FGS Faculty Statement on the Transgender Memo

Photo courtesy Sean M. Haffey. Members of the TransLatin@ Coalition, an LA based non-profit protested Trump’s Trans memo with this Trans Pride flag banner drop at the World Series at Dodger Stadium this past weekend.Trans Flag at World Series.png

Photo courtesy Sean M. Haffey. Members of the TransLatin@ Coalition, an LA based non-profit protested Trump’s Trans memo with this Trans Pride flag banner drop at the World Series at Dodger Stadium this past weekend.

 

On October 21st, the New York Times released a memo containing the Trump administration’s plans to roll back civil rights and anti-discrimination protections for transgender and intersex people. The memo declared that it would adopt a definition of gender that is biologically determined by genitalia at birth under Title IX – the federal civil rights law that forbids discrimination in schools receiving government funds, as well as other contexts. It thereby threatens to write out the existence of transgender and intersex people from the policies and statutes implemented by the departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Justice, and Labor, allegedly for the sake of greater consistency and administrability.

Far from just another impulsive twitter tirade from Trump, this memo comes in a series of strategic anti-trans administrative moves, such as pushbacks on transgender inclusion in the military, denial of recognition for public school students’ gender identity and the right to use the bathroom of one’s choice, and so on. To be clear, the attack on transgender and intersex people is grave and ongoing. Here are a few possible implications of the memo on trans and intersex peoples’ lives –

  • The Department of Education’s redefinition of sex and gender as genitalia based and immutable allows for an erasure of trans and intersex people from education and public policy overall. This means, in addition to an increased susceptibility to trans antagonism, gender-based violence, and discrimination, trans and intersex people will face additional bureaucratic hurdles around ID documentation for admissions and financial aid.
  • If the Department of Education adopts this definition, it will become the basis for other agencies’ implementations. Once accepted by the Health Department, insurance companies will no longer be obligated to perform gender affirming procedures and treatments.
  • Coupled with Trump’s Religious Liberty guidance, Right-leaning corporations and businesses will be further empowered to deny trans and intersex people employment. This, much like all points listed above, will exacerbate the economic precarity of trans women of color, specifically Black trans women.

Although the enormity of the impact of this Memo cannot be overstated, we might find some relief in the fact that the administration cannot undo decades of case law protecting transgender people from workplace discrimination, hate crimes, and so on. In addition, a number of States, including Colorado, have already passed laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity and sexuality, that can serve as stop gap measures.

We, the faculty at Feminist & Gender Studies, outright condemn the Trump administration’s use of trans and intersex people’s lives as pawns to consolidate a conservative agenda, and mobilize popular anti-trans sentiments to dismantle broader liberties. We acknowledge the ways in which such weaponization of “science” and “objectivity” in defining sex and gender emboldens the everyday erasure, transphobia, and hate crimes targeting transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming people. We understand the deep sense of vulnerability and fear that this memo has inspired among transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming people on and off campus.

We are committed to building our capacity as faculty and mentors to hold ourselves and Colorado College accountable to trans, intersex, and nonbinary students, faculty, and staff. We would like to offer the ID House as a space for students to gather in community, strategize, mourn, hold each other and hold space in the wake of the multiple white supremacist attacks on historically marginalized people this past week. And for the long term, we consider it our responsibility as feminist educators to amplify the work and voices of BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) transgender activists, revolutionaries, and intellectuals in our classrooms and beyond.

Transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming people will not be erased at FGS.

With love and solidarity,

Dr. Rushaan Kumar, on behalf of FGS faculty.

The RNC’s Transphobia and Cissexism

all-gender-restroom-tactiletouch-sign-se-6060By Meredith Bower (FGS Minor ’18)

In a recent resolution, the Republican National Committee (RNC) called on the Department of Education “to rescind its interpretation of Title IX that wrongly includes facility use issues by transgender students.” The RNC further claims that the gender assigned at birth is one’s only “true” gender, thus implying that trans people do not exist. The Committee believes that the Obama administration’s attempt to protect the rights of trans students by providing them with equal access to bathrooms is an example of “governmental overreach.” Their claim is that the current interpretation of Title IX is a violation of the privacy to those using the bathroom that is “correct” for “members of that sex.” Through a postmodern feminist theoretical lens, it becomes clear that the RNC’s interpretation of these bathroom bills is incredibly harmful to trans people and demonstrates clear discrimination towards bodies that do not fit societal norms.

It is incredibly disheartening to know that the RNC is so backwards in their collective thinking that they would view a move to protect student safety as “overreach.” Unfortunately, this is not surprising. Bathrooms continue to be a constant source of anxiety for many trans people, including both those forced to use the bathroom that does not match their gender identity and those whose identity and/or presentation is ambiguous. For the latter group, there is no appropriate bathroom, as the two male-female options do not acknowledge an existence outside the binary. As Jack Halberstam explains, “Those of us who present in some ambiguous way are routinely questioned and challenged about our presence in the ‘wrong’ bathroom” (332). Halberstam further illustrates this problem in summarizing the narrative of “he-she factory worker, Jess Goldberg” who must “make crucial decisions about whether she can afford to use the women’s restroom” (333). Thus, the bathroom becomes a representation of the “limit to her ability to move around in the public sphere” (333). Unfortunately, even if the RNC’s resolution were to be denied, the issues illustrated by Jess Goldberg would still be very real for many trans people. Very few institutions have “all gender” bathrooms, and while buildings often have single bathroom options, there are usually very few, and they can require long treks across the premises to find.

18bi4m0on0ttijpgThe RNC is so ingrained in their archaic understandings of gender that they take no issue with the fact that their condemnation of trans bathroom rights could force people to everyday experience systematic oppression whenever they need to pee. As Julia Serano explains, “Transphobia is an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against people whose gendered identities, appearances, or behaviors deviate from societal norms” (349). Thus, what is causing the RNC so much uneasiness is the fact that people exist who do not remain within the status quo. Serano further defines cissexism as “the belief that transsexuals’ identified genders are inferior to, or less authentic than, those of cissexuals,” and then notes that “the most common expression of cissexism occurs when people attempt to deny trans people the basic privileges that are associated with the gender the trans person self-identifies with” (350). The RNC, then, is both transphobic and cissexist in their denial of appropriate bathroom rights. Were the RNC to reify the existence of trans people, they would be subsequently giving up some of their power that is built into the current cissexist system of society. By accepting the performative nature of gender, the patriarchy’s survival begins to crumble by default. Unfortunately, though, the RNC’s uneasiness comes at the cost of trans students’ basic rights and daily sense of wellbeing.

Thus, the RNC’s condemnation of trans bathroom rights reveals their deeply rooted insecurity surrounding gender. Riki Wilchins comments on this phenomenon by explaining, “In fact, the United States may be the only country in the world where we are so insecure about gender that the words man and woman have no meaning unless they are preceded by real” (341). The RNC epitomizes this statement in their insistence that trans people are not expressing their “real” gender. The fact that trans people are able to transcend patriarchal boundaries is incredibly frightening for men desperate to uphold their power that is built into a strictly static binary. Riki Wilchins also explains binaries as “the black holes of knowledge. Nothing is allowed to escape, so we get the same answers every time” (341). Those that do escape are labeled the deviants of society who need to be put back into line. In order to punish those who are rejecting our society’s static binary, organizations such as the RNC begin to methodically remove basic rights from trans people. The message they are sending is that if you want to exist in this society as a human, you must also conform to the system of control that is currently in place.

 

“Not So Tangible but Still Real!”: LesMigraS and Intersectional Anti-Violence Work in Berlin

By Spencer Spotts

Author’s Note: For the privacy and safety of their clients, the names of LesMigraS staff members and photos of the facility have not been included.

LesMigraS IIn the United States, LGBTQIA+ rights and issues are a hot topic, as the media obsesses over Caitlyn Jenner, the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage is heavily anticipated, and Orange is the New Black approaches its third season premier. While Berlin may appear to be ahead of the game in addressing LGBTQIA+ issues, our visit to LesMigraS reshaped this perception for me and highlighted how much work there is to be done and how very few people are doing it.

IMG_9013Founded in 1999, LesMigraS serves lesbian/bisexual women, inter* and trans* people. The organization “is engaged in antidiscrimination and antiviolence work, offers counseling and a space for self-empowerment,” and provides multiple services for their clients and their families/friends. Programs and services include, but are not limited to, counseling, workshops, film screenings, empowerment programs, support groups, and anti-violence/anti-discrimination networking. For example, they offer various forms of counseling (e.g. legal, psycho-social, partner/spouse) that address a wide range of issues (e.g. discrimination, coming out, migration, partner and sexual abuse, and other forms of identity-related violence).

Depending on the area of the city, Berlin can sometimes be relatively safe and comfortable for queer-identifying people to be open about their lives. There is a history of political and social activism for queer rights in Berlin, as explored by Erik Jensen in “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution.” He writes, “In the late 1960s, in the wake of the civil rights protests, antiwar demonstrations, and the second wave of feminism…gays and lesbians [began] to organize on a broad basis and push for radical changes in their legal and social status” (321). Seemingly, however, only entrance into this increasing tolerance of non-heterosexuality is that you are a white, able-bodied, cisgender man. Anyone in LGBTQIA+ communities that falls outside this category will immediately notice the lack of resources, funding, and representation for them and their peers. In “Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of ‘Homophobic Hate Crime’ in Germany,” Jin Haritaworn discusses this trend and notes the appropriation of “intersectionality” by white Leftist organizations. Haritaworn writes, “Dominant identity politics are learning the language of intersectionality and masquerading as multi-issues to gain representational power and a competitive edge over migrant organizations in struggles over public funding and recognition” (78). In our week and a half here in Berlin so far, we have repeatedly heard this narrative of funding discrimination. LesMigraS, which caters to a more intersectional and wide range of identities, is not unfamiliar with this experience of limited funding and resources.

IMG_9012Nonetheless, LesMigraS recognizes the importance and necessity of resisting this type of economic hegemony. As a result, intersectionality and inclusivity are the driving forces behind their work. Although their part-time staff only consists of nine members, all of them represent diverse and various backgrounds. For instance, most of their services and programs are offered in multiple languages, and workshops are carefully developed to address a wide range of topics and communities. Not only is LesMigraS providing resources where they are very heavily needed, they are also advancing the work and scholarship surrounding LGBTQIA+ issues and identity in Germany. Similar to Jensen, Clayton Whisnant writes about the progress and evolution of gay history. In “Gay German History: Future Directions?,” he writes that “the study of Germany’s gay history since its meager beginnings in the 1970s [was] driven forward by a relatively small cadre of devoted historians” (1). However, what Whisnant fails to acknowledge is the political and social location of these historians and what (or more specifically who) they are studying. The majority of the research that Whisnant highlights follows the history of gay and bisexual men in Germany, who are also assumed to be white cisgender men. In contrast, LesMigraS released a report in 2012 (developed over three years) that focused on the violence and multiple discrimination experiences of lesbian/bisexual women and trans* people in Germany. The translated title reads “Not So Tangible but Still Real,” and is a compilation of a large survey, six narrative interviews, and one focus group. The results showed that on average, lesbian/bisexual women and trans* people of color or with a migration background (self-identified) experienced higher rates of discrimination and violence as opposed to their white participants. LesMigraS expressed to us that, to their knowledge, their study is the first and only report in Germany to focus on these communities and multiple discrimination.

A gift for the #FemGeniusesInBerlin from LesMigraS!

A gift for the #FemGeniusesInBerlin from LesMigraS!

While LesMigraS may be the only organization of its kind in Berlin, they by no means are lacking in power and credibility. White gay men may be dominating the political and institutional spheres of queer identity, but LesMigraS is rewriting the cultural and social history at high speeds. Their resistance and impact, both on the day-to-day basis as well as long term, needs to garner more attention from LGBTQIA+ activists in Berlin as well as in the United States. Furthermore, LesMigraS provides the perfect example of how conducting intersectional and inclusive work is possible, effective, and above all, incredibly necessary.


SpencerSpencer Spotts is a rising junior at Colorado College, with a major in Feminist & Gender Studies and a minor in Race & Ethnic Studies. His hometown is Thornton, Colorado, and he is a first generation student. Spencer currently serves as the co-chair of the Colorado College Student Organization for Sexual Safety (SOSS) and hopes to pursue a career in sexual violence and sexual health education for LGBTQIA+ communities. His research interests include sexual violence, emotional partner abuse, effemiphobia in queer communities, and the experiences of LGBT youth. He also has a background in theatre and occasionally directs productions at Colorado College. He works as the Open House Intern for the Colorado College Office of Admission and occasionally writes for The Catalyst independent student newspaper. Last but not least, Spencer is a proud and active Starbucks Gold Card Member.