Trans Action

Debbie says:

I’m sorry to report that transphobia is alive and well. The good news, however, is that trans activism is thriving. In the last week or so, two stories have come to my attention.

Just a week ago, my friend Roz attended the LGBT (that’s Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Transgender parade in London. She encountered a problem at the event toilets.

Official stewards who were running the toilets at Trafalgar Square announced that I, and any other transgender or transsexual woman, had to use the disabled toilets and was not allowed to use the regular women’s toilets. I pointed out to the stewards that I transitioned and had surgery before they were born; I was more polite than a polite thing. No dice.

I went and fetched a posse of transwomen and transmen and we made a collective fuss. Their response – and remember these were official stewards AT PRIDE – was to radio in ‘we’re being attacked by a mob of trannies! send backup’. They were joined by a policeman, who was a LGBT liaison officer, who claimed that we had to be able to show our Gender Recognition Certificates* if we wanted to use the women’s loos and got quite upset when I explained to him that I had been involved in drafting the Act and that it did not take away rights that existed before it. At one point he threatened to arrest us for demonstrating on private property – those loos belong to Westminster Council, so you are not allowed to make a fuss there.

*GRCs are formal change-of-gender documents issued by a reviewing panel. Since 2004, they have been the only route by which transgender people can change legal gender in the United Kingdom.

At one point it was claimed that they had instituted this policy a few minutes earlier because a man had attacked a woman; at another they said it was official Health and Safety policy.

It was one of the most wretched experiences I have had in thirty years, only made positive by the love and solidarity of my community – including various transmen who proposed that, since they had no GRCs, they should be made to use the women’s loos. Beards and all.

As should be apparent from the above, Roz is a lifelong activist. She, other transfolk, and allies did not let this sit. Instead, Roz’s sweetheart dubbed it “Toiletgate” and the activists worked with the Pride organizers to get an apology:

*… we deeply regret that Roz Kaveney had to endure such an experience at our event, this is deeply regrettable and should never have happened, and so I publicly apologise on behalf of Pride London to her with regard to this, and we will endeavour to ensure that it never happens in the future with respect to any groups that are a part of our Stakeholders forum, or indeed any one attending Pride London’s events.*

When things like this happen it leaves a very distasteful feeling with any person or community who feel that they are being singled out or picked on and this is not what we are about at Pride London. We hold very dearly our commitment to equality. We accept that in some cases training is important and we are happy to work with any of our contractors with the training of their volunteers in this respect, and we will also include any individual or groups that have an interest with this as well, where appropriate. This can involve Trans members being called upon to be a part of a training package.

This incident has marred a very successful event and lessons have to be and must be learnt from it.

Apologies are better than refusing to apologize, or ducking the issue; right action in the first place is better than apologizing. Next year will be the test.

What I come back to in this story are Roz’s reflections on activism:

Always do actions as part of a group; always stay calm; always document.

I am feeling part of an empowered community. People tried to humiliate us yesterday, but we are smarter and stronger and we have, and are, Friends.

I can’t think about this story without thinking about Thomas Beatie, the “pregnant man,” who gave birth last week to a healthy daughter. Beatie (who is from the Phillippines) is a transgender man who kept his uterus and ovaries. His wife Nancy has had a hysterectomy, so they decided that he should bear an (artificially inseminated) child. The couple have faced more than their share of opposition.

Doctors have discriminated against us, turning us away due to their religious beliefs. Health care professionals have refused to call me by a male pronoun or recognize Nancy as my wife. Receptionists have laughed at us. Friends and family have been unsupportive; most of Nancy’s family doesn’t even know I’m transgender.

Beatie is not the first transman to bear a child, but he seems to be the first to attract national attention: appearing on Oprah will do that for a person. Cruising the web, I can find some mighty nasty comments about the Beaties, but to my surprise and delight the transphobics aren’t in the majority, nor do they show up in the first groups of links. There’s a lot about Beatie’s appearance on Oprah. Many people sound surprised, or confused, which is understandable: if you don’t travel in trans-friendly circles, the details of how these things work are likely to be unfamiliar. Yet the tone of much of what I see seems to be “well, good luck to them!” I couldn’t agree more.

Seems like Thomas and Nancy Beatie are following Roz’s advice; I hope they’re getting the same kind of support and empowerment that she is.

4 thoughts on “Trans Action

  1. Great post about an appalling situation, but I have one quibble. Why the quotes around “pregnant man” with regard to Thomas Beatie, who was indeed both pregnant and a man? (Also, while I’m quibbling, as far as I know, Beatie’s from Hawaii, not the Philippines.)

  2. I don’t know, Kate. He’s a man, yes, for social situations, and I’d be happy to treat him as such if I met him. But he’s not a cisgendered male (if I’m remembering the terminology right), and I think that’s an important distinction in a situation where we’re talking about relevant biological apparatus.

    If we had the technology to make a ftm trannie biologically identical to a cisgendered male (which I wold be thrilled by), and if he had gone through that process to become male, giving up uterus and fallopian tubes and all in the process, and *then* become successfully pregnant — it would mean that any other cisgendered males could become pregnant. Which would be materially different from what actually happened.

    I’m very happy for the couple myself, but I think ‘pregnant man’ is misleading in this case. Using it in this case in news reports is inevitably going to lead to a lot of confusion.

    Maybe I’m just not enlightened enough about trans stuff? I’m feeling very wary about posting this, but I just don’t see how it serves the situation to obscure the biological facts, which are obviously relevant to pregnancy — as they’re not relevant to so many many other situations trans folk encounter.

    Now I’m wondering — do mtf trans folk talk about their periods? Menopause? (I’m assuming that we don’t have the tech yet to physically give them those things — if I’m wrong, please let me know.)

  3. I think that’s a good point, Mary Anne. But I’m not known for being very hip on these issues.

    Roz Kaveney’s story is unambiguous: she was treated wrongly by people who should have known better. But with the Beatties, I think there’s something more subtle going on, and it has to do with who gets to define what a “man” or a “woman” is. For some people, a person with a uterus that has a baby growing in it is by definition a woman. Beattie and many others disagree. It’s only polite to call him by the pronoun he prefers. I believe him when he says he thinks of himself as a man. He can insist on respectful treatment, but I don’t think he can require other people to think of him, unambiguously, as a man when he’s pregnant.

  4. Kate, I think I used the quotation marks because the concept is so foreign to how we use the words in day-to-day speech, but I absolutely take your point about normalizing. Thanks! (About Filipino/Hawaiian, he’s a Filipino born in Hawaii. I mentioned it because I saw some nice articles in the Filipino-American press, and because we tend to obscure our people of color, Stonewall being one of the most obvious examples.)

    Mary Anne, these concepts are very complicated and take time. I’m working my way through them also. But I absolutely do believe that Thomas Beatie was a pregnant man and is now a father; that’s not what my quotation marks were meant to imply.

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