Twenty Years Of Teenagers With Attitude

In the summer of 1993, I was ten years old. A lot of my memories of that time have grown fuzzy over the years, but I still remember this pretty vividly: I was watching TV with my family when this commercial came on advertising a brand new show on Saturday mornings on Fox. I don’t think I was really watching Fox at the time. I was hooked on Saturday morning cartoons, of course, but I spent most of my time on the big three networks. This, though…this wasn’t a cartoon. This was a live action show about teenagers (or so they claimed; even then I thought these people looked older than the teens I knew) fighting space aliens, driving giant robots, and transforming themselves into an unprecedented fighting force known as the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I knew from the moment I saw that first ad that it was going to be pure unleaded awesome.had to see this for myself.

The Dream Team

The Dream Team

So, on Saturday, August 28th, 1993, I tuned in to Fox to see what this was all about. And it was pretty ridiculous, to be honest. I can’t really recall whether or not I thought so at the time. I know it wasn’t long before I realized my obsession with the show was really a little dorky, and the whole franchise was pretty damned silly. But that first episode, regardless of its flaws, was everything I’d been promised and more. It was a flight of fancy that sprawled across genres, touching on everything I was interested in. I was hooked from the moment I heard that pounding theme song. I still think it’s probably one of the best theme songs ever written. It’s just so perfectly suited to the show. Everything that followed – the spandex suits, the superheroic action, the giant goddamned robot/monster fights – was just icing on the cake.

I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was never intended to be anything more than a stopgap, a stepping stone to bigger and better things for children’s programming on Fox. It could be made on the cheap, using footage imported from Japan’s Super Sentai franchise combined with framing scenes shot in the US, but no one expected it to last. In a matter of weeks, however, its popularity exploded. The companies involved in producing the show (and the toy line) could scarcely keep up with the demand. When the cast made an appearance at Universal Studios, 35,000 people showed up, literally stopping traffic. The ratings would continue to soar until, two years later, this cheap little adaptation was turned into a brand new feature film. The franchise would never quite reach those heights again – Power Rangers has in fact been through several periods of decline, and has nearly been canceled three times – but it’s managed to survive countless cast and format changes, and now, with the twentieth anniversary upon us, the return of a number of adult fans to bolster the ranks of the fans that never left, and Saban and Bandai pulling out at least some of the stops to celebrate the show’s legacy, it’s even enjoying something of a resurgence.

This post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive history of Power Rangers, though. That’s Linkara’s job. Rather, with twenty years of giant robots, morphing sequences, and teenagers with attitude behind us, I want to spend some time reflecting on a question I get every so often: just why do I love this show so much? What, exactly, does it mean to me? I’ve never had a ready answer, really, and I’m not sure I have one now. But I can point to a few things.

I suppose it starts with the fact that the Power Rangers were my first superheroes. That’s probably not the literal truth – I grew up in a geeky family, surrounded by geeky friends, and I’m sure I was at least aware of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and so on. But the Power Rangers are the first superheroes I remember following. Like all the best superheroes, they lived by a moral code. The core of it is spelled out in the first episode, Day of the Dumpster, after the Rangers accept their powers: never use your powers for personal gain, never escalate a battle unless forced to, and never reveal your secret identity. The rest of it emerged over time, and (the secret identity thing aside), it reinforced the lessons my parents were already teaching me. Together, they taught me to treat others with kindness and decency, to keep an open mind and never stop learning (and never, ever be ashamed of my hunger for knowledge), to use whatever power I might possess to help others, and to do these things not because they might benefit me (though I believe they have benefited me, in the long run), but because it’s simply the right thing to do. I don’t really consider myself all that heroic, or all that brave, really, but I’ve had my moments. And every time I’ve stood up for someone who couldn’t, every time I’ve found the courage to speak out, every time I’ve done something to make the world better, it’s because a part of me still looks at the world in front of me and asks what the Power Rangers would do. I have lots of heroes to look to these days, including more than a few actual people, but you never forget your first Doctor, you never forget your first Starfleet crew, and you never forget your first superheroes. With apologies to the Lone Gunmen, you don’t watch twenty years of Power Rangers without learning a little something about courage.

There were also characters I identified with very strongly. First and foremost was Billy Cranston, the resident nerd. I was a geeky kid. Scrawny, lanky, weak, withdrawn and bookish. I wore my heart on my sleeve, I wasn’t afraid to cry (or wasn’t strong enough to keep from crying, at least), and I preferred the company of girls. As I’ve said before, I was frequently bullied. So it meant a lot to me to see someone like Billy – someone like me – rise to the occasion and become a hero. He was loved, respected, and defended by his friends, and while he did learn to fight over time, to defend himself and others, his intelligence was still his true strength. Time after time, he applied his intellect to the Rangers’ latest problems, saving the day with a clever solution or a new invention. His love of science, of knowledge in general, was not just tolerated but admired. Of course, David Yost, who played Billy, wasn’t treated nearly so well – he’s spoken openly about the homophobic bullying he faced on set – but, as an adult, that just makes his story resonate on a personal level. Knowing that the man behind the Ranger I identified with most strongly was going through similar struggles with his identity and the reactions of those around him means more to me than I can say. I admire his strength and courage in building a life outside of Power Rangers, in finally breaking his silence and speaking out about the problems he faced, in embracing the fan community even after everything he went through, and in joining the ongoing fight for equality.

Then there was Kimberly Ann Hart. Kimberly never got the best lines or stunts; in TV Tropes parlance, she was most definitely The Chick. But she was everything I wished I could be. Outgoing, popular, graceful, friendly…and, though it took me a long time to put it into words, feminine. She was the girl I yearned to be. Maybe she needed to be rescued a little too often. Maybe she never really got to play the hero the way the other Rangers did. But she was still heroic, and at the same time, she was comfortable with herself and her feelings. Like me, she wore her heart on her sleeve. It wasn’t treated as a weakness. It was treated as a strength. Her compassion, her sensitivity, her love for her friends made her fight all the harder. Maybe she wasn’t the best fighter, but she was committed to the fight. And, like Billy, she was loved and respected by her friends for who she was. She didn’t have to pretend to be something else. In those days, though I didn’t yet realize it, I was spending all my time pretending, and I was honestly awful at it. Twenty years later – ten years since I began my transition – I’ve found my own style. I’m not Kimberly, and I never will be. I’m not much of a fighter, but I’m not that graceful or that girly, either. Even so, just as the Power Rangers were my first superheroes, Kimberly was my first heroine. My first role model.

My shrine to the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Still a work in progress.

My shrine to the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Still a work in progress.

Above all else, though, I love the Power Rangers because they represent hope. They don’t give up, even in the face of insurmountable odds. Even if they lose their powers, they’ll keep fighting. And they inspire the people around them to do the same. Linkara has spoken eloquently of the character arcs of Bulk and Skull, two characters who start out as cardboard bullies and comic relief and ultimately stand up as heroes in their own right. The Power Rangers and their friends represent a shining ideal: the radical idea that, with determination, compassion, unity and hope, we really can overcome anything. I’ve struggled my whole life with depression and despair, and I live in a world that is far from what I’d like it to be. But I maintain hope that we can solve our problems, that we can learn to live in peace and mutual respect, that we can face any dangers that may loom ahead of us. That comes from being a Trekkie, in part. It comes from all the science fiction I’ve read and some things friends and family have shown me. It comes from stories of real people committing acts of extraordinary kindness, compassion and courage. But it also comes, at least a little, from the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

Twenty years later, my beloved franchise is still, by and large, a dorky kids’ show. The quality varies widely from season to season. But I still find myself drawn in to every new episode of Power Rangers Megaforce, even if the dialogue and acting make me cringe now and then. I’m going to Power Morphicon next summer, and I absolutely cannot wait to spend a whole weekend surrounded by my fellow Rangers. One of my most treasured possessions is my Pink Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger costume, and I plan to add the Yellow Megaforce Ranger as soon as I can. I still love the Power Rangers, and I suspect I always will, no matter how silly I look with my communicator replica and my Power Rangers ringtone when I’m old and gray.

So happy birthday, Power Rangers, and many happy returns. May the Power protect you. Always.

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Next Week: The Random Fangirl Live!

I’ve been pretty quiet lately, mostly because I’ve been plugging away at the job search and working on various other projects. Among those projects, however, is a little talk I’ll be giving at Women in Games Boston next week. I already wrote up a description for WIG, so I’ll just repost it here:

In recent years, the transgender community has become increasingly visible, with singers, soldiers, journalists, game designers and more coming out as trans, and trans activists of all ages crusading for equal rights around the world. With numerous trans people involved in the geek and gaming communities, you may easily find yourself interacting with members of this diverse community as co-workers, employees and fans.

This month’s talk will offer a basic overview of transgender identity and a primer on preferred terminology (as well as a few words you should avoid like the plague) before explaining how you can help support your trans co-workers, how you can be the world’s best boss to trans employees, and how you can build trans-friendly and trans-inclusive games. We’ll also touch on games and blogs that can give you some insight into trans identity and the struggle trans people face every day before moving on to an extra-long Q&A to address any lingering questions.

Last I checked, there were still tickets available, and the event is free, so if you live in the Boston/Cambridge area and want to come see me speak, reserve your spot today. We’ll be downstairs at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square from 7 to 10 pm next Tuesday, July 30th, and I’ll be going on at around 8. WIG Boston is a safe, open, accepting space that welcomes women and allies of all backgrounds, whatever their connection to the video game community (developers, students, journalists, fans, you name it), so as long as you conduct yourself according to the party policy, you’re more than welcome to attend.

Want me to speak at your event? Feel free to e-mail me at cassandra dot lease at gmail dot com and I’ll be happy to discuss the details.

The Ranting Fangirl: Women’s Space. Some Restrictions May Apply.

The concept of women’s space is a recurring theme in trans circles: what it means, who should be included, who (if anyone) shouldn’t be included, and whether it’s okay for our allies to respect, support and/or actively participate in those women’s spaces that include some women (generally cisgender women) while excluding others (generally transgender women). I personally value inclusion, and fundamentally believe that women’s spaces should include anyone who identifies as a woman. This can get tricky where those who do not identify with the gender binary are concerned, of course, though my gut tells me that genderqueer or non-gendered people should absolutely be included in women’s spaces if they want to be. I would also extend that principle of inclusion to trans women who have not yet begun their transition or altered their outward appearance, but nevertheless identify as women, and to trans men who may still face women’s issues (i.e., sexism based on being ‘read’ as the gender they were assigned at birth, and so forth). This is because I’m basically that girl from Mean Girls who wishes she could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat it and be happy.

But there’s always someone waiting to point out that I don’t even go there, or rather, that I don’t belong there, for one reason or another. I have been fortunate to find women’s groups and women’s spaces that were happy to include me, from my college’s student feminist club (which has undergone some name changes, I believe, since my time there; when I was a student, it was Womyn’s Action Group, and I actually helped design our t-shirt for Take Back The Night one year) to the Boston Dyke March (which is explicitly inclusive and trans-friendly) to Women in Games Boston (which welcomes male allies, so it’s not strictly women’s space, but it is safe space designed for women) to the annual ladies’ brunch/girls’ meetup at PAX East. That’s partly down to luck, and partly down to conscious efforts on my part to avoid places where I would not be welcome. I’m a bit of a coward, really. I don’t like confrontation, and I have to force myself to speak out at all – that’s partly why I retreated into ‘stealth mode’ for so long and refused to discuss my trans status at all. So, as a rule, if I’m unsure about any given group’s policies, I politely inquire as to whether or not I’m welcome, and if I’m not, I’ll generally stay away. And if everything happened in a vacuum, I suppose that would be the end of it.

Spoiler alert: nothing happens in a vacuum.

Everything comes with a bright, shiny context all its own. And so, whether it’s the recurring controversy around the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (or MichFest), the trans-exclusive Dianic rituals held at PantheaCon in 2011 and 2012 (though it appears that there was not a similar ritual this year, or if there was, it was not listed in the program guide), or the debate over whether or not trans women should be admitted to women’s colleges, or the RadFem 2013 conference over in the UK, these issues keep cropping up again and again. Everyone, in my view, has the right to free assembly and association. Everyone should be welcome to gather in any kind of group they want. But when you exclude people, there are consequences, and there should be. And here’s why.

Trans-exclusive events should not be held in public venues. This is why I don’t really have a problem with MichFest in principle, though I do have problems with it in practice. MichFest is held on privately-owned land, and it is organized by a specific group of people with a specific intention. Their trans-exclusive policy is fairly well established and well known by now, though it was not always so. Now, because they sell admission fairly freely, MichFest may technically qualify as a public accommodation (remember that phrase, we’ll get back to it), and I do believe, as a rule, that trans people should have equal access to all public accommodations under the law. If that became national law tomorrow, then I don’t know how the festival would change, though I’m confident that the organizers could find a way to keep going with the trans-exclusive policy intact if they so desired. I’m not a lawyer, but there are lots of organizations and events that have managed to keep going despite policies that explicitly exclude an entire class of people, so I have to believe there are loopholes to spare.

On the other hand, you have Z Budapest’s rituals at PantheaCon. I am absolutely for freedom of religion, and I rarely feel the need to step into anyone else’s rituals, particularly when I’m not wanted. My own religion is, as I’ve said, a very private thing, though I do consider myself part of the pagan community and I have taken part in open rituals in the past. I do not believe, however, that it is appropriate to exclude an entire class of people from a programmed event at a convention open to a diverse population of attendees (as opposed to, say, a convention that is only open to women, trans women excluded – but I’ll get to that). I do not believe it is appropriate to advertise a ritual that celebrates women in their infinite diversity and then exclude trans people – certainly not without explicitly saying so in the event description. I would personally never do anything of the sort at a convention. I have organized events targeted at specific groups during conventions, but I have always chosen to hold them off site, and I have never sought to list them in a convention program. I could not find any similar events in the PantheaCon 2013 program offhand, and I sincerely hope that the PantheaCon community has reached a similar conclusion: attendees are free to hold private parties or rituals in their suites and invite whomever they like, but the con cannot put its stamp of approval on exclusive events. However, I have not yet had the opportunity to join the PantheaCon community (though I would like to, when money and time allows) and cannot speak to that particular matter.

As for RadFem 2013. Conventions are by their very nature exclusive events, and while I find the conference policies and the viewpoints of many of the participants repugnant, they were at least clear about their rules and their intentions. However, after assorted messages of protest, the venue they had chosen reviewed those same policies and the rhetoric surrounding them, found them troubling, and told the organizers that the conference was no longer welcome there. The venue’s operators were well within their rights to do so. We reap what we sow. The conference’s proponents have tried to claim that men’s rights activists and trans activists colluded to get them thrown out (never mind that men’s rights activists tend not to like trans people very much, either, and the feeling tends to be mutual…though I suppose that hasn’t stopped certain ugly elements of the feminist movement from working with certain ugly elements of the religious right when it suited them), but it’s fairly clear from the statement issued by the venue that the protests merely caught their interest, and it was the trans-exclusive politics surrounding RadFem 2013 that got them booted.

Trans-exclusive policies attract and encourage transphobia and naked bigotry, particularly when challenged. The rhetoric surrounding these events is absolutely repugnant. I know, or I would like to believe, that the most vocal, most obviously bigoted defenders of trans-exclusive policies are in the minority, and there’s a much more reasonable majority that simply hasn’t been moved to speak. But we don’t excuse men for their failure to stand up to misogyny, even if they themselves aren’t actively misogynistic. We don’t excuse heterosexual people for their failure to stand up to homophobia, to so much as say ‘hey, that’s not cool,’ even if they’re not throwing around slurs. And we should not exclude cisgender people for their failure to confront transphobia and naked bigotry. It is not enough to maintain an uncomfortable silence. It is not enough to believe, in your heart, that whether or not trans women belong in women’s spaces, they still deserve respect. All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

I have seen defenders of MichFest, RadFem 2013, and other trans-exclusive events throw slurs around like they’re snowballs on a schoolyard. I have seen them say deliberately hurtful things which not only deny the identities of trans people, but our very humanity. I have seen minor incidents like glitterbombing (immature, but ultimately harmless) or a little ink from a marker smeared on someone’s skin blown entirely out of proportion, characterized in some cases as the acts of extremists or even outright assault. I have seen trans people accused of hideous crimes with no justification. I even vividly recall one particularly horrible anti-trans bigot questioning whether a horrific car accident in which lives were lost might not have been a terrorist act committed by trans activists – a baseless accusation, to say the least, and if anyone had been explicitly named as a ‘suspect,’ it might well have qualified as libel.

When the Indigo Girls decided that this year’s MichFest would mark their final performance at the festival until the trans-exclusive policy changed, and announced that they would campaign for trans inclusion during their time on stage, they and the trans community at large were met with ugliness that still hasn’t entirely abated. This for voicing an opinion, and exercising their right to choose where they will and will not perform. Some of the rhetoric put me in mind of the controversy surrounding the Dixie Chicks when they openly criticized President George W. Bush a few years ago. There, too, artists were told that their opinions were offensive, that no one wanted to hear them. Shall the Indigo Girls shut up and sing as well?

I do not believe that going to MichFest, as an attendee or as a performer, necessarily makes anyone a transphobic bigot or a bad person. But, given the negativity surrounding the event, the ugly and sometimes terrifying rhetoric of those who defend its policies, I do look askance at those who go to MichFest without questioning or even thinking about its policy of trans exclusion. I do feel that participation in the event can be a slap in the face to the trans community. And I think the event is irrevocably tainted, at this point, by an aura of bigotry and negativity. If the policy changed tomorrow, I don’t think I’d go. I wouldn’t feel safe there.

And that aura of negativity leads me to say this, too. The Indigo Girls made, or at least announced, their decision regarding MichFest in the wake of a petition asking a number of MichFest performers to reconsider their participation in the event. One of the other artists named in the petition asked for her name to be removed because she didn’t want it affected by the negative energy surrounding the issue – but unlike the Indigo Girls, she plans to continue supporting the event. I am honoring her request to leave her name out of this, but respectfully, I think that if you want to avoid negative energy, you should avoid participating in events rooted in exclusion and surrounded by bigotry and fear.

Trans women are women. There are two arguments that those in favor of trans exclusion love to trot out when explaining why we shouldn’t be a part of women’s spaces. First, there is the privilege argument – the idea that trans women still carry male privilege, behave in typically male ways, and have not faced sexism. Second, there is the socialization argument – trans women were not raised and socialized as women, and so do not fully understand women’s experience.

The privilege argument is ridiculous on the face of it. As a trans woman, I am not a member of the boys’ club. Truthfully, I never was – even when I outwardly presented as male, I was considered a wimp, a sissy, or not really a boy in any number of ways. Certainly I never felt like one. I am viewed either as a woman or a freak. Neither position is privileged. When I began my transition and chose to present as my true self, I surrendered my male privilege, my straight privilege and my cis privilege (which, I assure you, does exist: cis people don’t have to worry about being assaulted for choosing the ‘wrong’ bathroom, for example, or losing their job if they’re ‘read’ as the gender they’re assigned at birth rather than the gender that agrees with their identity and presentation). I promise you, I’m either treated the same as any other woman, or I’m treated like shit for ‘trying’ to be one.

As for typically male behavior? Wow, that’s a fuzzy line, isn’t it? And it sure seems like I can’t win for losing. If I’m outspoken, I’m dominating the conversation, which means I’m not really a woman. If I’m quiet, shy and soft-spoken, I’m behaving according to female stereotypes, which means my gender expression is all artifice and I’m not really a woman. If I’m open about being trans, then I’m not even trying to ‘pass’ as a real woman. If I stay in stealth, then I’m a wicked, horrible deceiver. If I date men, then I’m some kind of artificial woman designed to replace real women and destroy feminism. If I date women (as I strongly prefer to do), then I’m a faux lesbian just trying to get in innocent women’s pants, and really, what is the point of this whole gender identity thing anyway, right? (Never mind that gender identity and expression are not necessarily linked to sexual orientation, or that I prefer to date bisexual women in a desperate effort to avoid offending sensibilities – it doesn’t always work, and plenty of women who identify as gay would be fine with me, but like I said, I don’t like confrontation.) I am who I am: the quiet, shy wallflower who gets really excited and talkative once she’s comfortable with you or you’ve got her on a subject she’s passionate about. The geek girl who can’t get enough baby doll tees, adores Victorian and steampunk styles, and loves to cosplay, but spends most of her days in jeans and glasses, with little to no makeup on, to the point where people express open shock when she shows up in a skirt or a sundress. The trans activist who would really prefer not to have to discuss any of these things, but feels a moral compulsion to do so. The lesbian feminist Amazon who doesn’t quite fit into everyone’s definition of any of those groups.

I don’t know if my behavior is typically male or typically female. I think the range of human personalities is so broad that you can’t really define those traits without resorting to stereotypes, and isn’t feminism about rising above stereotypes? I’m tired of walking this tightrope. No one should have to do it. I am myself. But for the record? I’m rarely read. Even with my horrible, awful voice, which I absolutely hate. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

Then there’s socialization. This much is true: most trans women were not raised as girls. This is beginning to change, to some degree, as trans children begin to reject their assigned genders at younger and younger ages, and with the help of accepting parents, begin the journey to their true selves in childhood. But I, for example, did not begin my transition until I was nearly 20 years old. I had a very strong sense of my gender identity and preferred gender expression from a young age, mind. I always preferred the company of girls. I begged my mother to let me go out for Halloween as Babs Bunny (we ultimately compromised on Buster; I remember her outright refusing to let me go out as Babs, while she, the last time we discussed it, thought I’d simply changed my mind), I was insanely jealous of my little sister’s American Girl doll (though she had Kirsten, and I wanted Samantha), I campaigned for years for a doll of my own (and eventually got a Princess Jasmine doll, just as I was growing out of them), and so on. My mother, a feminist in her own right, involved both me and my sister in baking, cleaning and various chores. I was bombarded by the same media images, and even before I had a word for what I was, I knew I wanted to be like the girls and the women, not the boys and the men. Funny thing: I never even quite got the hang of peeing standing up. I just wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. I told my mother at the age of twelve, just when I’d learned that there was such a thing as sex change operations, that I wanted one, that I thought I was meant to be a girl. (She got very quiet; later, when I asked her about it as an adult, she didn’t remember it at all, though she was very supportive when I did actually begin my transition.) And I spent night after night praying at my bedside, begging God to make me a girl.

It wasn’t a typical girl’s childhood, no. Maybe it wasn’t a typical trans woman’s childhood, not entirely. My parents resisted some things, but I was never forced into explicitly masculine pursuits, and I was encouraged to express myself. The thing is that I’m not sure I believe there’s any such thing as a typical childhood. We start in so many different places, in so many different ways. We all have different experiences. But even if we assume that there are childhood experiences that those raised as girls will always have, and those raised as boys never will…does it matter? We socialize as women now. Assuming we are accepted as women, we have to deal with many of the same issues of sexism and harassment. And where our experiences differ, we can still be allies, just as those women who have never experienced abuse can still support those who have, or those women who have never felt attracted to other women can support their lesbian friends. I still find it helpful to get away from a society dominated by straight white Christian men and seek the company of other women from time to time. In my experience, my presence does not in and of itself destroy the sanctity of women’s space. I’ve never tried to insert myself where I’m not wanted, of course. But I do feel that you get out what you put in. If you bring bigotry, fear and anger to a space we share, you’re bound to have a bad experience. If you come in the spirit of friendship and compassion, you’re likely to have a better one. I do not believe the mere presence of a trans woman is a pox upon women’s spaces, and I do believe that we need them just as badly.

At least some of this is a load of hypocritical bull. Consider, if you will, the currently ongoing exclusion of trans women from Smith College and other women’s institutions. Yes, yes, socialization, privilege, please see above. As I said, I believe that trans women can benefit from women’s spaces just as much as cis women can, and I do not believe that our presence will ruin everything and destroy feminism forever. Here’s the thing, though: many of these women’s colleges are perfectly all right with the presence of transitioning trans men on their campus. So we’re talking about institutions that exclude an entire class of women, but welcome students who explicitly identify as men. Regardless of what you think about trans women at women’s colleges, doesn’t that seem like hypocrisy?

Now, I don’t want to see trans men kicked out of school, whether or not trans women are allowed, particularly if they started their transitions during their college careers. I started my transition at the end of my freshmen year. I know how hard it can be to do that under the best of circumstances. Forcing students to drop out or transfer doesn’t feel right to me, either. But I do think that policy carries some ugly implications. It implies that biology is destiny – that it’s all that matters – which is directly contrary to the ideals of feminism. It calls trans men’s manhood into question as much as it questions trans women’s womanhood. And it feeds into the mistaken notion that trans men really are ‘still’ women, that they’re just an extreme form of butch identity or some such.

Above all else, I simply believe that students’ gender identities should be respected, and that their needs merit close consideration. It’s true that our government tends to be less than enlightened with regard to gender identity, and it’s possible that women’s institutions could face legal trouble, at least in some jurisdictions, for admitting students who were assigned male at birth. In that case, I absolutely believe the law should be changed. There should be stronger protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression nationwide, and I concede that these schools’ policies probably shouldn’t change until those protections are in place. But that change needs to happen, and those who sit idly by cannot be excused for their ignorance or their inaction.

All of this trickles down. Lastly, I’d like to talk to you about public accommodations. Public accommodations cover a wide variety of businesses and public facilities, from theaters to restaurants to restrooms. My home state, Massachusetts, passed a law some time ago which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in employment, education, and housing. This law very explicitly excludes public accommodations, and it does so thanks to rhetoric familiar to pretty much any educated trans person: the Bathroom Bill meme.

The idea behind the Bathroom Bill meme is that we as a society cannot afford to let people use the restrooms associated with their gender identity and presentation. After all, a man could just dress up as a woman, claim to be trans, and go into the ladies’ room, where he would be free to peep and install spy cameras and God knows what else! Besides, trans people should just use the toilets corresponding to their genitals. It doesn’t matter that toilets are unisex by design (urinals are not, sure, but only men’s restrooms have them and no one is required to use them), or that most public restrooms are either single occupancy (usually with locking doors) or have toilets inside stalls (also generally with locking doors). It doesn’t matter that we have laws against voyeurism and sexual assault that could be used to prosecute anyone who went into a restroom with malevolent intentions, regardless of their assigned sex or gender identity. It’s a shame, really, but think of the children. A lot of those trans people are perverts anyway.

I bring this up because it did in fact come up at a public dialogue on trans inclusion that I attended at Simmons College some years ago. One of the women in the audience stood up to proclaim that she would not be comfortable seeing a trans woman in the women’s restroom, though, when asked, she admitted that she wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing a trans man in the women’s restroom, either. While the Bathroom Bill meme is often invoked by conservative (or simply transphobic) politicians, it also comes up in the discussion surrounding women’s spaces. And, once again, we can’t win for losing. Trans people have been arrested for choosing the restrooms that agree with our gender identity, to be sure, but we’ve also been arrested for choosing the restrooms that agree with our assigned sex at birth. If I’m ‘read’ in the women’s restroom, depending on exactly where I am, I could be arrested. Or I could simply be harassed, or assaulted. If I go into the men’s restroom, on the other hand, the very best I can hope for is surprise; harassment, assault or worse could swiftly follow. The only absolutely safe choices are unisex restrooms, but not all places have them, and when they are present, they’re often intended as handicapped or family restrooms, and I don’t want to use a facility that someone else might genuinely need.

So I use the women’s restroom. Because this all comes down to unjustified fear which has been fed deliberately through naked bigotry by people who, ultimately, just don’t like trans people, and prefer to believe the absolute worst of us. Because, as bad as things could get for me in the women’s restroom, I’m quite sure they could get much, much worse in the men’s room. Because I present myself as a woman and am generally seen as such, and only rarely ‘read,’ so the risk to my personal safety is much greater in the men’s room. I’m fortunate to spend most of my time in what we call ‘protected jurisdictions’ – cities and towns where municipal laws offer greater protection to trans people, often including access to public accommodations. But there are places, even in my home state, where I could be arrested just for using the restroom where I’m not as likely to attract attention, where I’m not as likely to face harassment and violence.

That is what exclusion does. It leaves people on the outside. And the outside is a scary, horrible, dangerous place to be.

I face discrimination, naked bigotry, assault and worse every day because of my womanhood. My experiences are not always identical to those of other women. I have concerns that other women may not share, and other women have concerns that I may not share. But I think this is true of any two women you might choose to compare, not just trans women and cis women. My mother always believed in the value of community, and she taught me by example. Time and again, I saw her join with other like-minded people in common cause, whether they were feminists, homeschoolers, or activists of any kind. Our similarities are more important than our differences, and we are stronger together. There should be room in women’s space for all of us.

The Darkness That Claims Us

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of suicide, violence, transphobia, depression and forced outing.

Let me start, selfishly, by saying that this is not the post I wanted to write.

I’ve been away for a while. You may have heard about this little game I worked on. I was absolutely swamped with testing duties for a few months, and then the project wound down and I was let go (in keeping with the cycle of game development), and somehow I still ended up with more on my plate than I expected. I’d been thinking, over the last week, about writing about trans issues again; it seemed especially relevant because I’m preparing to give a talk at Women in Games Boston in July on the subject of treating trans people with respect, and because the whole Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival controversy recently flared up once more, leaving me with all kinds of thoughts and feelings. So my triumphant return to blogging was going to be a Ranting Fangirl post on women’s space and trans inclusion and letting me pee in peace, for the love of God, in a bathroom where I won’t be harassed and insulted and…this is not that post. It’s not a Ranting Fangirl post, either. I suppose it technically qualifies, but it didn’t feel right to slot this into my own silly little categories.

Last night, my friend Amy pinged me on Steam to ask me what I thought about ‘that IndieGoGo thing’. And that was how I first heard about Chloe Sagal.

That link goes to Quinnae Moongazer’s post on the subject, which you should read. Quinnae explains the facts of the situation well and says a lot of stuff that I largely agree with – enough that I initially thought this post would be redundant. Maybe it is. Still, I’m moved to speak.

If you’re really not going to read that post, then the basic facts are these: Chloe Sagal is an independent game developer most famous for the game Homesick, which is available for free. Recently, she launched a campaign on IndieGoGo seeking to raise funds for, as she claimed, medically necessary surgery to prevent potentially lethal metal poisoning. The campaign was canceled by IndieGoGo after she’d raised $35,000, and all the donations were refunded. Afterward, in the face of transphobic abuse from at least some commentators, Sagal posted a link to a Twitch.tv channel where she attempted suicide. Emergency services came to her aid, and she’s reportedly in the hospital recovering.

Following Sagal’s suicide attempt, Allistair Pinsof, who had covered her IndieGoGo campaign on Destructoid, published statements on Twitter and TwitLonger claiming that Sagal had misrepresented herself and her goals for the IndieGoGo campaign, and that she was actually trying to raise funds for genital reconstruction surgery, (or sex reassignment surgery, or SRS). He further stated that he had agreed to conceal that information following a previous suicide attempt on Sagal’s part as well as threats that she would try again if he revealed the truth. After hearing that Sagal had in fact attempted suicide again, survived, and been hospitalized, Pinsof felt empowered to share all the information he had. He did this in direct violation of Destructoid’s social media policy and the instructions he had been given by the site’s staff. In doing so, he forcibly outed Sagal as a trans woman to the entire world.

I hesitate to spread this information any further. I don’t like airing anyone’s dirty laundry. But frankly, it’s already out there. The damage has been done. Allistair Pinsof has caused grave, irreparable harm to Chloe Sagal and, as a secondary consideration, to his own career. He’s been suspended without pay from Destructoid, his staff access has been frozen, and they’re currently investigating the matter and deciding whether or not they will allow him back. Chloe Sagal is in a hospital somewhere, and I can only hope she’s getting the help she needs, though Pinsof claims she complained of mistreatment the last time she was in the hospital. When she returns, it will be to a web full of strangers talking about her. Some will be sympathetic. Many, too many, will be hostile, to varying degrees. Already, if you search for Chloe Sagal on Google, even if you add the title of her game, Homesick, many of the first results lead you to articles about the IndieGoGo campaign, about the scandal and controversy that has erupted as a result, about how she lied and deceived people into showing her sympathy and human kindness. I hesitate to add to the noise. But I find I can’t stay silent.

I don’t know Chloe Sagal. We have never met. I haven’t even played Homesick, though I’m going to have to fix that. I confess that I would never have heard about this situation at all if Amy hadn’t told me about it. I’m not as into the indie game scene as I should be, I don’t follow most gaming news sites, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. But here’s what I think, and feel, and I apologize if it’s all a little disconnected.

First: you never, ever, ever out someone without their consent. I’ve had it done to me more than once. Sometimes it was done with the best of intentions. Sometimes it was done with deliberate malice. It was awful, every single time. I wasn’t always as open about my history as I am now, and I still feel the impulse to run and hide sometimes. In the last couple of years, I have made a conscious choice to speak openly about this part of my life. Nevertheless, I don’t want to be outed to random people. I don’t go around wearing a neon sign that says TRANSSEXUAL. I don’t bring it up in job interviews or casual social situations if I can help it. I discuss it if and when it becomes relevant, or when I feel comfortable speaking about it, and otherwise I leave it alone. Because, simply put, trans people are among the last acceptable targets. We can be mocked and abused with relative impunity. Discrimination laws often fail to protect us fully, or protect us at all, even in states with comprehensive gay rights legislation. In the wrong time, in the wrong place, being trans could get me fired. It could get me thrown out of any business or organization you care to name. I could be assaulted. I could be killed. I am lucky to live in a state where, by and large, trans people are protected under the law, though that law excludes public accommodations (including public restrooms, restaurants, and movie theaters, among other places). I am lucky to spend most of my time in cities like Boston and Cambridge, where municipal legislation provides greater protections. And, as I said, I have chosen to be open about all this, to say it all on the web where a cursory Google search for my name could give the whole game away. It’s still not okay to out me to anyone without my consent. I may not be comfortable revealing that information in all circumstances. You may think that you have my implied permission to out me, based on a talk I gave or I post you read, but you would be mistaken. You need my direct permission. And you need it every time. To out me without my knowledge or express consent is rude at the least and life-threatening at the worst.

And in the case of Chloe Sagal, whose trans status may not have been so widely known (though it does seem she was at least somewhat open about it), and who was already struggling with suicidal depression, it’s unconscionable.

Second: yes, Sagal lied about the precise nature of the medically necessary surgery she needed. But make no mistake: SRS is medically necessary surgery. It is the recommended course of treatment for transsexuals like Sagal and like me. Not every trans person feels the need to get it; some are comfortable between genders, or are fine without the surgery as long as they can present themselves as the gender they identify with. But in my case, I want it, and I need it, and it’s obvious that Sagal does, too. I’ve managed to get along without it, for the time being, while I try to find some stability in my life and carve out a path to completing my transition. Not everyone is capable of that. And thanks to a concerted campaign by people who had no business interfering in the first place, most HMOs don’t cover SRS or any transition-related medical care. This is beginning to change, but only gradually. If you don’t have insurance at all, you’re pretty much screwed. When you factor in all the costs involved, SRS basically costs as much as a car (either new or used, depending on where exactly you get it). It’s true that the body alone is capable of surviving without SRS, but the cognitive dissonance is so overpowering that the stress alone can cause complications, and suicidal depression can result. As it did in Sagal’s case, and as it could have done in mine. Saying ‘well, you can survive without SRS’ is so true-yet-inaccurate that you might as well start with the assumption that we’re all frictionless spheres floating in a vacuum.

Let’s discuss depression for a moment, actually, because depression is another condition that people consider largely psychological even though it can involve physical medical treatment. As some of my friends know, I suffer from chronic depression. For the last few years, I’ve taken medication to treat it – specifically Celexa. I tried seeing therapists, but I found that therapy alone wasn’t effective. Celexa allows me to manage my condition. Without Celexa, I’m not necessarily in a horrible state of mind all the time, but I can fall into profoundly bleak depressive episodes that leave me seriously contemplating suicide or self-harm. In the grips of these episodes, I have acted irrationally. I have threatened to hurt myself. I have attempted to hurt myself. I’m lucky to have survived, and fortunately I was inept enough in my previous attempts at suicide that I didn’t cause any lasting damage.

With Celexa, my moods even out. It’s not that I never feel sad or depressed on Celexa – I do. But the depression doesn’t run as deep. Instead of feeling suicidal, I feel sad, or angry, or bored, or restless. My extended depressive episodes become bouts of ennui, and they don’t generally last as long without outside stressors. It’s unpleasant, to be sure, but it’s manageable.

So many people think depression is all in the brain. And that’s another true-yet-inaccurate statement, though actually there are a lot of factors involved and it’s not necessarily all in the brain. The fact that depression is a psychiatric issue doesn’t mean it’s a purely emotional problem that can be overcome through sheer willpower. It doesn’t mean it’s not a biological problem. The chemicals in my brain don’t work properly. I take medication to manage the symptoms of that problem, just as I take medication to manage the symptoms of my other health problems. The medication is not the only part of my health regimen, but it’s an important part. I would probably get very sick (maybe not physically so, but there would be some physical symptoms and a lot of emotional suffering) or die without it. Similarly, my gender dysphoria is a psychological issue that probably has at least some physical basis (current theories include differing brain structures, hormone washes in the womb, body chemistry, all kinds of things) and is treated, in part, through medication and surgery where indicated. I take hormones to adjust my body chemistry to something my brain can live with. Eventually, I hope, I’ll have surgery to further ease the cognitive dissonance. It won’t be a cure-all, but it will make things better. It will keep me alive, and healthy, and relatively happy.

A few months ago, I was speaking with my father about the various prisoners who have sued to get hormone therapy and SRS while serving their time – most notably Michelle Kosilek, who likewise has attempted suicide while awaiting treatment. I said then that we shouldn’t be asking why prisoners should be getting medically necessary care, including SRS, on the taxpayer’s dime. It would be cruel and unusual treatment to let prisoners go without the medical care they require. We should be asking, instead, why our health care system doesn’t give the same care to free trans people. Why so many trans people have to scrimp and save and jump through so many hoops to get the treatment they so badly need.

That’s a bit of a digression, but here’s my point: we shouldn’t be asking why Chloe Sagal lied to try and raise funds for SRS. We know why: in part, because she obviously suffers from depression and wasn’t acting rationally (and I’ll circle back around to that), but more importantly, because I doubt she would have raised $35,000 if she had told everyone it was for SRS rather than surgery to remove a metal fragment and prevent lethal metal poisoning. The stigma surrounding trans people, our bodies and our needs is just too great. We shouldn’t be asking why Chloe Sagal lied. We should be asking why our society made her feel forced to lie. We should be asking why, when the emerging medical consensus is that SRS is necessary treatment for transsexuals like Chloe Sagal, like me, that it saves and improves lives, we have to work so hard and reach so far just to try and snatch that brass ring.

Third: A related point. All the rhetoric surrounding this feeds into the stereotype of the trans person as a deceiver. You know this stereotype. You’ve seen it play out in commercials, TV shows, movies, plays, books. The cheeky commercial about the ‘man posing as a woman’ who keeps hinting at some deep, dark secret. The comedians’ rants about picking up girls at the club and finding out they had Adam’s apples and body hair. The murdered trans woman who lied and seduced poor, insecure straight men who ended up putting her into a shallow grave, and oh, no, it’s horrible that she died, but if she hadn’t lied, surely it wouldn’t have happened. (Never mind that blunt honesty can also kill us, when someone is already pathologically, homicidally repulsed by the very thought of a trans person.) And now, the trans woman who lied to the whole Internet to get surgery she didn’t really need – I mean, no one really needs that stuff, right? It’s all in our heads, isn’t it? We could get therapy and fix it if we really wanted to, but oh, no, now it’s all trendy to be trans (never mind that we have records of transgender people going back to the ancient world) and everyone wants to mutilate their genitals. Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth.

Yes, deception was involved. No, that’s not good. But it’s wrong to play up that aspect, to sensationalize this story, to feed that stereotype. Not all trans people are like that. Chloe Sagal probably isn’t really like that. In her desperation, she made a mistake. She made a number of mistakes. We are human. We err. She still didn’t deserve to be outed. She doesn’t deserve our scorn or derision. She deserves our sympathy.

And on that note, let me state again Chloe Sagal was clearly under intense emotional strain. As I said, I have experienced episodes of profound, terrible depression, and I have done desperate, irrational things in the throes of it. I do not believe Chloe Sagal can be held responsible for her actions in this case. She deserves our sympathy. She has mine. The IndieGoGo campaign was canceled. Everyone got their money back. And now she’s in a hospital after her second suicide attempt in an alarmingly short span of time. Her reputation is forever tarnished. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But I doubt it will be easy for her. We don’t need to make it harder.

Fifth: Allistair Pinsof probably violated journalistic ethics at some point (possibly multiple points) in this whole ordeal. He chose to conceal information that might have been of public interest; he later chose to reveal private information that wasn’t of public interest in what I can only read as a fit of pique.

Pinsof may have killed his career in revealing this information. I don’t know if I would honestly wish that on him. As much as I condemn his actions, as much as I think he made some grave mistakes, I have to acknowledge that he, too, may have been operating under emotional duress. Someone he’d spent a great deal of time speaking with, someone he talked down from suicide, had attempted to kill herself live on the Internet. He was upset, he was angry, and he did some profoundly stupid things as a result. He seems to understand that, now, though I still think some of his thinking on the whole matter is flawed. He’s made a decently heartfelt if slightly flaky apology. I don’t know if that’s enough. I don’t know what I want out of any of this. It’s really not my place to want anything to come of this, save perhaps for greater understanding and greater sympathy among the general public. I wish none of it had happened. I wish this wasn’t a story I’d heard too many times before.

This is such a difficult thing. The world makes it so hard to be trans. Even now, as open as I am about all this, I know that if I could go to bed tonight and wake up in a world where I had always been female, where I grew up as the little girl I should have been and blossomed into the woman I should be today, and I could just forget about all this transgender business, I would. I would never have chosen this, had I been given the choice. Every day, I and others like me have to walk this tightrope, no wider than a bit of dental floss, really, and keep our eyes raised to the heavens and pray we don’t fall. Too feminine and we’re a caricature. Too butch and we’re just men in women’s dresses. Too quiet and we’re invisible and easily trampled. Too loud and we’re read and ostracized or castigated or assaulted or killed. Too shy and we’re alone. Too flirty and it’s our fault if we’re assaulted or raped or murdered. Too close-mouthed and we’re liars and deceivers; too open and oh, God, are we really on about all that trans activist stuff again? Too much of anything and we could be destroyed…but, if I may borrow from Audre Lorde, our silence won’t protect us, either.

We face verbal, mental, emotional and even physical abuse every day. We get all kinds of shit from clueless cisgender society at large, from right-wing zealots, from trans-exclusive radical feminists, from religious fanatics who think we’re going against God’s will, from hardcore atheists and skeptics who don’t think there’s any scientific justification for transgender identity (or believe that it’s a psychological disorder that should be stamped out), from old-school trans people who think you have to cleave to traditional gender roles and stay under the radar, from new-school trans people who think anything explicitly gendered is crap (even if you’re genuinely girly or butch) and those who aren’t completely open about their history are traitors to the cause, and of course, worst of all, from ourselves. I’m my own worst enemy. I bet Chloe Sagal is hers. Honestly, I think it’s the human condition, but it’s so much worse when you have so much reason to doubt yourself already.

I don’t talk much about my religious beliefs, except in the vaguest terms. But there’s a hymn I sing to myself as the seasons change, or when the winter is cold, or I feel lost and alone and I want to think that it won’t always be so. It’s a humble, homely little thing, and I’ve always been a bit too embarrassed to sing it or show it to anyone else. But I drew the title of my post from it, and I’d like to share it with you all now.

Blessed mother, sweet life-bringer
By the waking morn we pray
By the sacred moon we call thee
Let there come another day
Let the sun shine on a green world
Let your loving children play
Do not let the darkness claim us
Let there come another day

This is my life, and the life of everyone like me: struggling, day after day, not to let the darkness claim us. So often, we falter. Too often, we fail. I’ve had so much to say here about my own thoughts and feelings – more than I really wanted to, when this is not my story, but Chloe’s. I can only pray that this, together with the stuff I’ve linked to, gives you some insight and inspires some sympathy.

And for you, Chloe, if you ever read this, I pray that the darkness will never claim you. I pray that there will be many more days ahead of you, and that you will find everything you need, and everything you’ve hoped for. I’m very sorry this happened. I’m sorry I felt compelled to share this, and if you ever ask me to take this down, to take your name and your story out of this, I will. Likewise, if you end up soliciting donations for your SRS, I’ll happily post the link here and share it far and wide. I wish I could tell you it will get better. But all any of us can do is hope, and try our best to help one another, however we can.

All we can do is try not to let the darkness claim us.

The Ranting Fangirl: Don’t Call Me A Tranny

I feel I should start this post off with a little housekeeping. It’s come to my attention that my blanket disclaimers to the effect that everything I say both here and on Twitter is my opinion and mine alone may no longer be quite enough. Apparently this needs to be reiterated. So let me be clear – I don’t speak for anyone but me. Highly relevant case in point: I talk about trans issues quite often, because many of those issues affect me personally, but I am well aware that I don’t speak for all trans people. I certainly don’t speak for trans men, or people who identify as genderqueer or gender-neutral. I have never been a part of the drag community, so I don’t speak for drag queens or kings (and very few of them speak for me, for that matter). I don’t speak for transvestites. I don’t speak for trans people of color, or for trans people outside of the United States of America. I don’t speak for transsexual separatists, as that particular movement repulses me on a primal, visceral level. I will never be a beauty queen, a fashion model, or generally drop-dead gorgeous, so I don’t speak for people like Jenna Talackova, Isis King or Janet Mock. At the same time, despite my horrible, awful voice which I hate with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, I somehow manage to pass most of the time, so I don’t speak for trans women who don’t pass at all. I am quite certain that I don’t even speak for all American diabetic geeky trans lesbian writers of Irish descent who pass fairly well but aren’t exactly supermodels, wear glasses, use makeup only on rare occasions, keep pink-maned unicorns and purring tribbles on their desk, and dye their hair increasingly vivid shades of red with each passing year.

I really don’t know how else to say this. Everything I say here, on Twitter, practically everywhere is my opinion. Period. It’s not me trying to speak for anyone else, even if I do think I’m in the majority on some of this stuff. It’s certainly not any attempt on my part to be some noble white knight in shining armor riding to the rescue of the defenseless. I talk about these things because they piss me off. Because they impact my life and my well-being. Because I want to live in a world that pisses me off a lot less. That’s it. My thoughts sometimes agree with high-minded ideals of what the world should be. Some people praise that. Some people think it’s bullshit. And as for me?

I’m not going to promise you nobility, wisdom, or even kindness. This is my oath: I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as I perceive it. I promise to offer my opinion couched in my own terms, and nothing more. I solemnly swear I am up to no good. That’s it.

So let’s talk about the latest thing that’s pissed me off.

As a writer, I am painfully aware of the power of words. This is why I prefer ‘heterosexual’ to ‘straight’ and ‘cisgender’ to ‘normal’ or ‘biologically male/female’ or ‘genetically male/female’ or whatever else. If you don’t like the words heterosexual or cisgender, or any attempt to label you as anything other than ‘normal,’ if these attempts make you feel alienated and marginalized, then perhaps you should stop and consider how the rest of us feel pretty much all the time. ‘Normal’ is a value judgment. Yes, it is also a cold, clean statistical term, but in a social context, it tends to be highly charged. More to the point: very few people are using these words as slurs. They’re using them simply as descriptors. I’m a transsexual lesbian. You’re a cisgender heterosexual man. Zie’s a genderqueer person who is generally attracted to men. And so on, almost literally ad infinitum.

Despite what your teachers or your parents told you, words can bludgeon. Words can cut. Words can wound. They can also be precursors to abuse and physical violence. As a survivor of bullying, I know this very, very well. And when these violent, horrible, threatening, demeaning, degrading words are used carelessly – even as a throwaway joke – it provokes fear. And then it provokes anger, and I think that anger is more than justified.

Here is my blunt, unvarnished opinion: cisgender people shouldn’t use the word tranny. Nor should they use shemale, or he-she, or whatever the hell else. Even if they’re ‘just’ telling a joke, it’s wrong. If they’re trying to reclaim it, well, it’s simply not their place. It is not my place as a white person to use the word n****r. It is not my place as someone who does not identify as a gay man to use the word f****t. If you’re not trans, it is not your place to use the slurs screamed at us as we’re beaten, or slapped on porn DVDs that exploit our bodies for your titillation, or turned into the punchlines of cheap jokes that rely solely on bigotry and shock value. (And I would argue that this is even true of drag performers who do not otherwise identify as trans – though they are generally grouped under the trans umbrella, there is a difference between wearing gender as a costume and actually experiencing the cognitive dissonance inherent to the trans experience. Then again, there certainly are drag queens and drag kings who also identify as trans in other respects.)

I am not, in theory, opposed to reclaiming slurs. I identify quite happily as queer (and I am indeed queer in many, many respects). I have, in the past, participated in the Boston Dyke March (though I don’t really use the word outside of that context, even when identifying myself). I’ve spoken before about my complicated relationship with the word bitch, and while I try to avoid gendered insults myself, I don’t really object to others applying it to me in a friendly or teasing sort of way. In practice…I find the slurs against trans people to be a bit too painful. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with them. I’m not alone in this. The conversation around the idea of reclaiming these words is a complicated one, and it’s full of internal politics that are frankly difficult to articulate to a general audience. But despite my discomfort, I’m not really going to object trans people using these words. (Though I would look askance at trans men using words like shemale, which have generally been applied to trans women…but now we’re edging close to those internal politics.) At the same time, I am going to object, strenuously, to cisgender people trying to ‘reclaim’ these words for us. It doesn’t matter what their intentions are. I’m sorry, but when you are part of a class that has systematically oppressed and assaulted a disadvantaged community, you don’t get to arbitrarily turn the tools of that oppression into compliments or friendly jibes. Imposing a new order from the outside is just another form of oppression.

And jokes using those slurs, or relying solely on the “She’s a MAN, baby!” brand of humor? They’re not harmless. Honestly, I don’t even think they’re remotely funny. As I said on Twitter the other day, they’re basically the equivalent of a three-year-old running up to you with an incoherent joke, finishing it with “POOP!” and running off while laughing hysterically. It’s cute when you’re three. It’s less cute when you’re a middle-aged self-styled comedy writer. And most of us would punish or at least chastise that three-year-old in a heartbeat if the punchline to their joke was, say, “N****R!” Humor relies upon a certain amount of shock value. But when shock value is all you have – when, in fact, the shock value is based on assumptions about your audience that may not even be true (such as the assumption that no one there is trans, or no one there has trans loved ones, or everyone there would find sex or even casual contact with a trans person disgusting) – then your so-called humor is fundamentally flawed.

But, also, at best these jokes amount to pointing and laughing at people who aren’t like you mainly because they aren’t like you, and that makes them weird and freaky. At worst, they denigrate people for something that’s not actually wrong, not their fault, maybe not even within their control. Or they even incite violence.

Do I need to say that using these slurs to hurt people is also wrong? I’d hope not. I doubt I’m going to reach the sort of people who would hurl ‘tranny’ at someone in anger. But it’s also wrong to throw those words at people who aren’t trans, as a way of mocking them. It doesn’t necessarily denigrate them. It does denigrate us. When you say that Ann Coulter totally looks like a tranny, the unspoken conclusion is ‘…and that’s terrible’. When you accuse a female athlete of being trans, you’re saying that ‘real’ women couldn’t achieve what they have, and incidentally saying that trans women aren’t real women. And when you use hateful, emotionally charged words like tranny, shemale, etc., you are compounding the insult.

Now, I should offer a few caveats. As a writer, you can certainly write bigoted or ignorant characters – characters who do use these words – without being a bigot yourself. As an actor, you can portray characters who use bigoted language without being a bigot yourself. And not everyone who uses bigoted language or espouses bigoted views is a bad person. They may be speaking out of ignorance or confusion. Those conditions can be remedied. I was very glad to see that Bill Corbett (whose tweets inspired this rant, as well as its precursor on Twitter) has come to understand how hurtful his comments were, and has promised to do better. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. We all say stupid things and do stupid shit. You pick yourself up, you learn from your mistakes, and you try to do better. That’s all anyone can ask. If you learn that you were wrong but refuse to accept it – if you choose to stay the course, knowing the needless pain and suffering you’re causing – then, yes, you are a bad person.

There is, as Zach Weiner has pointed out, no such thing as a perfect ethical law. But my mother raised me not to hurt people if I could avoid it. Slurs hurt people needlessly. These slurs, specifically, hurt me. I’m asking you all not to use them. That really shouldn’t be a controversial request.

But then, that’s just my opinion.

The Ranting Fangirl: Sexuality, Sacrifice and Sainthood

As I grow older and, perhaps, wiser, I am increasingly convinced that there are very few objective truths – at least when it comes to human experience. There are only our individual truths, the thoughts and feelings and experiences that change our lives in great ways and small, in good ways and bad. This is a difficult thing to accept. The world would be easier to deal with, people would be easier to deal with, if we had cold, hard, unchanging facts to guide our lives. Even I am forced to confront some uncomfortable truths at times, some stories that fly in the face of everything I think I know and everything I prefer to believe.

Case in point: this blog post that popped up on my Facebook feed the other day, posted by an old, dear friend from my childhood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I think I’ve mentioned before that I was raised Mormon; if I haven’t said it on this blog, then I’m sure I’ve said it on Twitter, and I know I’ve talked about it with several of my friends. I do not often go into detail about my time there, or why I left, but it’s part of who I am. It still informs some of the things I believe and some of the things I do, even though I no longer consider myself a Christian, let alone a Mormon, and even though I drink (very rarely) and swear (with moderate frequency) and am, generally, a scary liberal feminist transsexual lesbian who writes books about fairies and plays games full of vampires.

But I digress. I urge you to go and read the blog post in full, but in summary, it’s a personal account from Josh Weed, an active Mormon who identifies as gay but has been happily married to a woman for ten years. They have children, and he obviously loves his family, and his wife, very deeply, even though he feels sexually attracted to men. He makes it fairly clear that he doesn’t believe his choices are for everyone. He doesn’t claim to be ‘cured’. But nevertheless, he is happy. He doesn’t believe he’s living a lie. His wife, who knew all about this before they married, doesn’t believe that either.

My feelings about this post are complex, to say the least. There is skepticism: I firmly believe that human sexuality is a continuum, and that there are many shades of gray between gay and bi and straight. I find it difficult to believe that this is not simply a real-life example of “If It’s You, It’s Okay“. Then, too, there is worry: I worry that this will convince people that gay, lesbian, bi and trans folks can change if we just have enough faith and try real hard, and while I do believe sexuality is fluid, I also don’t believe it’s that fluid. I also worry that the post will lead young gay Mormons down a difficult and dangerous path – already, there is at least one comment from a young man who is about to go on his mission, a young man who was struggling with his own sexual attraction to men but now believes he can follow Josh’s example and fulfill Heavenly Father’s plan. Maybe he’ll succeed. Maybe he’ll fail, and hearts and homes will be broken. I hope he, and other young Mormons like him, move carefully down this difficult, treacherous path, and do a lot of soul-searching before committing to it; I fear they will not.

But I also find myself agreeing with some of what Josh has to say. This much is true: virtually every member of the QUILTBAG community is intimately, painfully familiar with choice, and with sacrifice. He and I made different choices under different circumstances. He chose to set aside his feelings and live the life the Church expected of him; I chose to leave the Church and find my own way.

He is content with his choice. That is his truth.

And I am content with my choice. This is my truth.

It was not difficult for me to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and in all honesty, my decision to embrace my true identity had very little to do with it. I may discuss that in depth some other time. In my heart, I left the Church three or four years before I even admitted to myself who and what I really was. I stopped going to services, and I began exploring other ideas. The Church doesn’t really stop thinking of you as a member just because you stop going, though – maybe you’re an inactive member, but unless you’ve faced disciplinary action or asked them formally to strike you from the records, you’re still a member.

But during my freshman year of college, everything came to a head. I had long felt like an outcast – at church, at school, just about anywhere. I was shy and quiet and preferred the company of girls. I liked playing with dolls and ponies; as I grew older and got into games like D&D, I almost always played female characters, and I was fascinated by spells and magical items that could change a character’s sex. When puberty hit, I felt wrong and I had no idea why. I begged Heavenly Father, night after night, to let me be a girl, to transform me as I slept. When that didn’t work, I begged for a peace that never came. I convinced myself that my feelings began and ended with the torment I experienced as a child – if I was a girl, I wouldn’t have been teased or beaten, right? I learned about transsexuality during my adolescence, but even after I left the Church, I denied that part of myself. I tried to convince myself that I could be happy as a man, that I could find ways of expressing myself without starting the transition. When I first started seeing a therapist at school, in fact, I was looking for a cure. A way to reconcile my feelings with the ‘truth’ of my existence. That therapist didn’t judge me, didn’t pressure me one way or another, but just by listening, she helped me realize that my feelings ran deeper than I had ever believed. That those feelings were the truth of my existence, and by denying them, I was denying myself.

I couldn’t go on that way. The pain was excruciating. I have said before that I don’t consider myself brave for making the choices I did, because these were my choices: I could embrace who I was, or I could die, probably after a short and miserable life. And while I had stopped believing in the Mormon conception of God years before, I could not – I cannot – believe in a loving God who would ask that much of me. Who would make me this way and then tell me I had to twist and squeeze and pound myself into some torturous mold. I could not take my life. I could not go on living as I was. And so I made my choice.

While I didn’t particularly care what the Church thought of me at that point, I didn’t really want them poking their noses in my life, either – so once I’d made my choice, I went to my Bishop (in Mormon parlance, that’s the leader of a Ward – an individual congregation) to start the process of formally leaving the faith. At first, quite honestly, it went well. He understood why I felt I had to leave, and even, briefly, wondered aloud if I could leave during my transition, and come back when it was done, though he quickly rejected the idea and I was too polite to tell him I really didn’t see myself coming back at all. But then things turned to shit. There was the letter the Bishop wrote to me asking me to confirm my decision to leave – and also, not-so-incidentally, asking me if I’d ever had sex with men. I rather frostily responded that I had not yet had sex with anyone, but as I was leaving anyway, I didn’t particularly feel it was his business or the Church’s. There was the family friend in the Church hierarchy who gave my mother a blessing in which, among other things, he asked Heavenly Father to help her support me – only to call her up a few days later to tell her he shouldn’t have included that bit. And, eventually, though I still haven’t heard all the details, I do know that my mother was put under tremendous pressure to choose between her status as a member of the Church and her support of my ‘lifestyle’. She chose to support me.

I don’t think I’ll ever forgive them for forcing that choice on her. But then, to my knowledge, no one involved has sought my forgiveness. So I think that’s fair.

I couldn’t have made Josh’s choice. Obviously my circumstances differ greatly. There was really no way to reconcile my gender identity with the principles and demands of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was not as simple as finding someone I could love, because it was never about who I was attracted to; it was a fundamental truth about my identity that burned inside me until I could take no more. But there are plenty of gay and lesbian and bisexual Mormons out there who can’t make Josh’s choice either, who can’t choose a heterosexual marriage or a life of celibacy. He seems to accept that. I’m not sure all his readers do.

But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints adapts with the times. Change can be maddeningly slow, but it does happen. And Josh’s post is another piece of a growing conversation about Mormonism and homosexuality. I hope the conversation continues. I hope it widens to include the whole spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity. Though I don’t think I will ever again walk in fellowship with the Church, I hope that, one day, change will come again, and QUILTBAG Mormons won’t have to choose between faith, family, love and self. More than that, I hope this widens the conversation about the nuances of human sexuality, not only among Mormons but among all of us. I hope we recognize the complexity of the matter and move past this black-and-white, nature vs. nurture, choice vs. genetics debate into a new perspective that acknowledges and embraces our diversity.

And while we’re at it, I would like an actual unicorn.

A girl can dream.

Gone Fishing

Hey everyone –

Here’s the deal. I just put a busy-as-hell week behind me. I’ve got another one ahead. And things are likely to return to something resembling normalcy after that, but right now…I’m exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally. That last post, especially, took a lot out of me. That’s not a place I like going back to, and it always takes its toll. I could try to force some posts out, and I do have a few ideas…but I want to get this stuff right. I don’t want to post something I can’t be at least a little proud of. And I don’t want to keep letting my schedule slip the way it has been lately.

So I’m taking the week. I’m going to spend a little time on my mental health. I’m going to focus on writing the next couple chapters of Fall. I’m going to recharge my batteries, and I’m going to come back fresh.

See you in a week. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

– Cass