The transgender community; a fight between life and death

For a lot of transgender people, the news of marriage equality possibly being legislated in Australia doesn’t really mean a whole lot. Trans women are still not able to access any women’s refuges in WA, and a recent study done into the mental health of trans people across Australia found that over 50% of trans people had been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives, and 20.9% of participants had experienced suicidal tendencies on at least half the days within the past 2 weeks.

Trans people obviously don’t need to be told these things, but the cis queer community constantly forgets not only that we exist, but that our needs are very different to theirs.

Trans people need:

  • Doctors who actually know what they are talking about in regards to trans issues. GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists & endocrinologists need to be aware of who trans people are, and how to professionally and appropriately treat us. Doctors who regard us as objects of curiousity often don’t have our best interests at heart.
  • Actual proper sexual health education, that is aimed at trans people, especially concerning HIV and AIDS. Trans women are 49 times more likely to live with HIV and AIDS than the general public, with approximately 19.1% trans women living with HIV worldwide. [here’s a great example of sexual health information for trans men, and trans women]
  • Name changes should not cost $170. Neither should endocrinologist appointments cost $350. While there is a rebate to the endocrinologist appointment, you still have to pay the $350 upfront. Reducing the costs of these services would make it easier for trans people to use their correct legal name and access hormones easier [if they choose to use them].
  • Allowing GPs the ability to prescribe hormones. Some GPs do practice prescribing hormones to trans people, but usually you have to go see an endocrinologist and pay their fee. With better knowledge about trans people, GPs could feel more confident in prescribing trans people hormones and reduce the extra financial burden placed on trans people.
  • Removing the Gender Reassignment Board and replacing the process to change gender with something less intrusive. Currently in WA, you must prove before a board [that has at least one trans person on it, one psychiatrist, and one endocrinologist] that you have made “sufficient changes” to legally change your gender. This process is ridiculous – no trans person should have to prove that they are, effectively, “passable enough” as their gender. It should be replaced with a much easier, and faster system that does not cause undue stress to trans people.

We, as trans people, need these services so that we can live safely, and authentically. By not providing adequate care, and adequate services for us to use, we are pushed out onto the streets and suffer violence. So, to us, the fight for marriage equality is of much less importance than the fight we go through every day – to survive.

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An able world should be the one to change

It is with great sadness, and a great deal of frustration, that I have to inform you that I have been removed from the position of Queer Officer, at the University of Western Australia. Those who know me personally have known that I have been serving my term alongside a TERF, who has repeatedly misgendered me and otherwise made me feel unsafe in a so-called “Safe Space”. This is yet another experience of the broad left being unsafe for trans women, and for disabled people.

As someone who suffers from mental illness daily, to the point where it stops me from doing a variety of things that I would love to do – being deserted by the queer community in my time of need is unforgiveable. I have been to hospital in the past few months, because of my ailing health, and the desire to commit suicide. However, I have still taken on the duties of Queer Officer, and begun the process of long-term change within the University in changing name requirements of students, co-ordinating events that were poorly attended by UWA students [including a vigil for Mayang Prasetyo. How ironic, that they claim I have done nothing this semester, when they refuse to attend events to support trans women, women of colour, and sex workers?], and attempting to change toilet signs to gender non specific.

Instead of continuing this long process of work, they have removed me from my position, at the behest of the TERF whose term is very nearly up. A final strike to me, after rendering the space unsafe, causing me many anxiety and depressive attacks throughout the year, and finally taking my role in the community from me. The idea that disabled people should be responsible for making their community safer and hiding their disability to improve work output is an awful one. The onus of creating a safe space should be on individuals with power & privilege, not upon the disenfranchised members of society. I should not have been expected to make a dangerously unsafe space safer for myself – it should have been up to the members of the community for whom the space is already safe to do that.

However, the Queer Department at UWA is no longer safe, and probably won’t be for quite some time. I write this as a call to action – able-bodied & able-minded people – sort out your communities. Support individuals who are functioning poorly in a society which is clearly designed to disenfranchise them. Put the onus of creating a safe society, an equitable society, a just society upon yourselves, and relieve the burden that exists on disabled individuals. We will call you out if you do something wrong – listen to us, and follow our recommendations. It shouldn’t have to fall to individuals who are suffering to change the situation around.

I came for a vaginoplasty, not to get SRS

Time to explain one of my personal gripes when it comes to commonly used language in the transgender community – SRS, or GRS stands for sexual reassignment surgery, gender reassignment surgery or even gender reaffirming surgery. This surgery is often described as “the final step” in someone’s transition – where the penis and testes are inverted to form a vagina [vaginoplasty], or where skin grafts attach to the large clitoris to form a fully functioning penis [phalloplasty]. The terms SRS & GRS, however, are quite alienating and offensive to a number of individuals in the transgender community, myself included.

The idea that one must have a vaginoplasty or phalloplasty in order to be legally recognized and accepted as your gender is not only dehumanizing, but also inaccurate. In Western Australia, you only need have a “reassignment procedure”, either surgical or medical, such as hormone replacement therapy [HRT]. Similar laws are also in South Australia & the ACT. In Victoria, you must have either a vaginoplasty or phalloplasty, or be recognized legally in another state as your gender. Similarly, in New South Wales, you must be both born in the state, and have undergone either a vaginoplasty or phalloplasty surgery. In Queensland, you must have changed your name, be born in the state, and have undergone phalloplastic or vaginoplastic surgery. Tasmanian law requires you to only have undergone surgery. Finally, in the Northern Territory, you must both be born there and have undergone vaginoplastic or phalloplastic surgery. In both the ACT & NSW, you are also able to identify as “non specific”, a third gender category.

Nearly all of the official documentation and legislation of these laws detail the phalloplastic/vaginoplastic surgery as “reassignment” surgery – which, considering that we have always been our gender, is quite infuriating. In addition, we know that intersex people often have non-normative bodies, and the idea of “reassignment” surgery sounds an awful lot like “corrective” surgery performed on intersex infants. Also, not all transgender people may want a vaginoplasty or phalloplasty – some are comfortable with their genitalia the way it is.

The idea that we should be “fixed” by society in order for us to be recognized as who we are is a sick idea – and consequently, I dislike terminology such as SRS/GRS. Also, as we constantly have to reiterate – whether I am a woman or not is purely a matter of identity. I shouldn’t have to be x,y,z or fulfill certain tasks in order to claim the identity – my identity – of woman.

Mayang Prasetyo; a culture of entitlement to trans narratives

TW: murder, transphobia, transmisogyny, transmisogynistic slurs, cannibalism, sex-worker-phobia, sex-worker-phobic slurs 

Yesterday, major news outlets discovered that Mayang Prasetyo, a transgender woman of colour, was murdered and in the process of being cooked and eaten by her husband, Marcus Volke. Media outlets have been quick to report that Ms Prasetyo was a “transgendered prostitute” and rush to the defense of Mr Volke, citing his “outspoken opposition of violence against women”. This victim blaming tactic is despicable, and creates further stigmas and stereotypes about the transgender community – a community which already has so many obstacles to overcome. Adding the fact that Ms Prasetyo was a woman of colour, and a sex worker as well, and we begin to see how astronomical the rates of violence are against society’s most oppressed.

This idea that newspapers such as the Courier Mail, with its appalling story and headlines, can get away with such transphobic and sex worker phobic vitriol is disgusting. All human beings deserve to be treated respectfully and decently – even Mr Volke, who in most of these articles is being paraded as a virtuous paragon who lost his way. The entitlement of major news channels to trans bodies, and narratives is appalling. There are some good news reports that have come out of this, especially the Guardian’s article. The focus of the media should be on how society has sat there and done nothing to help this poor woman, and other trans people in society are made to feel unwelcome and undervalued.

What is perhaps most shocking, however, is that the media outed Ms Prasetyo to her family, and to the rest of the world when the first stories were published. To out a trans person is an unforgiveable act – many trans women who are not out are in that position because being out would render them unsafe. As a trans woman myself, I completely understand why Ms Prasetyo would not feel comfortable being out in today’s society – the media’s response and use of bigoted language is enough to prove that society is not safe for us.

The constant entitlement complex of the media to our bodies, our narratives, our lives only proves one thing – in the eyes of society, we are worthless, we are doomed, and we deserve to be laughed at. A truly equal and just society would pay Ms Prasetyo the respect she deserves, and create more services to help sufferers of domestic abuse, to help transgender women, and to help sex workers. All of these support systems combined could have saved Ms Prasetyo – so it is about time these systems were implemented.

If you want to report the Courier Mail article, a petition is available here.

The third-wave fight: TERFs vs trans women

A battle has been brewing across the ages – a fight of feminist ideology! A brawl between the likes of Sheila Jeffreys, Janice Raymond & Mary Daly against Laverne Cox, Janet Mock & Sylvia Rae Rivera. A battle – of TERF vs trans woman.

For those not in the know with the latest queer lingo, a TERF is a Trans Exterminationist Radical Feminist. A lot of people seem to think the term refers to Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists – but TERFs themselves changed this definition because it made them seem “too mean”. Of course, nothing is really too mean when you are trying to “morally mandate trans people out of existence”, but I digress. TERFs have been a part of western feminism and western feminist discourse for approximately 50 years now, and their attitudes haven’t really changed much over the years. They first sprung up in the second-wave, when feminists started making real headway into claiming legal rights to become more empowered in society.

At the time, there were large groups of lesbian feminists who really started to mobilize and campaign on rights of sex and sexuality. Some of these feminists advocated platforms of “political lesbianism” – that is, that sexuality is a choice, and advocates that women identify as lesbians instead of heterosexuals. This group of feminists eventually split off from other radical feminists in 1973, after they refused to allow a performance by a transsexual [an old term for someone who is transgender – considered antiquated and offensive by many] woman. This group of feminists believed that because trans women had chosen to be women, that they were incapable of understanding what being a woman is really like.

This, of course, is utter hogwash. Trans women don’t “choose” to be female, because to “choose” otherwise results in mental illness, self-harm and potentially suicide. 42% of trans women have attempted suicide, with over 60%+ of trans women currently alive having attempted suicide at least once. Sheila Jeffreys, one of these so-called feminists, believes that transness is akin to blackface performers in the 1920’s. This was then slammed by Indigenous trans people, among other trans women of colour. A lot of trans women also experience heightened levels of assault, rape & murder as a result of being trans. Trans women have a 8.75% chance of being murdered, and a 33.33% chance of being raped – but when you are a trans woman of colour has a 12.25% murder rate and a 50% chance of being raped.

But it isn’t always so bad – despite what the statistics say. Trans women can have some really good experiences in queer and women’s spaces – but these are often few and far between. TERFs tend to sink their claws into queer & women’s spaces [especially those who advocate “political lesbianism”] and rip them to shreds for any trans women who want to get involved. Cathy Brennan [or Transgender Political Enemy #1] is another woman who launches constant attacks on the queer community. Following in the footsteps of her ideological mother, Janice Raymond, Cathy & Elizabeth Hungerford [another transphobic lawyer] wrote a letter to the U.N. that basically said “trans women shouldn’t use bathrooms because they are men”.

Bathroom bill rhetoric has been something that has been constantly used to attack trans women – by assuming that trans women are men, TERFs argue that bathrooms should be sex-segregated between “penis-bearers” [apparently all men] and “vagina-bearers” [apparently all women]. I feel that it is important to note that making trans women and cis men use the same bathroom is even more dangerous to trans women. The argument against trans women, you know, using women’s bathrooms, is that they are uncontrollable creatures who rape all cis women they see. Personally, I don’t do that, and neither do any trans women – there is not a single report of trans women attacking cis women in bathrooms. Alternatively, cis women like Cathy & Elizabeth attack and demean trans women – they have even written articles about me and outed me online.

TERFs fight trans women because they perceive us to be male, but trans women are female – a woman’s body is a female body. The idea that trans women are going to assault cis women in bathrooms, or that we are “subverting and destroying feminism from the inside” is ridiculous & insipid – besides completely ignoring the work that trans feminists like Laverne Cox & Janet Mock have done. Unfortunately, this creed of transphobia is unlikely to die out anytime soon – and so the war wages on. Trans women are constantly gaining ground, however, and will soon be able to claim victory and assert ourselves on history’s page.

This article was published in the Pelican, Edition 6, Volume 85 – “War/Peace”. The Pelican is the publication of the UWA Student Guild.

Mental illness & compounded effects of marginalization

DISCLAIMER: This article is written only from my own experiences and is not meant to represent other people’s experiences of ableism, transmisogyny, sexual assault, or other experiences.

TW: Rape, sexual assault.

A lot of people look up to people who appear to be struggling with life, as if they are inspirational in some way. I feel like while this can be perceived as a form of understanding – it feels hollow to me. When people tell me I am brave for enduring so much shit, it feels like a way for people to be supportive without actually doing anything. I guess the point of this article is to get people to understand what living like this is like. When you are reading this, imagine if you had to go through all this – and then know that many people are going through it. Try and think of ways that you can make your spaces safer for these people, for people like me.

I have had to deal with a lot of crap in my life, including but not limited to sexual assault, rape, depression & anxiety. These issues compound together to make my life very difficult, which often result in a lot of disabling triggers and fears for me. I have various irrational fears as a result of this stuff, including fears of bathrooms [which are slightly rational], and fears of libraries. These compounded effects make spaces that should be safe for me, unsafe. I haven’t really used libraries or read books for a long time because the thought or similar brings up triggering thoughts. It is this behaviour that compounds with my mental illnesses and other marginalizations to make me feel unsafe and awful.

Living in a rural and regional area is really difficult for me because I can’t actually access any resources or events for me, or people like me. With 0.3% of the population [according to some American statistics] identifying as transgender, and even fewer being disabled as well – the chances of finding a disabled trans woman in a rural and regional environment is very low. Not having that kind of specific support can be quite demoralizing – having general support is good, but I often feel like I am repeating myself in explaining basic content to people.

Mental illness can compound these feelings of isolation – and depression is especially skilled at doing this. Depression makes you feel like everything you do is a colossal waste of time and energy, despite the logical half of your brain arguing that what you do is important. I feel isolated because I’m worthless and pathetic, and then I start to doubt my own identity because I feel like I am the only one who feels this way due to isolation. Being poor as well doesn’t help, as I can’t solve the problem of my isolation, or of medications to either slow down the depression or start a physical transition. And when people constantly refer to you as your deadname, or use the incorrect pronouns, it really is like getting slapped with a wet fish. And that starts the cycle of self loathing and hatred yet again, which never seems to end as everything continually sets it off.

Being mentally ill is a real challenge but at the same time… I don’t want people to praise me for how strong, or how courageous I am. I want people to actively try and make spaces safer for me, by not questioning why I am triggered by certain books or by libraries. I want the stigma against hospitalized people to be dropped, so that we can seek help without the fear or being shunned. It should not have taken me until this time to hospitalize myself, and seek the help that I need. I want people to promote self-care and self-love over one’s usefulness to the wider community.

Parents

TW: self harm mention, suicide mention, mental illness, transphobia, queerphobia

“i love you, parents” i say
as they teach me math
and help me learn words and sums
i am only three
i do not know better

“i love you, parents” i say
as they take me to school
i am six, and school is scary
i can hide in video games they buy
i can hide in their love

“i love you, parents” i say
as i am yelled at
for being friendless
for being bullied
for getting a C grade
i resolve to change myself
so i will be perfect

“i love you, parents” i say
as i graduate primary school
i am twelve, and confused
my body is changing
and i am worried

“i love you, parents” i say
after i come out as gay
after they tell me not to tell my brother
because it will give him ideas
i feel uneasy
i feel wrong

“i love you, parents” i say
as i let the blade into my skin
as i cry red tears into the world
as i loathe myself as much as they do to me

“i love you, parents” i say
as i get yelled at in the car
for being depressed
for being suicidal
for being fourteen, and wrong
i do not trust them

“i love you, parents” i say
as i wilt
as you misgender
and misname me
as i eat less than a meal a day
as i wait to die

“i love you, parents” i say
as i finally start to make friends
as you yell at me for not spending enough time with you
why would i want to

“i love you, parents” i say
alone into my phone
it plays back hollow and unfeeling
now i never have to say it again

“i hate you, parents” i say
under my breath
every waking moment is agony
i must live a lie constantly
but this is the only moment
where i can be truthful