Browsing Tag

transphobia

Theology

The Parable of the Good Samaritan, revised

[content note: violence, racism, transphobia, misogyny]

There was once a young black man, traveling alone. It had been a long, hot, grueling day and he was eager to be home. As the hour grew late he decided to take a shortcut home through a neighborhood. There, he saw a group of men armed with clubs and guns, and he felt his heart begin to race. He told himself to stay calm, to look respectful. It didn’t do any good. He saw them start to run toward him– he put his arms in the air, but when they didn’t stop, he threw himself on the ground and prayed.

No one answered his prayer as they viciously beat him. No one came when he felt his bones begin to snap. Finally, they left him alone, in the middle of the road, and spread tape around his prone, dying body.

POLICE LINE — DO NOT CROSS, it said.

He could hear voices as people began to gather, could hear them over the pounding in his ears as his heart struggled to beat.

“He does have a wide nose. You can see it, plain as day.”

“Probably stole those skittles, anyway.”

“I heard he stands on the corner and sells cigarettes.”

“Actually, I heard it was CDs.”

He could feel their stares. He could feel it when they crossed to the other side of the street to pass by him.

***

There was once a trans woman trying to move through her day without attracting any attention. She hadn’t eaten anything, or had anything to drink, since she’d left her house that morning but it had been long enough where that didn’t matter. She had to stop at the grocery store, there wasn’t anything left to cook for her family that night, but her bladder was about to burst. She stared at the door to the ladies room, nervous but trying not to be. Finally, taking a breath and bracing herself, she slipped into the bathroom and hurried into the closest stall, heedless to how clean it was or if the toilet was clogged.

She didn’t notice the man watching her enter the bathroom. Didn’t see his hands clench into fists, or rage spark in his eyes.

Exiting the stall, she kept her eyes down and her body as small as she could make it. As she reached for the towel to dry her hands, an arm stopped her. Terrified, her stomach dropping into her feet, she met his eyes in the mirror. It was the last thing she saw before he started beating her.

Minutes later, she realized she was on the floor. Everything hurt, but she could hear voices.

“I tried to tell you about those predators.”

“It’s so sick. Gender confusion is ruining our culture.”

“Pervert. Rapist.”

What hurt even worse was the silence as they left her behind, bleeding and broken.

***

There was once a woman at a college party. It was the biggest kegger of the year, and she was out to enjoy the night with her friends– the last night she’d probably get to spend with most of them. After this it was graduation and job searching and moving away and adulthood. She didn’t want to think about it. Tonight she wanted to be carefree one last time.

She spent the night on the dance floor, had a couple drinks. After a few hours she settled onto a couch between two of her friends, but wanted one more beer before calling it a night. As she was about to get up to get it, one of her best friends offered to get it for her. Grateful, since she was tired from dancing and her shoes were killing her, she handed him her cup.

A little while later, she started feeling awful. Maybe three had been too much– but that didn’t seem right. She didn’t normally get this drunk off just three beers. Dizzy and sick, she turned to her best friend and asked him to take her home.

She doesn’t remember anything after that when she wakes up. Nauseated, she can taste bile. Slowly she realizes she’s freezing. Her dress is torn to pieces and with a horrified shock she realizes her panties are gone. What in the world happened to me? Opening her eyes, she nearly shrieks at the cockroach on the ground next to her face. Why am I behind a dumpster?

That’s when she hears the voices.

Slut. Whore.”

“He has such a bright future ahead of him.”

“Did you hear he was a swimmer?”

“Wait. Isn’t he on the football team?”

“At any rate, she shouldn’t have been drinking. What did she expect would happen?”

Each word is a knife in her heart. The sound that sinks the deepest, into her bones, is the sound of them leaving.

***

But the people who we see as a Samaritan– Syrian refugees. The #BlackLivesMatter movement. Gay Pride. Trans men and women.– the people we despise, the people who make us uncomfortable, who disrupt our otherwise “pleasant society” … as they travel, they come to where the black man lies in the road, where the trans woman is crumpled up in a bathroom, where a woman lies torn and bleeding behind a dumpster, and their hearts are stirred to compassion.

They bandage their wounds, they offer their help. They give them shelter, a space to heal and to be safe.

Jesus turns to us and asks “Which of these was a neighbor?”

The expert in the law, a man who has dozens of Bible verses at his fingertips, who goes to church every Sunday, who tithes from every paycheck and serves in the bus ministry, replies: “The ones who had mercy, who were kind.”

With a prayer that we will finally, finally, understand, Jesus whispers “Go and do thou likewise.”

Artwork by Jan Wignants
Feminism

"Captivating" Review: ix-xii, the Introduction

broken heart
[art by papermoth]

Today, I’m covering pages ix-xii from this edition of Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul, the introduction.

Last week, some of you said that you’d like to read along with me, which I think is fantastic. When you comment with your own thoughts on this section, write “Book Club” in the first line of your comment, then hit return/enter, just so it’s clear who’s commenting on the book  itself and who’s commenting on my post (although your comments can be a mix, of course).

It is obvious, all throughout this book, that John and Stasi are trying, diligently, to avoid the pitfalls of other Christian gender-specific books. Stasi makes it clear that what she wants to communicate to her readers isn’t another “book about all the things you’re failing to do as a woman,” that she doesn’t want to give us another list of things to do in order to achieve “godly femininity.” She acknowledges that there isn’t only one way to be a woman, that there are Cinderellas and Joan of Arcs and neither one is necessarily the way to go.

However, struggle as they will to avoid those pitfalls, they can’t help falling into them:

Writing a book for men was a fairly straightforward proposition. Not that men are simpletons. But they are the less complicated of the two genders trying to navigate love and life together. Both men and women know this to be true.

How do we recover essential femininity without falling into stereotypes, or worse, ushering in more pressure and shame on our readers? That is the last thing that a woman needs. And yet, there is an essence that God has given to every woman.

I’m sorry, I do not know any such thing. My partner, a cisgender male, is exactly as marvelously complex as I am. He is interesting, dynamic, full of nuances and surprises. He is a human being, and that makes him complicated. Over the brief two years we’ve been together, I have found that every single element that could possibly be attributed to the “men are simple, women are complicated” stereotype is due to American culture.

His interactions with other men may seem to be more “straightforward” and “less complicated” because a) anything that could make male interaction “complicated” is read as “feminine” and thus suppressed, and b) we are trained to see male interactions and male behavior as normal, and female interactions and female behavior as deviant and abnormal. Being male is the standard through which we evaluate whether or not something is “simple” (and thus male), or complicated (and thus female). Because of this reality, it’s not that our interactions, feelings, and lives are more or less complicated, but that we are taught to evaluate all of these things through the lens of the male experience. Our dominant social narratives have been constructed, almost exclusively, by rich, white men– and because that male viewpoint is the one we absorb on a daily basis, of course it’s going to seem “simple” while viewpoints that differ from it are going to seem “complicated.”

For example: men simply “duke it out” in order to solve conflict, right? Of course, I’ve never actually seen that in action– in my experience, boys and girls were equally as likely to get into a physical tussle. There were girls who did not like violence, and there were also boys who did not like violence. The difference was, the girls were culturally rewarded for this dislike, while the boys were punished for being a “sissy” (a word that derives from “sister”).  As mature adults, men solve their differences the exact same way women do– through communication. I’ve seen people approach conflict resolution in a stereotypically “feminine” way, and I’ve seen it done in a “masculine” way– but the people involved could be men, women, neither, or both. Both approaches, however, had the same elements if the situation was resolved and relationship restored– the communication included honesty, humility, and respect from all parties.

By embracing gender essentialism, Stasi and John have set themselves up for inevitable failure. If your basic assumption in beginning a book is that men and women are inherently and drastically different from one another and that these differences are not caused (or even exacerbated) by culture, then you cannot escape the conclusion that at least some of the “stereotypes” that Stasi finds so damaging are true, and based in an unassailable reality. If you believe that God has given every single last woman on the planet the same “heart” and the same “desires” regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, upbringing, sexuality, social class, and education, then you are working from a list of “10 things to be the woman you ought to be,” which Stasi condemns as “soul-killing.”

Sometime between the dreams of your youth and yesterday, something precious has been lost. And that treasure is your heart, your priceless feminine heart. God has set within you a femininity that is powerful and tender, fierce and alluring. No doubt it has been misunderstood. Surely it has been assaulted. But it is there, your true heart, and it is worth recovering. You are captivating.

It is paragraphs like that one that show me exactly why this book has been compelling to so many women– as a thought, it’s beautiful. She’s telling me that I am fierce and powerful and beautiful– it is a similar sentiment to what I tell my friends in order to encourage them. I like thinking of myself as fierce (and since Fascinating Womanhood, “competent” has become one of my favorite compliments).

But there’s a problem, even here. Not all women are feminine, and this is not because their “femininity” was lost, damaged, or assaulted– or that they’re burying it because they’ve been hurt, as Stasi will claim later. I am a cisgender woman– I identify with the gender I was assigned at birth. Most of the time, I “present” or “express” as “femme.” These things, my supposed “anatomical” sex, my gender identity, and my gender expression, are not the same thing. While I have never struggled with my identity, I have often struggled with my gender expression.

For example, these two images are of the same person, Gwendolyn Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth on HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation of Martins’ A Song of Ice and Fire:

gender expression

On the left, playing Brienne, Gwendolyn is shown with a host of Western-culture masculine signifiers– armor, sword, short “undone” hair, grimness, and the masculine parts of her stature/musculature are exaggerated. On the right, though, she is wearing glamorous makeup, her hair is long and angelically flowing, and her facial expression is evoking something more stereotypically soft and feminine.

Then there’s things like Meg Allen’s photography project. As far as I’m aware, all of these women are cisgender (please correct me if I’m wrong), but none of them present as femme. It’s even possible for a non-binary person to choose to present as femme if they/ze want (see @themelmoshow and @awhooker –they’re incredible).

Insisting that there is something “essential” about a cisgender woman’s heart, and part of this “essentiality” is femininity is problematic in a variety of ways, but it contributes to the culture that allows transphobia to flourish. It’s part of the culture that allows trans women of color to be arrested for walking down a street and for trans men and women to be one of the most vulnerable populations in the world.

It also perpetuates the kyriarchal systems that force men and women to conform to a rigid set of gender-coded images, signifiers, behaviors, and interactions and refuses us all the ability to explore who we actually are.

Feminism, Social Issues

modesty rules and transphobia

trans flag

Trigger warning for transphobia, slurs.

I’m extremely hesitant to talk about this issue. I’ve been doing all I can to learn from and listen to trans* women and men– to do everything I can to understand and to love. I’m someone who is cisgender (“cis” meaning “on this side” and “trans” meaning “across”)– and completely cisgender: I fit almost totally into cultural and societal gender norms (not conservative evangelical ones, but that’s another conversation). Because of that, it’s difficult for me to truly wrap my mind around what it could be like, or to imagine myself “walking in the footsteps of a stranger.” I try, but I am just now starting to learn, and there’s a lot I don’t understand.

For example, just yesterday I was listening to a woman on twitter, and she was frustrated with the term “transgendered” being used so often in conversations about Chelsea Manning. It took me a while to figure out why, since it was a term I was used to hearing at that point. But then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I’m cisgender, not cisgendered. I am cis. It’s not a verb. “Transgendered” implies that being trans* is a process, an action, when it’s not. Trans* men and women are. A trans* woman, although she might have been born anatomically male, is a woman, end of story.

I’m also learning about concepts like “dead names,”(Chelsea Manning is no longer Bradley, and referring to her as such is more than just insensitive) and how important it is to recognize the humanity and autonomy of trans* people– just like every other human being on this planet.

But, this process is difficult for me, and I’m realizing that it’s directly tied to the Modesty Culture I grew up in.

There are many reasons that women are given for why we’re to be “modest.” Today, many of the reasons I hear revolve around the “stumbling block” idea– that women are to make choices based on how men perceive and react to those choices.

But, in the intensely fundamentalist environment I grew up in, the primary reason for “modesty” was integrally linked to femininity. This remained true throughout my fundamentalist experience– all the way up through college. Modesty, among other things, meant dressing like a woman. Looking like a woman. Acting like a woman. Being lady like and delicate.

Most of that revolved around wearing skirts and culottes. We weren’t allowed to wear anything that even approached something that looked like pants. At one point, I heard a pastor preach against wearing skirts with a jeans-type zipper and button fastener in the front. Because those look like mens’ pants, and that’s not feminine. I also heard messages preached against business suits, blazers, and button-up shirts. If we were going to wear button-up shirts, they could not be made out of cotton, could not be Oxford style, and we had to make sure that they buttoned “correctly.”

Tied up in all of this was horrible, rampant transphobia– in the extreme. Cross-dressing? Abomination. Drag? Straight for the pits of hell. Long hair on a man? A horrible shame and a curse upon him. I can’t tell you how many stories I heard growing up where some preacher was in line somewhere, standing behind a man with long hair, and being “horrified and appalled” when they realized that who they had assumed to be a woman was actually a man. The first time I ever heard about the sorts of procedures and treatments trans* people need, like hormone replacement therapy (part of the standard course of treatment for gender dysphoria), I was in a revival service, and the evangelist was railing against “those disgusting hermaphrodites.”

I’m coming to learn that transphobia is the most accurate term to describe these sorts of people and ideas. It is purely based on fear– and a powerful, nearly-overwhelming fear at that. And it’s not just fear of the unknown, on something that almost can’t be known unless it’s your experience, although that’s a part of it.

It’s fear of what trans* people, and other LGBTQ people while we’re at it, represent to fundamentalist Christians: a breakdown of gender roles, and, therefore, a breakdown of patriarchy. I realize that’s a big, grand claim– almost to the point of being vague and useless. But, I grew up in a culture where they use the term “biblical patriarchy”– and it’s a good thing. I had a hard time, at first, understanding what feminists meant when they said “patriarchy” because it represented “biblical thinking about gender roles” to me.

Trans* people fly in the face of biblical patriarchal teachings. They are living, breathing, proof that what they think about men and woman is essentially, deeply flawed. Gender isn’t a binary. Sex isn’t even a binary. It’s fluid, it doesn’t fit inside boxes, and, sometimes, it defies definition. It isn’t a matter of either/or. Our gender can grow and change over time.

But, for the people I grew up with, not forcing yourself to fit inside Victorian gender boxes is not just a sin, it’s an abomination. Being a woman doesn’t just mean I have a vagina: it means that I’m submissive, passive, vacillating, beautiful, weak, fragile, delicate . . . Being a man means being dominant, aggressive, decisive, bold, strong . . . and straying outside of those boundaries means violating something very deep, something that is seen and portrayed as being so much a part of nature that not identifying as cisgender is unthinkable.

I’m not exactly covering new territory here– everything I’ve said here . . . to anyone who isn’t just now discovering these things, it’s old and tiresome and monotonous. There’s much more vibrant and interesting discussions to be had, experiences to be shared. But, it’s where I am. It’s not where I’ll always be. But I’m learning, and I hope you’ll learn with me.

To quote the magnificent Flavia Dzodan, “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”