Author Archives: Megan

Camp Trans

Every summer in Walhalla, Michigan there is a “Womyn’s Music Festival” — here’s a link to their page with their information. That all sounds beautiful, find and dandy… except since it’s conception, it’s been a festival for “womyn born womyn” only, or as those who know about it would know it, WBW. As can be assumed, this has sparked a lot of controversy.

Some of the responses have been by wearing arm bands (yellow) to show opposition to the WBW policy, artists who have previously performed have refused to do so based on this issue, and the most beautiful response to the issue… Camp Trans.

Camp Trans was sparked by Nancy Burkholder being thrown out of the WMF in 1991 based on the fact that she was a transwoman. This event made clear the fact that transwomen were not allowed inside of the festival and it sparked the first protests. These first protests were small and were both trans and cis women and often took place inside the grounds.

Since then, there have been multiple steps forward and back on the issue — transwomen have actually been sold passes to the festival and have helped in trans-inclusion workshops and protests within the grounds, but most of the forward motion comes from the camp itself.

The existence of Camp Trans is to help empower activists to embrace the vision that, while a women’s only festival is something they actively support, the exclusion of transwomen from that spaceĀ  is a knock against the values that the women who run the WMF are apparently trying to foster.

The camp takes place at the same time as the festival, with their own series of workshops and organized picketing at the festival. They make the point of asking those who support them to spend time at their camp instead of trying to protest inside the festival, because it really does require the voice of trans-women in order to make a point, and they are still unrepresented inside of the festival (except for on rare occasions which have been marked within the history of Camp Trans) — the fact of the matter is, since 2007 they will admit transwomen to the festival, but they still do not open support them as members of the MWF community, which is still a blind prejudice against them as a whole.

The camp itself has around 200 people who attend — all that is asked is respect of the other patrons, a donation for community-made food, helping keep camp running by participating in workshifts, and an open mind. It is a wonderful opportunity for anyone who really wants transwomen to have a voice to be able to be heard, and it’s nearby, too! I know someone who has attended, and she says it’s one of the absolute best experiences she’s ever had as far as being an active voice in the trans community and helping her grow as well.


Feminine Transformations: Gender Reassignment Surgical Tourism in Thailand

Have you ever seen someone with a tattoo in another language and asked what it meant, and then after receiving an explanation you ask, “Oh do you speak it?” to a nice and curt, “Ohhh no.” It leaves you with a strange sense of emptiness — like the sentiment is in the right place but surely it can’t be as full of meaning as the person would like it to be. In Aren Aizura’s (I feel silly writing that, by the way… third person while talking about the overseer of the blog is kind of hilarious) article on medical tourism in Thailand, the same topic is explored.

In Thailand, there are around 8 clinics that perform gender reassignment surgery to a mainly foreign clientele, who of course receive the four star treatment. These medical tourists find themselves enveloped in a community of doctors and others going through surgery who make them feel much more comfortable while getting their procedures.

The article boils down to how the sense of “place” has affected those who have chosen to get their surgeries done there that have come from other nations (which are of course Westernized.) They travel to beautiful and exotic (yet 21st century!) Thailand and receive a procedure while being treated like four star guests on a tour of the easiest and most accessible yet culturally dumbed down. It’s like saying someone from Japan will easily know the United States if they travel to New York City — NYC certainly is an American staple, but it’s only one tiny bit of the culture that the United States has to offer.

Thailand is seen as a mecca for GRS for multiple reasons, one being that it is a more broadly offered medical procedure based on the fact that they don’t recognize gender identity disorder and because of this, it is an easier procedure to get than in places that do. At the same time, the Thai kathoey are more interested (only 30% desire to seek GRS) in other cosmetic procedures — so the aim of medical marketing is the Thai femininity — the white teeth, the pale skin, the ultra-feminine lady. So marketing within Thailand at the trans community aims to show the type of women that they can be — and this marketing hits the foreigners who are there for surgery as well.

Where these two things come together — the tattoo analogy and the Thai ultrafemininity — is with the women that were interviewed. One of the interviewees, Melanie, got a tattoo on her shoulder of a Thai goddess, based on a painting that she had bought after her first procedure.While there’s certainly nothing wrong with any of this, it is of note that the painting itself came from a shopping center across the street, aimed at tourists, with cheap touristy items to pick up and take home. And the tattoo itself was done once she was safely at home (with her painting) as well. She also seemed to have completely confused who the goddess was and what she represented, as she misnamed her during her interview.

Elizabeth, after having her procedure, chose to keep her testicles after her procedure and do her own little ritual which ended in feeding them to fish in ponds at a Buddhist temple. She talked about how she was offering them to the “yin energy” which is a feminine water energy.

The conclusion came from the fact that these were both pretty ridiculous in terms of being Thai cultural representations. The first was a woman who has a tattoo of “some goddess” on her shoulder that she doesn’t even really know or understand, and the second created a ritual which was one big mish-mosh of cultures and felt as though she’d done something spiritual, but they had one big thing in common. They both came down to being about Thai beauty — the same marketing techniques that were plastered all over the walls in the hospitals seemed to have whittled their way into how they both thought about their surgeries and the kind of “femininity” it had bestowed upon them.

The conclusion is brilliant in keeping it from being about the appropriation of Thai culture and Orientalism and really drives home the fact that these women chose what they found symbolic of their trips to Thailand for their GRS procedures, which mirrored what was marketed at them by everyone they came into contact with along their way there. It was really a brilliant and well-worded article that was hard to blog about without feeling like stepping on eggshells, which really goes to show how well-worked it was to have been written so well.

Cruel & Unusual

Story of my life — I totally spaced out on writing about the movie I was supposed to in class. I must have simply glazed over it at the time… but I watched a documentary for my paper that was extremely heartbreakingly interesting.

Cruel and Unusual is a documentary from 2006 chronicling the lives of several trans women who either have been or are still incarcerated in the United States. Because prisons in the US are divided by gender, these women were placed in men’s prisons instead of women’s. This seems bad enough, but because of the threats for their safety, they are placed in solitary confinement. Oh yeah, and let’s make it a little bit worse — for most of these women, they are also denied their hormones.

Because hormone treatment isn’t considered “necessary medication” by most prisons, they choose to ignore the issue regardless of the fact that most of these women have been taking hormones for years. As you watch the documentary, you begin to find out that the way the prison system deals with transgendered people is by not really dealing with them at all — stick them in the corner by themselves and make them wait out their time, unless they’re unlucky enough as a few of the women in the film were, to be felt up by prison guards or, unfortunately for Yolanda, raped.

The most heartbreaking account in the movie, in my opinion, was Lisa’s. Lisa had been working on oil rigs in Wyoming and eventually decided to come out as gay and then live full time as a woman. As soon as her employers found out, they fired her, and she spent time being homeless while searching for work. Eventually she began to steal copper wire to steal and trade in as scrap metal to try and make ends meet.

In the process she was caught and sent to prison in Idaho. Because of her male genitalia which she despised, she was sent to men’s prison and was denied hormone therapy. After a costly trip to the ER after “cutting her balls off with a razor” she demanded hormone therapy once more — she’d proven she was not a man. She was once more denied and she told the prison she would give them a year of her sentence before the penis went, too. A year later and another trip to the ER after completely removing her genitalia, she was once again denied. She ended up filing a lawsuit against the state and won. She set a statute in the state of Idaho that any transgendered person requesting hormones can now receive them.

After completing her sentence, she attempted once more to find work on an oil rig but could not because, as she put it she is, “6’6″ and two hundred and fifty pounds. [She] looks like a man, sounds like a man, but can’t be treated as a man,” so after a failed attempt at prostitution in Los Angeles, she was once again incarcerated for stealing more copper wire in Oregon. She did something to land in prison again because she simply could not afford her hormones.

The documentary showed how cruel it can be to have the issue simply ignored by the prison system in the United States, but the truly heartbreaking aspect was the fact that each woman’s story held such complex and horrific tales of heartbreak. They ranged in age from their early 20’s to 60’s and referred to themselves as transgendered, transsexual, and cross-dressing, but at the end of the day, the clear issue at hand was the fact that they had all been mistreated based on their gender representations.

My Politics of Location

So we’ve had people post about their experiences basically all over the country and globe. Mine really won’t be too exciting in comparison, I fear, because my story began in a little town (less than 20k people, of course) an hour north of Indianapolis. The population is 80-some percent white, with a small Latino population and well… after that you have the extreme minorities — the two Chinese families, the… four or so? black kids in my high school, so on so forth.

As luck would have it, my best friendĀ  was one of the only openly homosexual kids to grace the halls of my high school. He was ridiculed and tormented, naturally, but he is one of those people who can’t be phased. He brushed it all off and waited for his chariot to come and whisk him away to college.

I only ever even bumped into trans people twice living there — once on a chance encounter in the hospital (in which we shared an elevator and idle small talk, to the dismay of the other hospital patron in the elevator with us) and once doing service work — because of the problems with employment opportunities, lots of gender variant and gay people end up bouncing around through things like the mental health center and other not-for-profit organizations.

I went to Chicago for my first year of college and was so excited to live somewhere much less stifling, and it certainly was. The amazingly colorful experiences I had there in mere months trumped anything I’d experienced in my first 18 years of life. Not only did I have brushes with trans people, I knew them by name. I got to tell my friend Patrick (who was still a senior) that I was actually experiencing real gay culture… he had a long year ahead of him waiting for that one. The city itself was like the best gift I’d ever received! The school on the other hand… I absolutely had to transfer out. Then came the dreaded decision of IU.

I was so afraid moving to Bloomington would be like being in my hometown all over again. I had made up my mind that Indiana itself was a cultural wasteland — completely desolate and void of anything beyond the norm. And WHOA was I surprised!

Bloomington has given me so many opportunities to truly expand upon what I’ve learned and experienced thus far. The gender studies department here is phenomenal and I have garnered so much from it. It’s so funny writing this as a senior, because I feel somewhat reminiscent and simultaneously scared about where I end up next year. The fact of the matter is, though, that it is people who have lived and experienced someplace like this that need to end up in towns like where I grew up… because otherwise that bubble is going to stay exactly the same with no one in it to shake it up.

The New Scrabble Champ

Mikki Nicholson of the UK took home a beautiful trophy last month after a heated match with the multi-time Scrabble champion she was seated across. Nicholson wore a pink wig, a PVC dress, and a grin as she trounced her competitor with the word “obeisant,” which surprisingly enough, means a movement of the body made in submission. Not this time!

Nicholson, 33, managed to beat Mark Nyman, the resident winner who is also Britain’s only resident to have also won the world cup in Scrabble. Hilariously enough, one of the words that helped her clinch the victory was help from the word “nads,” which eventually led to her playing of the final word that afforded her the victory, beating the other competitor by 16 points.

There were quotes made about how this could be a funny and seemingly silly way to kind of blow the glass ceiling off such a sleepy game. I just thought this would be a seemingly silly and cute update amidst some of the less uplifting news stories.

Nicholson is using her prize money to head to Malaysia for the world championship this month.

Stryker’s Hundred Years of Transgender History

In this chapter by Stryker, she attempts to provide a sort of running history for the transgender community beginning around 1850. She begins with a description of how difficult it must have been to have been a young person who wanted to have the role of the opposite gender in society and then goes into the fact that cross-dressing was outlawed specifically in various places beginning in 1848. There had previously been laws that limited cross-dressing based on people trying to portray races other than them in a racist light (which considering the fact that “black face” was so common in the 20th century in the tv and film industry makes me think that those laws themselves were extremely thinly spread and loosely followed) but this was a new type of legal discrimination that was specific to gender roles.

She talks about how little research there is to help say why cross-dressing became such a social issue and she then compared its development to the development of feminism, which I personally liked, because feminism in the 1800’s was an obscure and hard issue to garner popularity. She also mentioned the fact that men and women who were gay, lesbian, or interested in “cross-dressing” would attempt to find the anonymity they so desired in cities where they could be free of the restraints that small town life put on the individuals. Of course, this was an easier thing for men to do… but what wasn’t in the 1800’s, right?

She highlights that in the later 19th century, science became the new god — which is pretty true when you think about it. Those in search of ways to redefine themselves when it came to gender were beginning to find answers, and if not answers, at least the hope that they would soon exist — that science was making it possible for them to begin thinking about changing the sex they were defined at birth. With this a possibility, science certainly had a lot to do with changing the way gender made life work. She goes into a description a couple pages long of how Hirschfield was the first big advocate for trans, but I’m not going to go into that too much seeing as we went over it in class.

She talks about the stifling of the issue (WWII and Nazi Germany specifically) and says that, “Not until the middle of the twentieth century did social networks of transgender people begin to interconnect with networks of socially powerful people in ways that would produce long lasting organizations and provide the base of a social movement.” Regardless of the fact that there was a social movement coming to be, there was still a notion that surgeons who tried to do sex reassignment surgeries could face criminal prosecution over the notion of the “mayhem” of destruction of healthy body tissue. She noted that in the 1950’s, only a few dozen sex changes even took place in the United States.

Stryker describes the first real faces for the issue — Louise Lawrence, a trans woman who was involved in the networking of scientists and doctors in helping advocate trans issues, Virginia Prince, the first publisher of a trans-centric magazine, creator of some of the first trans organizations, and the individual who was seen at the center of government harrassment on the issue, and Christine Jorgensen, who we talked about a great deal in class… the first real “face” for trans people.

This chapter really delved into some of the biggest issues and obstacles that stood in the path of the trans movement and it also highlighted some of the largest characters over a hundred years of hard work. If anything, it really seemed to show the persecution of any people who didn’t want to be defined by gender, and I think that Stryker made a good point in making that the true basis for where the movement came from.

This week: DC Starbucks restrooms go gender-neutral

This week Washington DC area Starbucks are making the switch from restrooms designated “Women” and “Men” to restrooms that say (this will come as a shock) “Restroom.” The push came from two local groups, the DC Trans Coalition and the DC Center, and it wasn’t simple protesting that got the point across — they had the power of the law on their side. A previously little-known mandate in DC law actually states that all restrooms are equally accessible to “transgender and non-gender conforming individuals.”

An ’09 survey by the DC Trans Coalition found that 68 percent of local transgender and gender-nonconforming residents reported being “denied access to, verbally harassed in, and/or physically assaulted in public bathrooms.” The problem, however, is that it’s hard to actually hold someone accountable for those actions. It takes the harassment, proof that this harassment was based on gender identity, and then pursuit of a complaint with DC’s Office of Human Rights. So DC’s law provides a “shortcut” that makes it easy for an establishment to provide bathrooms to all patrons by making them entirely gender neutral.

They’re hoping that the switch for the 52 area Starbucks will provide the push for other local businesses to also follow suit. Amanda Hess, the local writer who published the originally news article, really tried to put the story in a 100% positive light. I actually enjoyed the article I first read on by staff-writer Anna North a lot more.

She pointed out the fact that the gender neutral restroom switch has both pros and cons by pointing out the news story about the sixth grader that has been provided a gender-neutral restroom and has felt ostracized for it. (I’m pretty sure someone wrote a blog post about it, so I’m not going to go into a million details) — She quoted Jordan Rubinstein,’s writer who wrote the story on the fact that gender-neutral restrooms have downsides, too.

“The transgender student at the center of this story wanted to fit in with her classmates and use the same bathroom as all the other girls. Indeed, while making more gender-neutral bathrooms available can help many transgender people, a transgender person should still be allowed to use the bathroom based on their gender.”
As the story stated, this is a great first step in heading in the right direction for DC area businesses…. so hopefully in the grand scheme of things, it can be the catalyst for other local businesses to make sure that everyone who enters them is receiving the safety and respect that they deserve.