Author Archives: shayley35

Ten-year-old talks to Barbara Walters

In April of 2007, Riley Grant, along with her family, appeared on 20/20 with Barbara Walters to talk about her childhood. At the age of two, Riley (born Richard) refused to swim without a top, wanted to wear dresses, and played with his twin sister’s toys. Under the recommendation of their pediatrician, her parents repeatedly tried to convert her to masculine habits and hobbies, but they understood the severity of the “confusion” when she held a pair of nail clippers next to her penis. Her mother, Stephanie, purchased a few feminine clothing items and allowed Riley to wear them when her father was not home. After years of hiding her identity from her community and the school, Stephanie broke down in the principal’s office. He contradicted the pediatrician’s advice and referred the family to a gender specialist. At this time, Richard was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder. At seven, Richard changed his name to Riley, and she started wearing feminine clothing with the support of her family and her principal. Unfortunately, her classmates were not so welcoming. As Riley approaches adolescence, she has elected to take hormonal suppressants until she is old enough to begin her cross-hormonal treatment in order to acquire feminine secondary sex characteristics. For her parents, the future is full of questions of gender reassignment surgery and the possibility of side-effects from the medical intervention. The Grants decided to make their private pain public in order to support other families with gender variant children and to help outsiders comprehend what Riley is going through. Stephanie maintains, “We have to support her, but we don’t walk in her shoes. And people who look at her and know her will, I hope, realize what it takes for her to be her every single day.”

For me, this story had a variety of elements that I found hopeful and frightening. Riley persevered to be herself despite the initial discouragement of her family and classmates; thus, she becomes a role model for other transgender children as a symbol of strength, determination, and bravery. Her family’s acceptance of her demonstrates a supportive environment for families with gender variant children, and the principal is the ideal authority figure for allowing Riley to present herself in the gender in which she identifies.

Nonetheless, the unfortunate responses are presented as well. Riley’s pediatrician recommended that her parents adamantly push masculine behaviors onto Riley. As a medical professional, the pediatrician should be fully aware of the variety of gender representations, and he/she should not have overlooked them. Secondly, the medicalization of Riley’s case frames her identity as a disorder or condition that must be treated. At school, Riley faced more challenges. The school only permitted her to use the restroom in the nurse’s office, and she confronted constant bullying from her classmates. The article did not comment on the actions of the school to prevent or to punish bullying, but I would hope that the community and the school are working together to educate the children about diversity and to address any harassment that she meets.


New LGBT liaison police department in Wales

BBC News update: A new liaison office in the police department of Gwent, Wales is forming in order to promote and protect the LGBT community. Fourteen officers and support staff will be trained by colleagues from Hampshire Constabulary, which has had an LGBT liaison office since 1996.

The new service was created in order to encourage more people to come forward to report hate crimes and discrimination against the LGBT community. Unfortunately, the majority of such crimes are “under reported.” Assistant Chief Constable Simon Prince said: “It is estimated that one in 12 people in [the] Gwent [force area] classes him or herself as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender which is a significant number of people.”

The new group anticipates that the new office will encourage members of the community to feel free and safe when reporting hate crimes. Each case will be assigned an LGBT liaison as well as an investigator to inspect the incidents. They hope to obtain a better understanding of hate crimes and to observe the suffering of individuals. With the increase in information, the office aims to have novel information that will enable them to engage and exterminate these types of offences in Gwent.

The duties of the officers include: liaison with the LGBT communities; provide support and advice to victims and witnesses of crimes; offer advice to colleagues dealing with homophobic incidents; and promote an understanding within the force about the needs of LGBT communities.

It is a sad fact that throughout the world, there are thousands (probably many thousands) of members in the LGBT community that are harassed and abused as a result of their identity. In virtually every country, there are reports where police forces and investigation teams ignore the complaints, or complaints are not filed because victims do not report the abuse. This specialized task force will offer a safe outlet for casualties to report the verbal and physical assaults that they experience, and it will demonstrate the police force’s commitment to protecting the community.

Additionally, the liaison’s goal of creating a better understanding of LGBT trials and tribulations could be an effective way to educate the community about their unnecessary biases. Instead of having events where trans people are objectified and questioned about extremely personal experiences, which happens in many “seminars,” this data presents the opportunity for activists and the trans community to portray their arguments for equality through human rights discourses. No longer will members of the trans community have to step forward to narrate their life stories and answer intruding questions in order to appeal to their community to accept their humanity. Without revealing much private, privileged information about experiences of gender variant individuals, the force will educate their community about the abuses and violations of personhood. No person should have to objectify their life in order to convince others not to mistreat them.

Moreover, the team hopes to have a working knowledge of hate crimes. In theory, this information could be applied to other crimes of biases against other groups that have been and are subjected to injustices based on their identity.

Argentina Movements

Social movements exist, because a group of people organize around issues they feel need emphasized and/or rectified. In most cases, movements aim to educate the population about injustices and to acquire the rights and respect that they deserve. In Argentina, a group of transgendered individuals have started to organize again to pursue justice for their community. Throughout history, continuous political upheavals have caused many social groups to go underground in fear of persecution. As they started to reappear, the authorities have ignored transgendered social movements because they do not have “the common good as a goal” (Cabral 268).  Despite the fact that they are regularly ignored by officials, nearly 30 groups have sprung up since the early 1990s. These organizations are limited in size and led by a small number of people, but they mostly concentrate on improving the social conditions of the transgender community – such as poverty and unemployment. These groups include: Association for the Struggle for Travesti and Transsexual Identity; Future Transgenerico; Association for Travestis, Transsexuals, and Transgenders in Argentina; and Asociación Gondolin. These activist groups receive much help financially from foreign organizations, and in many cases, they frame their work through the international human rights discourse (Brown).

One of the leading activists in Argentina is Lohanna Berkins. Lohanna is the creator and founder of the Association for the Struggle for Travesti and Transsexual Identity (Asociación Lucha por la identidad  Travesti y Transexual). And this organization was the first to be officially recognized by the state. She is the first trans-woman to obtain a job outside of the sex industry in Argentina, and she aims to help others achieve the same fate. The ALITT is a volunteer-based organization that concentrates on educating the public through social media. She has received grants that allow her to purchase technology to record, edit, and publish forms of media for television and radio programs. She also offers a variety of self-esteem workshops for the trans community, as well as programs and benefits to fight poverty and discrimination against the trans community, especially in Buenos Aires (“Asociación Lucha por la identidad  Travesti y Transexual”).

Now that the country has reached a relatively stable political state, various organizations have started to work together to achieve a variety of goals. Perhaps the most important social action organization that continues to exist in Argentina is Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. Las Madres began in 1977 during the Dirty War of Argentina when they fought against a violent regime in order to end the systematic destruction of an entire generation of students. Many transgender movements have allied with Las Madres in order to concentrate on achieving civil rights for the transgender community, as opposed to dismantling the strict sexual hierarchy in Latin America. Although they recognize that the hierarchy may be the root cause of injustice, they believe that protecting the rights and safety of gender variant individuals should be the priority at this time.


Politics of Location 2: The Bloomington Bubble

I am sure that almost every person who looks into to Bloomington community is aware that the Advocate declared that Bloomington, Indiana is the fourth gayest city in the United States in February of 2010. Mike Albo, the author of the report, is an amateur sociologist that used finely tuned, unscientific calculations based on a variety of factors in order to identify the 15 gayest cities in the States. He cites the “forward-thinking college town” known for Miss Gay IU and the Kinsey Institute as major components that inspired the town to be “heteroflexible.” With these as well as the many activist organizations, the GLBT center, and the growing Gender Studies Department at the University, it seems evident that the community is one of the most accepting cities in the country.

After reading through the many, sometimes ludicrous, reader comments, I came across the opinion of a Martinsville resident. He aims to highlight what he calls the “Bloomington Bubble.” Within the bubble, incorporating approximately a ten to fifteen-block radius, you can find a relatively liberal, understanding group of people that inhabit this area; however, once you step outside of the campus limits, you step into an entirely different community. The Bloomington community is much like any other larger city – you will find open minded people along side very narrow minded people.

The Midwest, especially Indiana, is typically a very conservative population with few state-recognized human rights ordinances that include sexual orientation or gender variance. According to Indiana Equality, only seven cities in the state openly acknowledge this form of discrimination, and interestingly many of these cities have a university within their limits.

Driving in almost any direction away from the campus, you can feel a physical difference in attitudes. In the small, rural, 87% white, normative communities outside of the campus you will not find large organizations promoting LGBT rights in their communities, and you will not find many signs or flags suspended by individuals. There are not gay-pride parades or transgender remembrance vigils. Although I cannot personally verify that there are obvious homo/trans-phobic activities in these communities, there is substantial evidence from friends and other stories that stress the conservative nature of these communities, and their stories are supported by the migration of gay/trans individuals to larger, liberal cities.

In the midst of the red counties around the states, the campus of IU Bloomington maintains an unexpected liberal attitude towards the LGBT community. With the help of the GLBT Office, transgender students of Indiana University have many resources to assist them in on-campus housing, changing their names on official documents for the university, and reporting any abuses or biases that they encounter. They have not established a generic formula for applying these resources, because they choose to address each case on an individual basis in order to incorporate the needs and desires of the student.

The policies of the University are more progressive than many state or national procedures, but I don’t think that there is any person at the University that would claim there are no incidents of discrimination or prejudice on our campus. Seated between conservative rural communities, Bloomington seems to be one of the forerunners in protection for the safety and liberty of the gender variant community; however, we must continue to push forward and educate the communities around us.

Afsaneh Najmabadi

In Transing and Transpassing across Sex-Gender Walls in Iran, Afsaneh Najmabadi seeks to illustrate transsexuality in popular culture in Iran. “Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran occupies the unlikely role of global leader for sex change” (Najmabadi, 25). The increased number of surgeries in Iran, as well as the assumed tolerance, is a result of framing, not acceptance. The conservative, Islamic Republic receives much acclaim for being a major leader in gender reassignment surgeries; however, the attention is misrepresented. Religious, political, and medical leaders determined that gender reassignment surgery could be granted because the Qur’an does not explicitly ban the procedure and because they consider it a cure to a gender identity disorder. Though the state now sanctions medical procedures for transsexuality, they consider their identity as a disease or a mistake.

Interestingly, the selection process, or “filtering,” aims to identify the “true transgender” as opposed to the “homosexual.” The stark differentiation between “transgender” and “homosexual” is indeed complex, but one major distinction exists (according to Iranian officials). A “true transgender” follows the narrative of disharmony between their soul and their body; therefore, medical advances can realign the dissonance. A “homosexual” engages in sinful, same-sex acts. Nonetheless, Iran does not differentiate sex from gender; thus, the distinction is often blurred or ambiguous. Homosexuals are often pressured by the social expectations of doctors, family members, and psychologists to have gender reassignment surgery in order to become normalized and live more freely. However, instead of illuminating same-sex practices by encouraging transition, the new regulations opened a new, relatively safer social space for gays and lesbians. An individual could live as a non-operative, certified transsexual in order to prevent abuse.

Additionally, the strict differentiation between “homosexual” and “transsexual” has polarized the two social groups and inhibited alliance. The stigmatization of homosexuality encourages the gender-variant community to criticize and demoralize homosexuals, because they do not want to be identified as homosexual. They do not want to further their alienation from their religion or their family. Nonetheless, in recent years the two groups have reached an agreement and have started to organize together to rethink dominant culture practices.

It is indeed interesting that Iran has high rates of gender reassignment surgery, because contemporary, mainly Western, media portrays the region as ultra-conservative and unchanging. However, it is also important to observe that the media attention does not highlight acceptance of the culture or contentment in the individual. The numbers are high, because their identity is considered a disorder or a disease, and the official decisions of Iran to allow gender reassignment not only reflect the medicalization of an identity, but also the stigmatization and discrimination of homosexuals. Nonetheless, many Iranians do not wish for international thoughts and debates to enter into Iranian discourse and change the meanings and interpretations of the Republic. Nevertheless, the discussions have reached Iran, introducing foreign terms and concepts that complicate current definitions. Regardless, the citizens, gender variant or not, are charged with defining and interpreting their identities according to their ideals and customs.

Unlearning through Observing: Politics of Location 1

My high school (from 2004 to 2008) was primarily composed of students from rural areas and a few subdivisions of Lafayette, Indiana. Like many communities across the globe, there were many hesitations from a friend that wanted to “come out” in this community. Interestingly, after declaring his sexuality, the prominent reaction from the student body was: “That’s great! I support you! See everyone, I don’t judge! I have a gay friend; therefore, I can’t be homophobic.” Many students, which were not even his ‘friends’, made exhaustive efforts to approach him to declare their support. It was not the response that he was expecting.

I am extremely happy that he didn’t face blatant discrimination with running for leadership opportunities in my high school as an openly gay student or have to overcome any direct homophobic comments or gestures by many peers, but I still question the reactions of the student body. It was worse, socially, to be the student that didn’t accept, but the dramatization of the acceptance of many students was unnecessary. They could not react with understanding without screaming their alliance as loudly as possible. Support doesn’t come from going up to a complete stranger and telling them that you will defend their identity. But this “acceptance” had its limitations.

After witnessing their complete support of him, I watched them simultaneously degrade the one person that was relatively gender variant in our high school.  I will start by saying that I am not close friends with this person, and I do not know much about his inner thoughts and feelings. Therefore, I will characterize his identity. I will base my reaction solely on the observance of his outward appearance and the reactions of the students in my class.

He wore clothing and walked in a manner coded as feminine. He had facial hair, but he wore high-heels. He drew talented sketches and wrote beautifully. But, perhaps most importantly, this was not a daily occurrence. On most days, he wore jeans and a t-shirt; yet, if you ask almost anyone from my high school, they will only tell you that “he dressed like a girl.” He was unlike any other person in our high school, but he did not witness the “acceptance” like the openly gay student. Although I do not recall any direct discrimination, violence, or hatred toward him from the faculty or the administration, I cannot verify any direct support or understanding either.

I remember one specific dress that he would wear – it was purple. But more than the dress, I can remember the snickers, glares, and derogatory comments that followed him throughout the hallway. Aside from his group of friends and a few other classmates, most of my rural, mid-west, white, normative classmates degraded him constantly. This makes me wonder – why was homosexuality “accepted” and gender variance not?

Without any extensive research, I turn to popular media and culture. In popular reality shows, like The Real World, there is the one “token” gay person on the cast. We see this person struggle and overcome obstacles in order to be “accepted” by friends, family, and cast members. And after witnessing their trials and successes, it is “cool” to “accept” this person and their identity. However, we are not so willing to accept gender variance.  There is no form of popular media accepting or normalizing the transgender community; therefore, it is not “cool” to accept their non-normative behavior in daily interactions.

I do believe that there is one season of the Real World that incorporated a trans woman, but one case does not seem to be strong enough to convince the outside world to accept them without questioning, examining, or criticizing their choices.

I am white. I am a woman. I am straight. I am gender-normative (according to social media). I do not claim to understand any individual’s experience fully. I cannot place characterizations or categories upon any person without them self-identifying themselves first. I wish only that others will come to a similar conclusion and stop demeaning and belittling any person that differs from their narrow perspective. And I hope that we can come to this conclusion without mandating that their life stories be placed center stage.

“Pinocchio Has Gender Issues” – Video

I do not remember exactly how I came across this video, but I found it extremely interesting because it highlights many positive and negative elements of the trans experience. The video uses the story of Pinocchio, a wooden puppet that desires to be a ‘real boy,’ in order to illustrate the life of a trans child. It uses the same characters, the Blue Fairy, Gepetto, Pinocchio, and the Conscious, Jiminy Cricket, but instead of desiring to be a ‘real boy,’ Pinocchio wishes to be a ‘real girl.’ She even picks a new name – Emily.

The Blue Fairy and Jiminy Cricket are two positive influences in Emily’s life. They reinforce and support Emily’s wishes, and they are conscious of how trans children should be treated. Once Jiminy Cricket learns of Emily’s wishes, he no longer refers to Emily as a boy. He only uses the feminine pronouns, and he insists that Gepetto value Emily’s hopes. Similarly, the Blue Fairy is the person who assures Emily that it is possible to be a girl, “as long as you believe.” She asserts that “it makes no difference who you are,” everyone should be happy. She discourages Gepetto’s negative attitudes, and she highlights Emily’s choice. The messages presented by these two characters, as well as Emily’s insistence and confidence, are positive and should be applied to all trans experiences with friends and family members. Additionally, the clip uses trans language that many gender-variant people can identify with. For example, Emily’s insistence of being a “girl trapped in a boy’s body” reflects the sentiments of many transgendered and transsexual individuals. However, few add the component of being “trapped in a puppet’s body,” unless you interpret the puppeteer to be public opinion and social expectations. In this case, almost every gender-variant person is trapped by societal practices and cultural standards, as well as the physical constraints of their genitalia.

Nonetheless, the clip does present some negative perspectives. The majority of the film concentrates only on genitals. Emily does not vividly express her emotional or psychological identity as a girl. She believes that the only way to validate her identity is by undergoing a gender reassignment surgery – in this case, a wood chipper. Additionally, she does not speak to any professional; she simply “chops” it off. Unfortunately, genital mutilation is a major concern in trans communities. In some cases, frustration and disappointment build in an individual until he/she breaks. “Chopping it off” is a real concern for young MTF individuals, yet the video offers this as a solution. Hopefully, the end of this video does not encourage anyone to take such tragic, dangerous measures in their own lives.

One person that commented on the video acknowledged the positive and negative references in the video, but he/she added a component that I had not thought of. College Humor aims to poke fun at any and every social identity that exists. Therefore, by creating a humorous video about gender-variant experiences, College Humor is normalizing them. By appearing on this popular website, gender-variance seems less peculiar in the greater social sphere.