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I recently read about Alissah Brooks, a transgender woman from Atlanta, Georgia, and her recent run-in with a bouncer who denied her entry to a club on the basis of her gender identity. For those who haven’t yet read this story, after attending a GLAAD event in Atlanta, Brooks and a few friends stopped at Don Pollo Bar & Grill. Brooks was denied entry to the bar after a bouncer asked to see her ID. Her friends then explained Brooks’ transgender status to an employee of the club, saying they believed Brooks was denied entry on account of her status as a trans woman. The employee’s response?  “What’s wrong with that? We can do that — we have the right to be selective. We can do that. We’re a private property.”

Actually, they can’t. This would appear to violate a city ordinance put in place to protect LGBT individuals.

I wish I could say this was the first time something like this has happened to a transgender woman, but that would be a lie. In fact, it was only a few months ago that one of my friends and I were denied entry to a bar in Chicago. On July 19th, after going to a concert on Chicago’s north side, my friend and I decided to end the night by stopping at a bar for a drink. As most bars were jam-packed, we kept walking until we found one with a little more breathing room. That’s when we stumbled upon Big City Tap, a bar that lives up to its nickname of “Big Shitty Tap.”

We approached the door. The bouncer eyed us suspiciously. He held up his hand as if to say, “IDs, please,” and we went ahead, giving him our drivers licenses. He looks at mine, then up at my face; back down at the card, up at my face. He hands me my license, waving me into the nearly-empty bar. My friend, wearing a cute dress that went down to her knees, covered her shoulders, and showed minimal cleavage, handed her license to the bouncer. Immediately, he calls for me to come back out of the bar. I heard the tail end of the conversation between my friend and the bouncer. “Wait, what?” she asked, confused by the situation. “Dress code. That’s all I’m saying,” he replied, waving us away.

We walked away from the bar, not necessarily in the mood to get into an argument over the right to purchase an overpriced beer and sit in a bar blasting shitty music. Still, though, it stung. I felt like a freak; I felt subhuman. There was no way to interpret “dress code” as anything other than another way of saying, “stay out, tr*nnies.” After all, it wasn’t until the bouncer saw that my friend’s drivers license didn’t match his own initial read of her gender that he shooed us away. Had this legitimately been about some sort of dress code, why did he look at the license in the first place? The people who were in the bar? Girls in low-cut shirts that bared their midriffs, guys in t-shirts and jeans, a man in cargo shorts with flip flops, a girl in a short skirt who wasn’t wearing shoes at this point in the evening. Clearly, there was no dress code in place.

We made our way to a different bar, had a drink, and called it a night. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened at Big City Tap. It seemed as though, from an attire-based point of view, anyone could enter the bar so long as the sex listed on their drivers license matched their outward gender presentation.

In what other circumstance would it be okay to discriminate against someone like this? To deny someone access to public accommodations? “No blacks allowed.” “Men only.” “Must have blue eyes and blond hair to enter.” “Must be taller than 6’ to drink here.” “No disabled welcome.” In each of these situations, there’d be a thunderous outcry against the business. This isn’t to say that there aren’t places that do discriminate against people on the basis of race, sex, appearance, and so on; but rather that it’s seen as less culturally acceptable. For transgender people, this kind of treatment is almost expected.

One of my greatest fears is that I’ll find myself in the hospital for some reason, and just left to die. Or that I’ll be in a car crash and upon realizing I’m transgender, being left on the side of the road by paramedics. You might think I’m being paranoid, but these fears are more rational than one would think.

In 2010, Erin Vaught, a transgender woman, checked into a Muncie, Indiana Emergency Room after she started coughing up blood. In spite of her ID, which listed her as female, she was entered into the hospital system as a male (this part has actually already happened to me). She was then sent to an exam room where she was referred to as a “he-she,” “transvestite,” and an “it” by hospital staff. There she waited for two hours without treatment until a doctor showed up, only to tell her that they would not be treating her on account of her “condition.” She was then sent home.

To be clear, by “condition,” these doctors were not referring to whatever it was that led to her coughing up blood. Rather, they were stating that they would not treat her on account of her transgender status. Even though the two issues were entirely separate, the doctor refused her service on account of her gender identity.

Along with examples of discrimination against transgender people in employment, housing, and public accommodations, it’s become the norm to expect the worst and hope for the best. It’s not right, though. It’s not right at all. We shouldn’t have to.

This is why I cringe anytime I hear someone say that adding legal protections for transgender individuals is giving us a “special right” or a “special treatment.” There’s nothing special about wanting to be treated with dignity and respect, whether it’s stopping at a bar for a drink or seeking medical treatment.

So, before anyone jumps in and says “why don’t you just go to a different bar?” I want to make one thing clear: this isn’t about the bar. This isn’t about a single event. This is about the world piling on us until we can’t take it anymore.

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A friend once brought up an interesting point:

The way you know that “tranny” is a slur is by doing 3 different Google Image searches.

1.) Search “trans woman” and “transgender woman”

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2.) Search “tranny”

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Do you see the difference (I had to turn Google’s SafeSearch feature on for that 2nd search as the results were a bit on the raunchy side)? Do you see how when you call me (or any of my other trans friends) a “tranny,” what you’re saying I am? The top images are made up of confident trans women (yes, there are a few misguided entries, but hey, it’s Google, it’s not perfect). The bottom image is mostly comprised of bearded men in drag, photos that demean the people in them, jokes, pornography (take the SafeSearch off and you’ll see).

Next time someone claims “tranny” isn’t a slur, pull out your phone and do these quick searches, asking them if they can see the difference, if they can see why it might not be the most polite thing to call trans women.

It doesn’t get better

August 5, 2013

As a transgender woman, I have to deal with glaring instances of transphobia on a near daily basis. “Oh, what’s that? A joke on a popular network TV show where they laugh about a ‘dude in a dress’ or react in absolute disgust thinking about ‘accidentally’ being attracted to a ‘tranny’ (see: How I Met Your Mother, South Park, the Daily Show With Jon Stewart, the Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live, Family Guy, Community, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Arrested Development, Bob’s Burgers, Go On, and The Simpsons… just to name a few)? Great! After a long day, I love to come home and listen to jokes that attack my very existence!”

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Community – Britta is a “tranny queen?”

Should I go online and read about one of the all-too-common stories outlining the murder of a trans woman, I’ll find instances where the victim is blamed for their own demise. Similarly, authors of these stories seem to revel in the ability to play gender police, reverting to the birth names and pronouns of the recently assaulted or deceased. Even outlets that are “on our side” aren’t an exception. For instance, just this past June, HuffPost Gay Voices ran a story about a “transgender man” (by which they meant a transgender woman). After corresponding with an editor for nearly an hour, informing them that they were violating the AP Stylebook and the GLAAD guidelines for reporting on transgender individuals, he relented and “compromised” by changing the headline to read “transgender person” (while still leaving the victim’s birth name in the article).

How freaking gracious of him. I certainly hope that if something horrifically violent like that happened to me, the world wouldn’t be told about a “man” named “[birth name].”

No matter the individual, no matter the group, no matter how liberal or accepting you think someone is – they’re bound to let you down when it comes to steering clear of transphobia. For instance, take Patton Oswalt, one of my favorite comedians. He’s extremely liberal, injecting his own political views into his set. He’d never do or say something transphobic, right?

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Et tu, Patton?

How often does someone try to make a joke at your expense? Occasionally? How often does someone try to invalidate your existence? Never? Sadly, this doesn’t even take into consideration things that actually happen to me “in real life.”

At the doctor’s office yesterday, I filled out my intake form, and sat down, waiting with the rest of the patients. On the form, I wrote my legal name (Parker Marie [last name]) and gender (Female, as listed on my driver’s license). After a few moments, the woman behind the desk loudly asks, in front of everyone else in the waiting room, if I had changed my name from [birth name] to my legal name, essentially outing me as trans to everyone within earshot. I nodded.

After finally receiving treatment, they handed me a form with a general summary of my visit. In the upper right hand corner, I noticed this:

DESCRIPTION: 27 year old male

Really, doctor? Really? Not only did you out me to the waiting room, but you felt the need to ignore what was on the intake form and legal document I gave you?

I’m lucky to be in a position where I have a job. I’m lucky to be in a position where, by sheer genetic luck, my body has responded to hormones in a way that doesn’t immediately scream “this woman is trans!,” and thereby, I don’t get too many strange glances or harassment when I try to use a public restroom.

Still, generally, being trans sucks in the sense that there are so many people who think so little of the existence of people like you that they feel entitled to make jokes at your expense, use incorrect names and pronouns in news pieces about you, or stare you down or confront you over harmless things like the bathroom.

The individual examples listed above could easily be seen as harmless. It’s easy to go, “oh, but it’s just a joke.” That’s simple to say when it’s just one joke. Unfortunately, though, it isn’t one joke, it’s dozens, playing on endless loops in media and real life.

We’re under the impression that so much has improved for trans individuals over the years, but is that really the case? Looking at Google search trends, you wouldn’t think so.

Over the past 5 years, terms “transgender” and “trans woman” have remained relatively consistent volume-wise, while two negative slurs (“shemale” and “tranny”) have continued increasing, both finding themselves at their highest points in internet search activity.

ImageIf “it gets better” for LGB folks, transgender individuals are finding their lives getting worse. Public perception needs to drastically shift. As long as significantly more people are searching slurs than are searching preferred terms, we’ll remain relegated to the sidelines, the easy punchline to any joke.

This is where our cis allies have to come in. I simply don’t have the time or emotional energy to devote to calling out every transphobic joke on every transphobic sitcom. Like many trans people, I’m just trying to survive from day to day, keeping my head above water. It’s hard to defend yourself when you’re already being piled on. That’s why cis allies need to stand up and call out transphobic media portrayals of trans people, contact newspapers when they publish sensationalistic headlines about trans people with incorrect names and pronouns, and generally, defend us.

Samantha Allen recently wrote a great piece called “5 Tips for Calling Out Transphobia“. I consider this recommended reading for any ally looking to make a difference in the battle of public perception.

 

My e-mail to my parents:

Sometimes I am absolutely terrible with articulating my words on important issues. And as I won’t see you for Thanksgiving ([my partner] and I are going to spend it with her family this year), I felt like this was the right time to send this. I ask that you reply to this e-mail to acknowledge its receipt and provide initial reactions, and then, after 48 hours to take it all in, we can chat on the phone to discuss this:

Dear Mom & Dad,

I know that the two of you have always told me that I could tell you anything and you’d still love me just the same, and so I feel like there’s something I need to tell you (if at any point during this e-mail, you get confused or frustrated, go back and read this sentence again):

As you know, most of my life, I’ve been riddled with intense bouts of anxiety, sadness, depression, social ineptitude, awkwardness, anger issues, etc. Really, it’s been every day of my life since I was 8 or 9, I think. I’ve tried working this out in a number of ways (way 1: bottle everything up and end up hospitalized with a stomach ulcer… not exactly the most pleasant route. way 2: therapy. way 3: medication), but it’s not something I can bottle up or dull with medication anymore.

I’ve been going to a therapist for the past 7 or 8 months on a weekly basis to try to root out this issue before it led to self-harm, and after that time, here’s what I’ve come to:

I’m transgender.

Yep. Transgender. Essentially, my brain is wired to be female, but I was born male. This is something that I’ve known (to varying extents) since I was 8 or 9, but had never truly accepted (leading to anger issues, frustration, awkwardness, depression, et al.). It was that point 7 or 8 months ago, where I hit a true breaking point in my existence. Not knowing what to make of this/what to do about this, I started going to see a therapist specializing in gender issues.

From there, the next part was extremely hard: telling [my partner]. I love [my partner] with all my heart, and this was something I thought would absolutely destroy her/ruin our relationship. Luckily, it wasn’t. While a bit of a shock, she still loves me as much as ever. If there was ever a sign that I have found “the one,” this was it. Through thick and thin, truly. (and yes, to answer a frequently asked question: I am still only attracted to women. Gender and sexuality are two completely different things)

[My brother] one one of the next people in my life I told about this, and he’s been amazing as well. He’s offered his support in every possible capacity, and has teared up over a beer, expressing how happy he is for me. He’s truly a wonderful man.

I’ve met some wonderful friends over these past few months, as well; many of whom are also transgender. Knowing these individuals has been a life saver, as I know that this is proof that life can be better.

Over the next several months & years, I’ll be working my way through “transition.” Essentially, that means that I do hope to eventually live full time as a woman (not a “dude in a dress” or any of the other stereotypes, but a  human being, for the first time). There are a lot of obstacles to overcome, but I’m building myself up to be able to take them on. My work has a program specifically designed to accommodate transgender individuals as they transition, so it looks like I lucked out on ending up here.

I’ve started the process of going through hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is, essentially, replacing testosterone in my system with estrogen. This will have subtle effects on my mind & my body. [my partner] can vouch for me when I say that my mood and outlook has improved remarkably since I’ve started (roughly 1 month ago).

So, basically, that’s it. I’m still the same person, just, maybe more so. I will still have, essentially, the same personality. I will still enjoy sports & music. I will still be a grouch about politics.

I understand this may be hard for you two, as well, but this was something I needed to tell you as I love you both so very much. I guess, just rather than having 2 sons and a daughter, you can think of it as having 2 daughters and a son ([my brother] jokingly complains that it’s unfair that as the most masculine of the 3 of us, he’s the shortest).

Getting used to a new me may be a challenge, but I want to give you all the time in the world you need to come to terms with this.  I don’t expect you to be perfect when it comes to getting my pronouns right (I prefer “she/her/hers,” etc.), but this is me. I don’t expect you to be able to use my chosen name right at first(“[birth name]” wouldn’t exactly work in the long-term – the name I prefer is “Parker” – with the full name being “Parker Marie [last name],” middle name borrowed from mom).

I honestly, and truly hope that you two can still love me through this, as your love and support means so very, very much to me.

I love you. I do. I really, really do. Obviously, I don’t want you to hurt, but I hope that we can celebrate the fact that I won’t be so mentally anguished anymore.

Here are some resources on the subject, if you’re interested in learning more (which, I hope you are). You can also talk with [my brother] if you need another perspective, but I do ask that you hold off on calling me for 48 hours and instead just shoot me a short e-mail in the interim. This way, I know you’ve had time to digest everything here.

http://www.hrc.org/issues/pages/transgender

http://community.pflag.org/Document.Doc?id=202

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My Dad’s Response:

[birth name],

As I have said from day one, I love you with all of my heart and there has never been a day where I haven’t been proud of you. There have been so many times throughout my life that I’ve kicked myself and second guessed myself for having been too tough on you and made you too competitive and for that I truly ask your forgiveness.

Needless to say, I will sit down with mom tonight and I expect that she will feel the same as me when I say, we live to see you be happy, truly happy. Certainly we can talk whenever you wish to talk and I can tell you, from my end, I will be very supportive and I hope mom will as well.

I do ask that you become much closer with us moving forward. It has always been tough on mom to not have you stay in touch in a fairly regular basis so I hope this revelation will bring us all closer.

I do ask that you become happier and lose the edge you have always carried. Sometimes, I just didn’t understand the anger and hopefully this would explain it and relieve it forever.

Lastly, I am so happy [my partner] is there with you through this. She is a good person and she has been good for you [birth name]. In many instances I thought how she may have saved you from destruction.

Thank you for feeling strong enough to discuss it and I hope this will take a gigantic burden off of your shoulders.

I love you dearly and I am so happy that you are at peace with yourself maybe for the first time ever.

Dad