnecessary surgeries on infants than deal with gender ambiguity.

Obviously I have a strong opinion on the matter. The post below has more info, if you’re confused about what I’m saying.

Continue reading


Genderqueer Mommy

PhotobucketFrom Bilerico, a really sweet interview between a woman and her genderqueer partner (pictured left, photo from Bilerico), about their identity as “mommy” and being a genderqueer parent.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I asked her to talk with me about mothering from beyond the gender binary. In the course of our conversation, we touched on t-ball, chest surgery, field trips, and bathrooms.

Paige: Although people on the street tend to call you “sir,” around our house, you’re known as “mommy.” Can you talk about your identity and how motherhood figures in?

Koonce: My identity is trans-genderqueer-butch-dyke-mommy. “Mommy” is the word I used as a kid to describe the person who could take all the pain away or support me when I needed it…To say “I want my mommy” meant “I want a kind of omnipotent force to swoop down and take care of this problem.” So, when our son Waylon was born, I chose “Mommy” as a name because I loved the idea of being that force for someone in this crazy world of ours. When I found myself really attached to the idea of being someone’s mom, I realized that my gender identity was–at least for this time–landing squarely in the middle and I really love it that way. I love to hear the word “mommy” and to be called “mom” sometimes. But that has no real bearing as to how I feel in my body. For I am often not at home there.

Paige: You had top surgery when our son was 18 months old. It strikes me that there are still so few resources for transgender parents, and especially few stories about parents who transform their bodies without the goal of full transition. Can you talk about what it was like to get chest surgery as a mom?

Koonce: Well, getting chest surgery was way more anti-climactic than I anticipated. Waylon did not look up and say, “Are you my mommy?” There were no marked changes in the amount of “sirs” I receive. My psychotherapy clients did not decompensate without the breasts; they seem to have stayed latched on to the metaphorical breast. The biggest change has been the absence of my private bathroom struggle with the mirror. Tight t-shirts are now my friends and my happiness with my physical presentation has by far made me a happier mommy.

I love these examples of queering parenting, particularly introducing the gender bending aspects of it. Parenting, and reproduction are seen as the quintessential examples of heteronormativity and gendernormativity, but there are many parents who are reimagining these roles along with their gendered identities.

H/T to Tanya for the link

Creating Change 2009

I’ve been at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual conference, Creating Change.

I’ve posted a few blogs from the workshops over at Feministing. Go check them out, there were some great conversations about gender identity.

The State of the Movement

Embracing Two SpiritTraditions

Butch Re(defined)

Transgender Day of Remembrance

I like what Bear said:

It’s Trans Day Of Remembrance. We lost thirty this year. Mostly transwomen and transfeminine spectrum people, mostly women of color, mostly savagely beaten or stabbed for being too challenging to understand, assimilate, classify.

For the first time the NYT wrote about the murder of a transwoman of color in a way that suggests that her death is to be taken seriously, and did so before a well-meaning white non-trans person made a film about it. But it is hard to understand this as progress.

I’ve seen a variety of kinds of vigils and memorials for TDOR, but the one that is most vivid for me is one I saw at Wells College, a few years ago. The students there wrote the names of each of the trans dead on a slice of paper that they taped to the back of a dining hall chair. Suddenly it became clear that in the seven years (I think) since count had been kept, a huge hall’s worth of transpeople had been killed. Sitting in the chairs was emotionally intense, and if you were quiet you could hear the chatter of the ghosts, making friends. I sat in Rita Hester’s chair, and missed her.

Please take a moment, even if it’s just a breath right now, to remember. If you’re the praying kind, a prayer couldn’t hurt. If you’re the doing kind, tell someone else it’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, and what that means. If you’re the giving kind, make a donation to National Center For Transgender Equality – they can always use it. If you’re the writing kind, write about who you have lost, or found, and post or publish it if you’re able. And whatever other kind you are, please also be the kind who interrupts transphobia. Because it’s killing us, you see? It’s killing us.

Trans or Gender Non-Conforming? Take this survey

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force just launched a new national survey on Transgender Discrimination.

I just went to a briefing a few days ago on Capitol Hill hosted by the National LGBT Health Coalition about how little data we have nationally about LGBT people. Why? Because federal surveys refuse to include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Without data, we have no way of knowing what the disparities are and no way of asking for funding to address them. Huge problem.

One way organizations get around this data issue is by creating their own surveys like this one.

“This is an absolutely critical national effort. We urge all transgender and gender non-conforming people to take the survey to help guide us in making better laws and policies that will improve the quality of life for all transgender people. We need everyone’s voice in this, everyone’s participation.”
— Mara Keisling, Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality

In the wake of one of the most violent years on record of assaults on transgender people, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have teamed up on a comprehensive national survey to collect data on discrimination against transgender people in housing, employment, public accommodations, healthcare, education, family life and criminal justice.

To date, in 2008, several young gender non-conforming people of color have been murdered, including California junior high school student Lawrence King, who was shot in public during the school day. King’s murder, and the murders of Simmie Williams in South Carolina and Angie Zapata in Greeley, Colorado come in a year in which we are still working to include transgender provisions in a federal bill to protect lesbian, gay and bisexual workers from discrimination in employment.

So if you identify as trans or gender non-conforming please take the survey today!

Crossposted at feministing

An Open Letter to Alix Olson

I found this open letter (via video) to Alix Olson at Questioning Transphobia.

It’s also appropriate because this week marks the beginning of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (aka Michfest). It’s a festival that has been going on for 33 years, an intentional community that is built out of nothing in Michigan and creates a space for womyn to come together and celebrate music.

I’ve never been, but the festival has also caused a lot of controversy around it’s gender policy. Specifically, trans women feel they are being kept from attending the festival via the “womyn born womyn” policy. There was an incident in the past where a trans woman was removed from the festival when it was discovered (in the communal shower area) that her genitalia did not match the festival goers idea of female genitalia.

In response, Camp Trans was founded, a concurrent festival and protest of Michfest. It happens right across the road and many trans people and allies attend that festival instead. Julia Serrano has written extensively about this exclusion (including in the piece I linked last week) as have other feminists and activists.

Alix Olson, along with many other female artists and musicians perform at Michfest every year, which I assume is the reason she is the audience for this open letter. I actually had the opportunity to meet her at a performance she gave at American University last year, and I asked her about the Michfest controversy. Her response was that of all the conversations she had heard over the years about trans exclusion at the festival, the most productive or important ones had actually happened AT Michigan.

That might be a cop-out, and I know from talking to friends who have gone to the festival that it’s complicated since many of them really appreciate the space and community it creates. I personally think the festival should be open to people who identify as women (or womyn), and if there are issues with safety or harrassment (which seems to be a fear) then they should be dealt with directly, not via discriminatory policies.

Cross-posted at Feministing

Blog discovery: Lesbian Dad

Thanks to the handy dandy Google Reader (looking for a quick way to read/skim a lot of blogs? check it out) I stumbled upon a blog called Lesbian Dad. I’ve only just started looking it over, but this caught my eye in the about section:

    les•bi•an dad n, neologism 1. a. A lesbian or genderqueer parent who feels that traditionally female titles (i.e., “mother”) don’t quite fit, and who is willing to appropriate and redefine existing male ones (i.e., “father”): She was a tomboy when she was a kid, so it’s not surprising she’s a lesbian dad as a parent. b. Often a non-biological parent in a lesbian family, whose role relative to the child in many ways resembles that of fathers.

Rock on. Sounds pretty rad to me, and I can definitely relate to some of LB’s thoughts on gender and parenting (even though I am not yet a parent). There is even a glossary of terms related to queer parenting. Check it out.

Some thoughts on gender and pregnancy

So I’m a little late on this hot news item, but I’ve been trying to process some of the media and reactions before commenting. To get the low-down on the Thomas Beatie situation, read his own testimony about his pregnancy here. In short, he is a transgender man who decided to carry he and his partner’s child.

What has fascinated me most is the media reaction to Thomas’ pregnancy. At first, the media headlines seemed to question his pregnancy: Man claims to be pregnant, read the headlines, instead of Pregnant Woman claims to be Man. The fact that they questioned his pregnancy and not his masculinity was striking.

It seems some people thought the whole thing might be a hoax (maybe because he just looked SO masculine!) but after Thomas went on Oprah and People Magazine, the hoax possibility was disregarded.

What this case brings me back to is the ideas and definitions around gender and sex. When people define what makes someone a “woman” the definitions shift shakily depending on the circumstances. For example, ability to reproduce and birth a child is often cited as a defining category of woman. But, as Judith Butler points out, there are many times in a woman’s life when she is not actually able to birth a child. Before puberty, after menopause, not to mention the larger number of women who experience infertility. Are people who cannot bear children still considered women? Yes.

The gender definition shifts again if you look at chromosomes–women are XX and men are XY. Well, increasingly we are discovering that there are people who aren’t either XX or XY, and that the gender categories don’t fit neatly with the chromosomes either. Same thing with secondary sex characteristics (Women are people with breasts. What about men with breasts? Women without breasts?).

These are things I think about a lot–not just the social construction of gender (the ideas that are associated with men or women, like weakness and strength) but also the social construction of biological sex categories. Particularly being part of a birth activist community, which in many ways is centered around essentialist ideas about gender (women know how to give birth), constantly makes me reflect on how we use these categories, often in ways that are limiting and too narrowly defined.

Thomas Beatie is a very stark example, and an exercise in gender definitions for the general public, who don’t often think about these categories. We take for granted the ways our gender identity (and our biological sex) define and limit who we can be. I believe this is because our gender is at the core of our identities.

Ever walked around in public with a pregnant woman? The primary question she will be asked is “What is it?” referring to the sex of the child. When we call something so fundamental to our identities into question, it is extremely destabilizing.

Is there room in the birth activist movement for more radical ideas about gender and sex? Here’s to hoping.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Tomorrow is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Julia Serano, a writer and activist whose work I really love wrote a great short piece for Feministing about the day. Check it out.

Police Brutality Strikes Fifth Anniversary of Sylvia Rivera Law Project

This is just sad.

Police Brutality Strikes Fifth Anniversary of Sylvia Rivera Law Project

Jack Aponte (jack@slrp.org)
Naomi Clark  (naomi@slrp.org)

NEW YORK – On the night of Wednesday, September 26, officers from the 9th Precinct of the New York Police Department attacked without provocation members of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and of its community. Two of our community members were violently arrested, and others were pepper sprayed in the face without warning or cause.

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project is an organization that works on behalf of low-income people of color who are transgender, gender non-conforming, or intersex, providing free legal services and advocacy among many other initiatives. On Wednesday night, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project was celebrating its fifth anniversary with a celebration and fundraising event at a bar in the East Village.

A group of our community members, consisting largely of queer and transgender people of color, witnessed two officers attempting to detain a young Black man outside of the bar. Several of our community members asked the officers why they were making the arrest and using excessive force. Despite the fact that our community was on the sidewalk, gathered peacefully and not obstructing foot traffic, the NYPD chose to forcefully grab two people and arrested them. Without warning, an officer then sprayed pepper spray across the group in a wide arc, temporarily blinding many and causing vomiting and intense pain.

“This is the sort of all-too-common police violence and overreaction towards people of color that happens all the time,” said Dean Spade, founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. “It’s ironic that we were celebrating the work of an organization that specifically opposes state violence against marginalized communities, and we experienced a police attack at our celebration.”

“We are outraged, and demand that our community members be released and the police be held accountable for unnecessary use of excessive force and falsely arresting people,” Spade continued.

Damaris Reyes is executive director of GOLES, an organization working to preserve the Lower East Side. She commented, “I’m extremely concerned and disappointed by the 9th Precinct’s response to the situation and how it escalated into violence. This kind of aggressive behavior doesn’t do them any good in community-police relations.”

Supporters will be gathering at 100 Centre Street tomorrow, where the two community members will be arraigned. The community calls for charges to be dropped and to demand the immediate release of those arrested.

– END –

For more information visit, www.srlp.org