Is “Gender Confusion” a Trans Parallel of “Sexual Lifestyle”?

I’ll keep this post short, because I really would love to see some discussion about it.

Last week, I posted on Facebook a link to a blog post by a mom whose son wore a crossdressing costume for Halloween. She wrote how happy she was for him, and how disappointed she was about the other moms at the preschool who bullied her about it. Her post has been incredibly widely read, so much so that she appeared on the Today show this morning to discuss it.

The conversation was mostly positive, but I found myself really struck by the use of the phrase “gender confusion.” Dr. Harold Koplewicz of the Child Mind Institute talks about how if a child refuses to wear clothing that matches the child’s sex beyond the age of 5 (i.e. when it’s no longer play), it could mean “something significant for a child’s sexuality later on or gender confusion.” His message is positive, so I’m not too worked up about it, but that language seems troublesome.

Wouldn’t gender confusion refer to people who are unsure of their gender? He uses it in the context of children who very clearly decide they are a different gender, not that they are confused. Confused people need to be guided, reoriented. To refer to a gender identity or gender presentation that is moving from cis to trans as confusion seems both inappropriate, inaccurate, and subtly demonizing.

I’m not a member of the trans community, so I don’t want to pretend I fully understand the personal impact of this language, but this just strikes me as wrong. Gender exploration, gender variance, transgender… these terms I think would be more appropriate.

Any thoughts?

Those Questions You Really Shouldn’t Ask of LGBT People

Humans are curious creatures and privilege is a tricky thing. As we study and learn the experience of different people, we realize that the experience of oppression can manifest itself in the tiniest of ways, without our even realizing.

A well known example of such microaggressions is the experience of black people in regards to their kinky hair. “Afro-textured hair” is unique. Huge industries exist to help black women make their hair “good,” which means straightened and relaxed (like white hair). It’s such a culture-wide phenomenon that Chris Rock recently made a documentary called “Good Hair” about the $59 million dollar industry, and Tyra Banks made headlines last September when she revealed her real hair (weave- and extension-free) on the season premiere of her talk show. Recently, Deborah Pogue offered a reflection on her recent confrontation with her own hair, and Allison Keyes offered a commentary on NPR about white folks who assume they have the right to touch her hair, even without permission. Keyes points out that even being asked for permission doesn’t make her feel less objectified or scrutinized by the experience.

This post isn’t just about black hair, but I reference it as an example of questions that aren’t really appropriate to ask. These are questions that privilege the asker’s curiosity over the askee’s individuality. They put people in the position of being representatives for their communities and suggest that a part of who they are demands explanation. While perhaps motivated by simple curiosity, the questions can often inadvertently add to the oppression people might experience due to certain dimensions of their identity.

I used the example of the “Can I touch your hair?” question to invite my colleagues in the Consortium of Higher Ed LGBT Resource Professionals to offer any such questions they thought pertained to the LGBT community. I also encouraged them to share any other microaggressive statements that they’ve heard. Here is a collection of their answers:

One thing I get a lot from heterosexual women are references to Will and Grace as in, “Oh, we’re just like Will and Grace.” to which I reply, “No, were are not actors pretending to be someone.”

How do you have sex?

Are you a top or a bottom?

When men and women refer to gay men as “boys.”

How do you know when someone else is gay?

Who pays for the first date?

Who’s the masculine one?

I can’t imagine having sex with a man/woman.

You don’t look gay.

And here are a few that were trans-specific:

Have you had the surgery?/Do you plan to have any surgeries?

Do you have a vagina/penis?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of such questions, but I think they are important to consider.

I think they are all valid points. No one should be expected to respond to these kinds of questions. Many of them aren’t even answerable, because they feed into many misunderstandings. Queer folks are not beholden to explain themselves to those who are heterosexual and cisgender.

At the same time, our biggest problem is the misunderstanding—the fact that so many lack the knowledge to understand the queer community. While the questions themselves might be insulting, they also can be opportunities to educate. They can be conversation starters to help people understand why the question is inappropriate and/or why the answer is private.

This is one of the challenges I think many people face when it comes Harvey Milk’s great invitation to come out. Being out requires the fortitude to handle these kinds of questions when they are asked. A person has to be able to take the question in stride and articulate a suitable response to help develop a more sensitive understanding. And arguably, by making the choice to be out, a person opens themselves up to this kind of interrogation.

At the same time we need the courage to resist such invasive inquiries, we also need the courage to be open and to educate. The fact that this dilemma occurs further demonstrates the oppression that the LGBT community faces because queer identities are largely invisible.

I would really love this conversation to continue, so please share your comments! Are there questions you don’t like being asked? How do you respond when faced with a barrage of invasive questions? What are some of the challenges of being out and open about your identity? What are some tricks to staying resilient? I look forward to further discussion!

“Transgendered” Is Not A Word. Stop Using It. (UPDATED)

This doesn’t need to be a long post. The title says it all. “Transgendered” is not a word. For some reason, though, people use it all the time. I’m sick of it, so let me make this crystal clear.

The adjective is “transgender” or “trans” for short.

Examples of usage:

She is transgender.

Zi is trans.

The transgender community includes many diverse identities, all of which might be considered trans.

There has never been a reported case of transgender people using bathrooms for devious purposes.

Being trans is not a condition. It’s not something that has happened to a person. It is who a person is.

“Transgender” is not a verb. Thus, a person can not transgender, nor can a person be transgendered. (A person can transition, and a person can have transitioned.)

For some reason when I hear people say “transgendered,” it sounds like “mutated” or “disfigured.” It makes it sound like trans people aren’t real people. It’s grammatically incorrect and belies an understanding and respect for trans people and their identities.

Is this semantics? Yes.
Is it important? Yes.
Is continued use of “transgendered” offensive? Yes.

I want to also point out that my argument is in agreement with both the GLAAD Media Reference Guide and the NLGJA Stylebook on LGBT Terminology. Please consult these free resources if you have further questions about LGBT terminology.

Thank you for your time.

In Case You Weren’t Sure What Transphobia Looked Like

(Hat tips to Pam Spaulding and Big Hollywood.)

When we talk about homophobia and transphobia, it’s usually not people who are overtly hurtful. Often such feelings can lie just under the surface of a “supportive,” “I have gay friends,” façade. All it takes is a catalyst and it all comes rolling out.

And it can be pretty small. For example, you might have someone like Martin Scheinin. Scheinin is the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism. That’s really his title. His job really is to make sure that security efforts don’t violate people’s rights. I think it’s fair to assume that part of that would be making sure that specific groups of people aren’t unfairly targeted. That’s what I think he was doing when he proposed rethinking security checks that “focus attention on male bombers who may be dressing as females to avoid scrutiny [and] make transgender persons susceptible to increased harassment and suspicion.”

Sounds great. Trans folks shouldn’t be thought of as suspicious. That seems reasonable, right?

Not to Greg Gutfield and his posse!

Let’s deconstruct all the transphobia…

Translation: checking for dudes who conceal bombs via cross-dressing hurts the feelings of men who cross-dress as a lifestyle choice… like Bill.

I can’t figure out if this is the worst story ever, or THE GREATEST STORY EVER.

And they’re off!

Use of demeaning language “lifestyle choice”? Check.
Make fun of friend by calling him trans? Check.
Completely denounce a story about protections for trans folks? Check.

I mean,by revealing what the UN does best, this report takes the transgendered cake: simultaneously undermining the war on terror while mocking common sense. When the UN isn’t trying to minimize mass murder, this mishmash of maniacs tries to commit it themselves.

Conditionalize people’s identities with grammatically incorrect “transgendered”? Check.
Translate nondiscrimination policy as “mocking common sense”? Check.
Suggest that not discriminating is tantamount to mass murder? Check.

The war on terror is not a lab for social engineering. The war on terror cannot be guided by feelings belonging to someone who fried his brain on Oprah. The war on terror is meant to protect the innocent from terror – be these innocent folks gay, straight, transgender or half man/half unicorn (they exist). If America were to take this UN report seriously, we would put everyone at risk, including the transgendered and those dumbasses at the UN.

Suggest that war is more important than respect and that compromising respect is essential for protection? Check.
Accuse trans folks of having their “brain fried” by the sympathies of Oprah? Check.
Include mythical in-breed for comparison to identities you don’t respect? Check.

I would hope that the gay, lesbian and transgendered community would find this idea equally as ludicrous, but if they don’t, I don’t care. I’ll still be wearing my floral caftan in first class. And those embroidered sunflowers are not stains, by the by. And if you disagree with me, then you’re probably a racist.


Assume you can speak for other communities and blow them off at the same time? Check.
Blatantly mock trans identities by presuming it involves being prim about dress wearing? Check.
Somehow suggest that you are the victim of racism when you are pretending to talk on behalf of others’ peoples rights but instead are offending everyone and making a total ass out of yourself? Check.

Let’s see how things unfold with the rest of his friends there on Red Eye. Here are some excerpts…

Here’s some nice racism from John Devore, espousing a policy of “maximum paranoia”

If you eat falafel for lunch, you’re a terrorist. If you have a bad attitude, you’re a terrorist.

Greg asks his friend, “Actor/Comedian” Allen Covert (whoever he is), a profound question:

If we relax standards on the transgendered, won’t that encourage terrorists to cross-dress? Because that way they can get through faster.

The use of “transgendered” is at least up to five now. Just a note: “transgendered” is not a word! If transgendered were actually an adjective, transgender would be a verb. But it’s not. Transgender is an adjective. It is not only incorrect but offensive to use a word that conditionalizes people’s identities as if it was something done to them instead of respecting it is simply part of them.

Anyways, how does Covert respond?

Look, Greg, I think you have it all wrong here, because I firmly believe that it is better for a million people to die a fiery death than to offend one dude who’s not comfortable unless he’s wearing his Vera Wang wedding dress in first class.

I happen to agree with you. Feelings are more important than atrocity.

Let the man put the wang in Vera Wang. Let him do it. Let him do it.

I’m personally of the opinion that when somebody starts juxtaposing respecting an identity with genocide, they’re really in over their head.

It’s totally clear that these people have no understanding for trans identities whatsoever, let alone respect. A trans woman is not a “dude” nor a “man.”

I’ll let you watch the rest of the clip. But Bill Shulz gives us one more piece of brilliant wisdom about trans identities:

It is not a lifestyle choice if you force me to do it, Greg, particularly if I’m cleaning your office while doing it.

I think he might be on to something legitimate about the way his manpurse is searched more thoroughly than women’s, but I think he might actually have just been joking.

So there you have it. If you have ever wondered what transphobia looks and sounds like, you’ve now got a whole little collection of comparisons all in one tidy little clip.

Keep it up, Fox News. You’re doing great.