Pride Day 12: Queer Fairytales

As in all minority communities, the LGBT community has access to very few stories that represent our individual struggle in the world. We have very few major characters that we can identify with and love when queer characters are so-often presented in a negative light. While LGBT fiction and memoir are finally starting to pick up steam, we have historically had to change the nature of stories to add queer elements where they once did not exist, usually only in our own minds. I’d like to share one of the stories that I revere as my own queer fairytale.

My favorite film as a very small child was Disney’s reimagining of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Released in October of 1996, it was one of the first movies my parents took me to see in theaters. I was hooked. I owned a plush Quasimodo, the film on VHS, the soundtrack on CD, an Esmeralda Barbie doll, and a plush Jolly. Most of these objects did not survive into my adulthood, but that Quasimodo plush is on my bedside table and the soundtrack is saved—in mp3 format—on my cell phone.

I’ve seen the film a couple of times as an adult, most recently a couple of months ago after it was added to Netflix’s streaming library. The film has exceptional cinematic quality, both as a musical and as one of the most visually striking of Disney’s hand-drawn animations. It was, of course, a very odd choice as a novel-turned-film for Disney, but they found a very fascinating balance between the darkness of Hugo’s original nineteenth-century work and the innocence required of Disney.

Watching this film again as an adult made me realize just how much I could still identify with the character of Quasimodo. I was raised in a very strict Roman Catholic household in the southern part of the Midwest, where conservative politics was inextricably linked with a belief in God. I was forced to undergo full confirmation into the Catholic church, even after I had lost my religion as a queer person. I related to Quasimodo’s being trapped in the bell tower of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Quasi grows up in almost total isolation. His primary caretaker, Judge Frollo, represents traditionalism, the law, and oppression; he constantly reminds Quasimodo that he is a monster and unworthy of love. This experience and the feelings of despair that Quasimodo embodies are unfortunately very relatable to me as a queer person growing up in a conservative place.

Quasi also symbolizes an atypical form of masculinity that I find very appealing. His atypical masculinity comes at a cost, however, as he loses the love of Esmeralda to the more traditionally masculine Phoebus. Quasi’s masculinity is not founded on violence the way that many male characters in the film are. Quasimodo is gentle, loving, artistic, naive, and optimistic. He rarely uses force and routinely underestimates his own resolve. He is a protector, but one that refuses to demean those who society would place beneath him.

Quasimodo’s physical deformity can also be seen as allegorical to mental illness, something that is rampant in the queer community. His life trajectory would also indicate that he would also suffer from some amount of anxiety and depression, the way the two thirds of American adults are.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is, for me, a queer fairytale, as Quasimodo symbolizes so much and a more equal society is born in the aftermath of the climax.

What are some non-queer queer Fairytales that are meaningful to you?

Pride Day 11: Imagine

What Would True Equality Be Like?

This post will be a little more pensive than many of my Pride posts. The queer community speaks about the future, a time when we’ve achieved equality, ad nauseam. We imagine a world where none of us is murdered, all of us are housed and fed and clothed, where we all have jobs and money, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia are things of the past. But what does this imagined future really look like? The views expressed in this post are mine alone and do not represent the thoughts, feelings, and views of any other individuals or organizations.

I am vehemently anti-assimilationist in any of its forms. I do not support heteronormativity, I do not support homonormativity, I do not support gender binarism, and I seek to disrupt their hold on society in my own life as often as I can. I don’t want to be married, to adopt a child from Africa, to pass as male, to live in the suburbs with a white picket fence, a dog named Spot, and 2.5 kids.

For me, a future of true equality is one devoid of a so-called moral majority. It is a place where the voice of reason spoke softly but rang truer in the hearts of humanity than the screams of the radical religious minorities. Where scientific inquiry seeks after Truth rather than the confirmation or disproval of bias, stereotypes, and religious myth. Where those privileged with access to gene sequencing technology searches for cures for diseases rather than the elusive gay gene.

A true equal future has dismantled segregation of all varities. There is no functional difference in the equal future between people of any gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or class. There are no ghettos. There is no homelessness. Everyone has a roof over their head, everyone with a disease of the mind or body has access to treatment, everyone who has needs can have those needs met.

I dream of a future where healthcare is paid for and education doesn’t come with a second course of crippling debt. I dream of a future where family planning can be done without threats of violence, and poor decisions are met with understanding instead of judgement.

I dream of a world where queer spaces are protected, not against violence from the outside world, but because the old Vulcan mantra rings true: the ultimate goal of this life is infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

(Belated) Pride Day 10: Way to Go, Ireland!

On May 22nd, the small island nation of Ireland passed an unexpected Constitutional amendment in a truly novel way. The fight for same-sex marriage has been raging in the United States since Massachusetts legalized it in 2004. Today, only thirty-seven U.S. states allow for legal gay marriage, and almost all of those states legalized marriage equality either by a vote of their state legislatures or by having their marriage bans struck down by the federal courts. Only two states, Maine and Washington, passed their same-sex marriage laws by popular vote. Before May 22nd, referendum had never been used to pass same-sex marriage on a national level.

Irish citizens, not parliamentarians or judges, went to the polls on the twenty-second day of May and made their own choice. A whopping sixty-two percent voted to legalize marriage equality. The world was stunned in the most positive of ways. Ireland has always been known as a very deeply Catholic country, and it was expected to side with dogma.

The Irish referendum, a beacon of hope in the world, is actually more groundbreaking than it looks prima fascia. The media has been referring to it as a “referendum to legalize gay marriage,” but it does so much more than that. The wording of the referendum refers to the legalization of marriage “regardless of sex.” Regardless of sex and same-sex are very different things. Not only does this referendum open the door for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to be free to marry whomever they choose, but it also provides some legal safeguards for the marriages of transgender and intersex individuals, which is absolutely incredible.

Ireland doesn’t seem to be stopping the LGBTQ rights train anytime soon. The Emerald Island is currently poised to pass one of the most progressive gender identity laws in the world. In many countries, legal gender is assigned at birth and is difficult to change. Many states in the US require proof of surgical transition, a major roadblock for many in the trans community. Ireland is poised to be the fourth country on Earth to allow individuals to self-identify their gender for legal documents. The burden of proof would cease to exist. As per US policy, we as transgender individuals have to “prove” our transness to the state in order to have our documents changed. Ireland will take away the need to prove a damn thing. The only other countries with a self-designation policy are Malta, Argentina, and Denmark.

Ireland is an intensely Catholic nation. As someone was raised Catholic and left the church partially because of its queerphobic nature, this gives me hope for the future of the Roman Catholic Church. It is my hope that Ireland’s audacity brings out the courage of the other Catholic nations around Europe and the world to find their strength to shrug off dogma that is hateful, prideful, and unnecessary. Perhaps the current Pope will follow the lead of the brave Irish people to modify dogma and bring Catholics back to the fold–without trying to rely on the love the sinner excuse.

As someone of Irish descent, I have never been more proud of my heritage. I am so proud of ancestral homeland for being so overt about supporting people like me. I can only hope that the rest of Europe, the rest of the United States, and the whole world follow suit in due time.

Day 9 of Pride: What is Intersex?

Intersex is the ‘I’ in LGBTQIA. Historically, intersex conditions were referred to as ‘hermaphroditism,’ after the mythological child of Hermes and Aphrodite who was born with two sets of functional genitalia. This is a misnomer, comparing Hermaphroditos and those with intersex conditions. Being born with two fully functional sets of genitals is incredibly rare. This fact adds to the common misconception that intersex conditions are also incredibly rare. This is untrue.

One of the ways in which our society attempts to reinforce the gender binary is by relying extremely heavily on the bio-social construct of dyadic biological sex. Biological sex, contrary to popular belief, is not a black-and-white, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt matter of XX and XY as we have long been taught. Biological sex is inherently ambiguous, the two-sex paradigm having been created by the medical establishment as a way of simplifying care for the two most prevalent groups.

Designation into one of the two prevalent dyadic sex groups relies on five distinct factors: chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics, hormones, internal gonads, and external genitalia. I’ll explain each in commonly understood dyadic terms before describing how intersex conditions can manifest.

Chromosomes refers to the forty-sixth base pair of chromosomes. The female-classified chromosomal pattern is XX. The male-classified is XY. Secondary sex characteristics are those features that come to mind when thinking of puberty. For the female-assigned person, these things will include the growth of pubic hair, widening of hips, a higher pitched voice, and breasts. For a male-assigned person, secondary sex characteristics include the growth of hair all over the body, the growth of facial hair, broadening of the shoulders and jaw, a deeper voice, and accelerated muscle development. Hormones refers to the level of estrogen/progesterone and testosterone in the body. The female-assigned person will have more estrogen, the male-assigned will have more testosterone. Internal gonads refer to those reproductive organs that exist inside the body. For female-assignment, these include the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. For male-assigned, these include testes and prostate. External genitalia is pretty simple: penises and vaginas.

In order to conform to one of the two dyadic sexes, all five of these factors must be in alignment. In one out of every two thousand people, they aren’t. One out of every two thousand people is born intersex. The deviation from the dyadic sex can occur on any of the five levels. Many born intersex never know of their condition.

At the chromosomal level, some intersex conditions are overt. XXY, XXX, and X are all other variations of the forty-sixth pair, which result in varying physical manifestations. However, X does not always produce estrogen and vaginas, nor does Y produce penises. Those with four out of five factors lining up for a female-designation can be born with XY chromosomes. The same is true of XX. Hormones, external sex organs, and internal reproductive organs can come in many variations as well.

Until the last few years, OB/GYN doctors were allowed to perform medical procedures upon newborn infants without parental consent. The medical establishment’s dedication to the proposition of a two-sex species borne a set of guidelines about the external genitals of infants. If an organ was below a set measurement, the organ was classified a clitoris and the infant a girl. If the organ was above a different measurement, the organ was classified a penis and the infant a boy. There was a fairly significant margin between the two—I am avoiding any specific measurements as they did/do vary by location. Those with “ambiguous” genitalia that fell in between the two sets of measurements were at the hands of their doctors. On the shorter end of the gap, the organ was filed down into correct clitoral parameters. If on the longer end, it was classified a penis.

Intersex individuals are not trans. These two existences are not synonymous. Intersex individuals face a series of life challenges that are unique to them. Their struggles have gone on unnoticed for far too long, and it’s time that we welcome them more warmly into the fold and fight alongside them.

Pride Day 8: On Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner very boldly came out on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine this week. The response from the world has been, well, extraordinary. No matter what the level of knowledge regarding gender, sexuality, or queer theory, everyone has an opinion regarding Ms. Jenner. Very few of these opinions are positive, even from within the trans community, which points to a grave miscalculation in our priorities.

The cis, largely straight, mainstream reacted to the emergence of Caitlyn in a very intense way. There were her detractors, as there were bound to be, but their numbers were more limited than I’ve ever seen regarding a public celebrity transition. The last very public transition was that of Chaz Bono’s 2009. Chaz was treated as a joke. He was either openly mocked or entirely ignored. This country was not yet ready for transgender issues. Caitlyn’s emergence has allowed for real trans discourse to come to the mainstream. Typical transphobia has been attacked. The reaction to Caitlyn has been much more positive, as well as more numerous. Even the President of the United States commented on Caitlyn’s coming out. This has all been very surprising. Overwhelming, in fact.

The trans community has, in my view, behaved badly. Instead of congratulating Caitlyn on her courage, instead of sharing in her triumph and bravery, our community has been complaining. Yes, Caitlyn Jenner is white. She’s rich. She’s famous. She is able to avoid the pitfalls trans people commonly face. She is able to transition and pass as female, something very few trans women have the capacity to do. She is still trans, and as such, we have a responsibility to support her as a transgender sister. We don’t get to choose what other individuals who happen to be transgender. We must only support them. Some have even gone as far as to complain about her choice of name. Many have suggested that “Caitlyn” is too childish. Can we not just get along?

Caitlyn’s coming out will help trans people for years to come. The country may now be finally ready for cisnormative trans people, which is a (small) step in the right direction. She has begun the dialogue in the media, in government, and in kitchens and living rooms around the country. We have a long way to go, of course. Transwomen are, for some reason, more easily understood by cisnormative society than are transmen. Transmen have a significant head up on nonbinary individuals.

We cannot stop with Caitlyn Jenner. We cannot allow ourselves to be too bogged down with demographics and “the perfect trans.” We must be happy for and support Caitlyn as well as advocate for the needs for all trans people. The two are not mutually exclusive.

(Belated) Pride Day 7: Comprehensive Sex Education

In the United States, the state of sex education is dismal. In many states and school districts, abstinence education is all that can be taught. Even fewer schools allow sexual education that encompasses the wide variety of sexual experience, including LGBTQ safe sex. This is largely due to a provision written into an unrelated law all the way back in 1992, known as the Helms Amendment. In ’92, then-senator Jesse Helms added the amendment out of a homophobic views of HIV and in attempt to stymie education around prevention of the disease. Since so few of my peers received a comprehensive safer sex education, I will share my insights on the subject.

Safer Sex Tools

Condoms: Oh, condoms. Everyone knows them, very few like them, but they are the tried and true method of preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. When used correctly, condoms are 99% effective. When used correctly. I know, it seems pretty difficult to screw up using a condom. In practice, however, this seems only to apply to penetrative sex. To comply with best practices and to gain the most protection, condoms should be used for all sexual encounters, penetrative or not. HIV and other STDs can be spread through things like oral sex and even touching if micro-abrasions (think the broken skin one has after biting nails), wounds, or bleeding is present. That is a very uncommon way of spreading STDs, but it is possible. Also, folk wisdom rings true, don’t keep condoms in a wallet or anywhere they’re subjected to lots of heat and friction, as it increases the risk of breakage.

Female Condoms: Female condoms are, if you’re not familiar—I know I was never taught about female condoms in school, sort of an inverse of a traditional male condom. These condoms are much larger and are meant to be inserted and wrapped around the genital area to protect against STDs. These condoms are more difficult to use, and are less effective because of that. These condoms are most effective with penetrative sex, but can also be used for oral sex.

Dental Dams: Full disclosure, I’ve never used a dental dam before. Dental dams are used for performing oral sex on someone with a vagina. Cover the area and go to town. It is very important to remember that vaginal fluids can carry STDs and to protect yourself if engaging in casual sex. For some reason, there is a misconception that exists that vaginas don’t spread disease the same way that penises do.

Finger Condoms: Finger condoms are, as the name suggests, condoms for the fingers. These are useful for fingering. They slide right on the fingers just as you would expect. They’re not very comfortable, but they get the job done if necessary.

Lube: Lube! Lube is so important. The only thing I can say about lube is use it. Just be careful with silicone-based lubricants in vaginas, as they can affect the natural pH balance, which can lead to yeast and other vaginal infections.

Sex Toy Care: If you’re sharing sex toys, make sure to clean them thoroughly before and after each person uses them. Also, make sure to clean sex toys after engaging in anal play.

Treatment as Prevention

PEP: It’s hard out there for somebody trying to have safer sex. Alcohol and drugs lower inhibitions, one thing often does lead to another, and sometimes bad choices are made. Shit happens. Maybe you were at a party, you slept with someone. You’re not sure of the person’s HIV status. This happens. You’re not relegated to waiting to see if you seroconvert (become HIV+).

If in this situation, get thee to a hospital as soon as you can. Ask for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis or PEP. PEP is a short term, high intensity treatment cycle of Antiretroviral drugs that, if administered within thirty-six hours and taken for roughly six weeks, can prevent seroconversion with roughly 70% effectiveness.

PrEP: PrEP: PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. PrEP is a pill, marketed under the brand name of Truvada, taken every day that can prevent the contraction of HIV with 92% effectiveness. PrEP is best suited for people who frequently engage in high risk behavior and those in monogamous sero-diverse relationships (one partner is positive and one isn’t).

PrEP has created quite the firestorm of controversy in the past few years, with many in the gay community opposed to it. Those opposed to PrEP say that this pill protects against HIV, but does not protect against other STDs–which is true–and will lead to more high risk behavior than condoms alone. Supporters like myself believe that PrEP can be an integral part to comprehensive safer sex precautions.

Birth Control: Birth control has far more uses than mainstream culture is comfortable with. Lawmakers are comfortable restricting female-bodied individuals access to birth control as a means of “protecting the children.” They refuse to acknowledge that birth control has several other uses. Birth control can be used to treat Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), amenorrhea, and regulating hormone levels. Birth control can also, of course, prevent pregnancy.

Birth control can be delivered many different ways: implants, patches, pills, shots, sponges, vaginal rings, cervical caps, and intra-uterine devices (IUDs). For emergency pregnancy prevention, the morning-after pill is (mostly) available over the counter and effective up to five days after unprotected sex.

Vaccinations: Ah, yes, vaccinations. Those little needles that once made you scream or refuse to go to the doctor’s office may now protect you from STDs. In the United States, the vaccines for hepatitis was added to the regular vaccination timeline back in the 80s. If you know you haven’t been vaccinated for the heps, it is a very good idea to do that, considering that Hepatitis B is still very damaging and very much incurable. A cure exists for Hepatitis C, but it costs roughly $36,000.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the world. There are something like one hundred different strains of this virus, and they all do very different things. Some can be infected with HPV their entire lives and never present any symptoms. Other strains can cause cancers of the anus, penis, throat, vagina, uterus, cervix, or ovaries. Still other strains cause very unsightly genital warts. Luckily, a vaccine exists for the damaging strains. The vaccine is called Gardisil, is given in three separate injections, and is a really great way to gain peace of mind.

Getting Tested: Getting tested is essential. Best practices would suggest seeing your general practitioner or attending a sexual health clinic every three months while you’re sexually active. For example, if you’ve been celibate for three years, there’s really no reason to continue getting tested, but that’s just common sense. One quick note of advice: If faced with question marks regarding your HIV status, do not purchase and use an over-the-counter OraSure test. They are much less effective than traditional tests, and it is never a good idea to get bad news while you’re home alone.

Consent: It is, hopefully, pretty much common sense that to gain consent for sexual acts is essential for a healthy sexual relationship. There are several models of consent that have varying pros and cons in practice.

No Means No: The standard model used by law enforcement and in general in the United States is a no means no model. This model suggests that violation of an overt no, stop, or don’t is rape/unwanted sexual action. An absence of no is consent by omission. The problems with this model are many. Situations in which an individual is unable to give an informed or clear ‘no’ (intoxicated, unconscious, disabled, unaware, etc.) are legion. The existence of the freeze response to trauma is entirely ignored, in which someone being raped cannot verbalize ‘no’ due to extreme fear.

Yes Means Yes: California is currently the only US state that has a yes means yes law in terms of sexual consent. A yes means yes model requires a verbal affirmation for each new sex act. Many would say that this is too difficult or awkward or whatever. Others say that it is the ultimate safeguard in terms of sexual violence and the law.

Where is Your Line Model: The Line model of consent is my personal favorite. The Line also requires very open and honest discussion about sexual behavior, likes/dislikes, things both partners want, and what they don’t want. The Line model allows for both partners in a sexual relationship to know and understand what’s okay and what’s off-limits during a sexual encounter. An affirmative “yes” is unnecessary for each new act, but those that would elicit a “no” are discussed and avoided ahead of time.

I’m a little bit late again with posting this, but here it is. If there’s anything I didn’t cover that you think I should, drop a comment. Any questions, comments, or concerns, drop me a line.

(Belated) Day 6 of Pride: LGBTQ Symbols

Like many communities, the LGBTQ community has almost a secret language unto itself. Symbolism is a major part of that. In recent years, some of the queer community’s symbols have reached media saturation in the mainstream. The best example that comes to mind? The rainbow flag. It seems like just about everyone in this country—and, I daresay, in most—knows what the rainbow flag represents. Many don’t accept the LGBT use of the rainbow, and attempt to argue about it via poorly worded facebook statuses, but they all know what it means. However, the rainbow flag is only one symbol of many.

Flags

The LGBTQ Pride Flag/Gay Pride Flag: The rainbow that we all know and love was once representative of only the gay and lesbian communities. As more letters and more individuals were added into the queer community, the significance of the rainbow flag grew with it. The original rainbow flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. His original design had eight colors, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet. It was modified in 1979 and 1980 into the six-horizontal-color-lines that we know now. The current rainbow flag depicts red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.

Baker’s original rainbow flag was heavily inspired by the hippie movement. He attributed the following meanings to the colors in his flag. Pink = sexuality, red = life, orange = healing, yellow = sunlight, green = nature, turquoise = magic/art, indigo = serenity, and violet = spirit. Each color, both in modernity and the six-color flag in general, is no longer typically thought to hold any special meaning.

Bisexual Pride Flag: The Bisexual Pride Flag was designed by Michael Page in 1998. The bisexual flag is recognizable by its large pink and blue squares, with a thinner rectangle of purple in the middle. Page said at the unveiling of this flag that the pink represents gay attraction, the blue represents straight attraction, and the purple represents the bisexual individual who experiences both. This flag, like many of the other sexuality flags, are much less commonly used than the more inclusive rainbow.

Pansexual Pride Flag: The pansexual pride flag, much like pansexuality as a term, is a much newer invention. The pansexual pride flag is made up of three equal-sized horizontal bars. Pink represents the feminine gender spectrum. Yellow represents the non-binary gender spectrum. Blue represents the masculine gender spectrum. It began appearing around the internet in 2010. The flag’s designer is unclear.

Asexual Pride Flag: The asexual flag became widely used 2010. It is unclear who first designed its present incarnation, but the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) began using the four-bar flag in 2010. The four bars of color comprising the asexual flag are black, grey, white, and purple.

Transgender Pride Flag: The transgender pride flag was designed by transwoman Monica Helms in 1999. The flag is made up of five horizontal bars of color. Blue, pink, white, pink, and blue. These colors represent both gender identities and birth-assigned sexes. The white in the center represents those who are transitioning or non-binary. The white stripe has also historically represented those who are intersex, but the intersex community has since developed their own flag and symbols.

Genderqueer Pride Flag: The genderqueer pride flag was designed by Marilyn Roxie in the early 2000s. It consists of three stripes, purple, white, and dark chartreuse. The purple represents the traditional gender spectrum, that between masculine (blue) and feminine (pink). The white represents those who are agender, androgynous, and gender neutral. The dark chartreuse, being the inverse of the purple, represents those who identify off of the traditional gender spectrum.

Intersex Pride Flag: The Intersex pride flag was developed by the Australian Intersex Organization in July of 2013. The flag depicts a purple circle on a yellow background. They chose these colors to be representative of living intersex without the need for traditional pinks and blues.

 

Symbols

Pink Triangle: The pink triangle refers to the patch gay men were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. This symbol was reclaimed most famously by activist organization ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) during the height of the AIDS pandemic.

Black Triangle: The black triangle was the Nazi symbol for lesbians. This symbol is, to my knowledge, fairly rarely used in modernity.

Pink and Blue Triangle: The pink and blue triangles were designed around the same time as the bisexuality pride flag in the late 1990s. The pink and blue overlapping triangles, sometimes referred to as bi-angles, are uncommonly used since the triangles have such a heavy history.

Labrys: The labrys, a double-edged ax, has been used as a symbol for lesbianism since the 1970s. It is thought to have been a reference to Sappho. It now represents lesbian and feminist strength and self-sufficiency.

Lambda: In the 1970s, the Greek letter lambda was designated the symbol of legal gay rights by the Gay Activists Alliance of New York City. The name has been adopted by the largest LGBTQ rights law firm in the country, Lambda Legal.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of LGBT symbols. What are some other symbols you can think of? Do you have any interesting personal pride symbols that are not commonly used? Share!

Pride Day 5: Navigating Gendered Spaces While Trans

Gendered spaces are very prickly for those who are transgender or gender nonconforming. Even though the United States has evolved to become a much more co-ed society, gender equality is alive and well, and single-gendered spaces are more numerous than the average cisgender person realizes. These spaces range in magnitude from dressing and restrooms to clubs and organizations, all the way to schools and single-gender universities.

The Seven Sisters, the collection of all-women’s colleges which once broke glass ceilings for being the first universities to provide exceptional, world-class educations for women, have been in the news a lot recently regarding admissions policies and trans students. Yesterday, Barnard College in New York City, became the latest women’s college to allow trans women. The decision has been hotly debated for many years, and I applaud Barnard’s emergence into the twenty-first century.

One the flip side, a New York Times article that was widely popular last year documented the surge of trans men coming out while attending the all-women Wellesley College. The article describes scores of trans men who pushed to make the college’s rhetoric more gender neutral, a shift from sisterhood to siblinghood. The article revealed trans men seeking positions of power in student government and being hesitant to support the admission of trans women into these traditionally women’s spaces.

As a trans-masculine person, I find stories like this extremely troubling. Women’s spaces are sacrosanct, meant to protect and foster academic and social discourse surrounding women’s rights, healthcare, and role in society among worlds of other things. Trans men, regardless of socialization and first-hand experience with the crippling effects of misogyny, have no inherent right to these spaces. We certainly have no right to shift the discourse away from women and coopt their space for our own use. We should, of course, participate in the fight for feminism and lend our voices to discourse when appropriate. The rights of women—including trans women—are just as important as our own, and we have no right to step on them in our reach for acceptance and equality. In fact, I don’t believe trans men should attend women’s colleges for these reasons.

Fraternities and sororities are also incredibly contentious spaces. Many national Greek organizations bar trans people from joining. Personally, I avoided contact with these groups, preferring the safety of queer spaces, but I certainly understand the appeal. Greek organizations that allow trans members are, at present, few and far between, but I’ve signed four separate Change.org petitions just in the past week attempting to change those policies. Progress in this area is likely to be slow and painful, but it will eventually come.

Possibly the most uncomfortable and unavoidable gendered spaces are public restrooms. Conservatives and transphobes have used this issue to demonize trans people for years, stating that trans people want to use cross-sex bathrooms so that they can prey on and sexually molest unsuspecting individuals, primarily children. Such rhetoric has intensified since Caitlyn Jenner came out. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee joked that he wished he could have been able to use transgenderism as an excuse to shower with girls in high school. Reality TV scumbag Michelle Duggar has, in the wake of childhood sexual abuse allegations against her son, doubled down on her previous comments that paint trans women as child molesters, apparently blind to the overwhelming irony. Several states have considered laws to prevent trans people from using proper restrooms. Many of them failed, but that does not mean that trans people do not regularly face harassment and violence in restrooms.

This violence, along with the recognition of genders beyond the binary make gender neutral restrooms so vital. Many are single-use, which ensures safety and privacy. I personally use gender neutral restrooms wherever they are available. I have dedicated a substantial amount of time in ensuring their existence and expansion at my undergrad alma mater, as well as lobbying to increase their presence in governmental buildings.

Our society plays by some very wacky gender rules. When it comes to navigating heavily gendered spaces, it’s good to be very alert. At the first whiff of danger, get out. If being threatened with physical or sexual violence, it is not worth sacrificing yourself to make a political point. If I’m in a public place, I may only use the men’s restroom if it’s a single-use or I’m in a gay bar. I don’t pass, not even a little. Passing comes very much in handy in existing in gendered spaces, but for those of us who don’t, can’t, or don’t want to, things are always much more ambiguous. My threshold of feeling safe does not have to be yours, I can only speak for myself.

The way we collectively experience gender is bizarre, and it could very well be limiting to our society. However, it is a fact of life. Stay safe out there, stay in your lane, and don’t give up the fight.

(Almost Belated) Day 4: Trans Liberation

Trans visibility has skyrocketed since Monday’s unveiling of the new and absolutely fabulous Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Trans bodybuilder, entrepreneur, and advocate Aydian Dowling is vying for a chance to grace the cover of Men’s Health. Laverne Cox is a critically acclaimed actress. Janet Mock is a bestselling author, as is Chaz Bono. Pro-trans legislation has been passed in various places around the country. Now that marriage equality is an inevitability, perhaps it is our turn.

The reaction to this newfound mainstream interest in the trans community that I find most amusing is that of utter shock. Some behave as if this is some type of brand new phenomenon, that transgenderism is obviously the result of homosexuality being allowed to “run amok.” Contrary to collective amnesia, none of the great trans pioneers mentioned above was the first to gain mainstream publicity. None of them were the first to be placed in the public eye, both as an object of disdain and a fetishistic idol. That credit, in modern memory, lies largely with Christine Jorgenson. Jorgenson, a World War II veteran, fell into the spotlight after becoming the first known American to undergo a “sex-change,” hormonal and surgical transition, in 1952.

Long before Christine Jorgenson or the development of any type of medical interventions, thousands of people from generations spanning the entire history of humanity have been transgender.

Transgender individuals have long been given positions of great respect and prominence in indigenous cultures. A wide variety of Native American tribes gave and still give so-called Two-Spirit people great respect. In India, hijras has fought for their socio-political rights in the wake of colonial imposition of Western morality. In Thailand, gender and sexual identities are diverse and numerous. Even in the conservative, socially repressive theocracy of Iran, the government will fully pay for the transition of heterosexual trans women.

Late nineteenth century sexologists like Hirschfeld, Krafft-Ebing, and Ellis documented the existence and “treatment” of transgenderism. An unknown number of transgender individuals during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ran away from repressive families, and, without the assistance of medical intervention to alter their appearance, blended into the role of their gender identity in a new city, living in constant fear of discovery. Notable examples of this include jazz musician Billy Tipton and the thousands of trans men who took up arms for their country during the Civil War.

We have come a long way. It is incredibly rare, though I cannot say with certainty unheard of, that transgender individuals are arrested for failing to wear three articles of clothing assigned to their birth sex, a practice which was common only forty years ago. Legal transgender nondiscrimination laws are active in nineteen states and the District of Columbia. More people than ever before are becoming educated, willingly or not, on the existence and nuances involved with transgender people. We have moved mountains, but it is not enough. Where do we go from here? What does true trans liberation look like? To find those answers, we must delineate the practical from the theoretical.

Practically speaking, what’s next for the transgender community is for widespread protections against violence and discrimination. Nineteen of fifty states is, while something of an accomplishment, entirely abysmal. Legal protections for the lives and livelihoods of transgender individuals should be protected with the same legal gusto as any other minority group. Insurance companies, including government insurance such as Medicare, Medicaid, and governmental employee insurance, should be required to cover transitional medical care. Hormones, surgery, and therapy should be considered essential instead of elective, and they should be covered as such. Transgenderism should be something that is freely spoken of and for which educational materials are easily accessible. The more the cis world understands the transgender community, the less likely (hopefully) they will be to perpetrate acts of violence, especially against their own children. Issues of trans poverty, underemployment, and homelessness should be addressed. Brutality against trans people—specifically women—at the hands of family, sexual partners, strangers, and the police should be held to as heinous a level as brutality against anyone else. The first steps to solving the practical problems facing trans people is to recognize our shared humanity.

In the realm of the theoretical, there are many dangers. Gender binaries and trans master narratives seek only to reinforce the power of the patriarchy. Perfect stories about perfect trans people who have never once struggled with identity or gender in the face of impossible obstacles are not only too good to be true, they’re harmful both within and outside the community. If cis people believe in these master narratives, it becomes more difficult for those of us who cannot fit that mold to be accepted and understood. Trans lives, just as cis ones, are infinite diversity in infinite combinations. That infinite diversity cannot exist, however, without the recognition of nonbinary gender identities and presentations. Trans is not a bar held so far above everyone as to be impossible to reach. Trans is a simple matter of a misaligned mind and body. Master narratives force us into delegitimizing genders outside the binary, and this is both limiting and repressive. We cannot stand for repression coming from our own community, or we will never pull through.

I have to believe that a future of true trans liberation is possible. I fight for it every day. One day, this world will allow every person of any gender identity to exist freely, without question or harassment. Transgender people will occupy all levels of government and media; no one will bat an eyelash. Gender will cease to be a matter of this or that. Will this be achievable in my lifetime? I’m not sure, but you can bet I’ll fight for it.

What does trans liberation look like to you?

Day 3 of Pride: Queer Corporations?

Some of the most ubiquitous images in the LGBT space are the products of LGBT-centric non-profit organizations. The yellow equal sign in the center of a dark blue background, for example, is arguably the most easily recognizable logo of the movement. It belongs to the giant and not-particularly-queer named Human Rights Campaign or HRC. Other megalithic LGBT organizations include The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

It’s very easy to see the names and easily recognizable logos of these nonprofits and open your checkbook and assume that an organization as one of the above has to be doing incredibly good work for the queer community. As lovely a sentiment as that is, it isn’t always entirely true.

It is easy to mistake the mission statement of a large LGBT nonprofit as doing work to help needy queer individuals in a direct, meaningful way. Before donating to any LGBT organization, it is extremely important to do your research. Go to the organization’s website; read the organization’s press releases and informational pages. See where their priorities are. Do they focus on the fight for marriage equality or do they spread their resources more equally between marriage equality, nondiscrimination, HIV-care, trans issues, homelessness, etc.? Are the priorities of the organization in line with your own? Are they primarily lobbyists or do they provide services to actual humans? Is that something you’re interested in?

In the United States, nonprofit organizations are required by law to publish their tax returns on their websites. This is important to know and investigate before donating money to any nonprofit organization. Tax returns are a vital part of being an informed donor, as they lay out exactly how much executives and employees are paid, as well as how many resources the organization dedicated to each type of action and programs the organization carried out in that year. It can be very jarring to see how much money some very large and well-known “advocacy” groups spend on galas and dinners for the rich and famous and how little spent on issues of actual interest to real LGBT individuals in need. Use caution when reading these forms; avoid destroying any breakable objects in your vicinity.

I’m writing about this early in Pride month because I know how adamant these organizations will be in their fundraising drives. Some of these organizations do very good work. Others do less than they say. As queer people, we are under no obligation to donate to any organization, but if we choose to donate to organizations that center on the LGBT community, we should be the best informed as to what our money will do.