Bil Browning

Whose responsibility is it?

Filed By Bil Browning | September 17, 2008 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: cisgender privilege, feminism, sexism, sexist, trans rights, transgender, transphobia

Bumped back up to the top for more discussion

It seems like a good time to do another installment of Stuff Bil Doesn't Know Enough About™. This week's question is in direct reference to two other blog posts inspired by my post admitting I have questions about feminist and transgender issues and encouraging others to add their own questions so we could have a community dialogue.

Over at Questioning Transphobia, Lisa brought up the inherent privilege in my request for answers. The comments section on her post are very interesting even though some of them really take me to task. On Father Tony's discussion a commenter took a different tone that I want to highlight. Question below and comment additions after the jump.

Why must trans people primarily bear the burden for educating cis people? Why do some cis people not do some of their own education to learn about the issues before the questions begin?

Why is the education itself necessary to justify equal civil rights protections?

Keep in mind that everyone participating in the discussion is writing from their own experiences. Please be patient and civil in your comments. Let's learn from each other!

To help expand a little further on Lisa's question, I've clipped some of the comments from her thread that really stood out to me. These are not complete comments. Check out her post to get the full flavor of the discussion.

Kristin says: It is not the job of trans people to hold our hands and teach us Trans 101. I think that's the issue here. When a cis person enters a discussion and demands to be educated by a trans person, that's an act of entitlement that comes from privilege.
That you seem to believe that your questions are so benign and well-meaning suggests to me that you really *might* do well to do some research before stomping into ongoing conversations that various communities are having.

Allie says: Bil, I think you're not quite understanding why trans people feel that placing the burden of education on us is wrong. We're not asking for special recognition, special rights, etc., but to be treated like human beings and to have society recognize our rights just as they would any cis person. Whether you've intended to or not, the position you've taken relegates us to second-class or inhuman status, and then requires us to prove to you why we deserve to be on the same footing as you. You say it's our fault that you're not educated enough to consider us equals, and that it's also our fault that people don't respect our rights.

Jo says: A hierarchy is established and promoted (generally by the person seeking education, though not always explicitly) in which there are the "good queers/transfolk/women/poc/etc" (ie the ones who try to educate), and the "bad queers/transfolk/women/poc/etc" (ie the ones who make this big fuss about PROCESS) who stand in the way of REAL, VALUABLE education.
That's something that I think is often overlooked and obscured, but is REALLY important. And it's important for those of us who are cast in the role of "good queer/woman/transperson/poc/etc" to remember as well, having been that person over and over again, because it's super shitty if someone can (even unknowingly or unintentionally) manipulate systems of oppressions to use our voices to silence our own.

Meanwhile, over at Father Tony's pad, one of the commenters took umbrage at the tone of our and Lisa's discussion and the backlash that my request for more information sparked.

The reaction you are getting especially at the blog cited above is an avalanche of hatred and mockery of your "innocence" which is being seen as the dilettantism of your gay male power and privilege. They deride you as having been off having your privileged gay lives of male separatism wherein your sex, parties, money, consumerism, silliness, etc. prevented you from any interest in the developments of oppression politics, New Gender Theory, transactivism, 3rd wave feminism, etc. As many blog posters said, this ignorance alone disqualifies you from any input into Queer discourse, politics, community activity or especially trans anything. Sit on your white gay male thrones of privilege and shut the fuck up. That is the message that is being sent to you. Why can you not hear it? I don't understand why you are hitting your head against a brick wall that is not going to welcome your advances; indeed mocks and spits on them?

So what are your thoughts, Projectors? Is it better to ask for the information I lack and ask the community under discussion to provide more education to me and other allies? Or should we educate ourselves? Is it demeaning to ask identity groups for help in understanding their issues, or, as I posit, is the knowledge-sharing an integral part of achieving the community's agenda?

Personally, while I can see that it's a place of privilege to ask for information from a minority group, I don't see any other possible alternative that's 1/10th as effective. No one can advocate on behalf of a minority group if they aren't versed in the issues and nothing provides nearly the amount of education as a personalized back-and-forth. Like it or not, Congress members aren't going to take the time to sit around and read books or blogs about the issue; it's going to take lobbying by informed individuals - often advocates outside of the specified minority. It's in the community's best interests to provide as much education as possible.

The floor is yours.

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You know, Bil, I saw a few of these comments and I was thinking about writing something up myself about it. I talked about this with you before you posted that post about transfolk a week ago, and I'm thinking there's some misinterpretation going on here.

I think that if we take this as "Bil Browning has decided that he needs to know more about trans issues, so start explaining it to him," then, like, yeah, it sounds insulting, privileged, and just a bit petulent.

But since we tlaked about it beforehand, I think how you meant it was "There are lots of people who don't know enough about trans issues, so Bil's going to try to start this conversation by fully confessing to his own ignorance." (IMHO this was a better choice than "Hey, you idiots who don't know anything, we're going to try to teach you!" It's politer, and politer rules.)

There was a commenter who mentioned the fact that you could just pick up a book and educate yourself, and if the idea was the first, then that'd make sense. There are plenty of great books out there about transgender people. But since it's more along the lines of the latter question, then, you know, I'd just say that there could also be great blogs out there too and this should be one of them.

Overall, I think it's a good use of this blog space for that type of education. People may come to read about national politics or LGBT activism or whatever, and if they learn a bit about what we're doing as a community, learn a bit about trans folks, that's all the better.

I don't know the answer to the question, but I can just say that someone's going to have to do the educating. I remember getting really offended at inadvertantly homophobic comments from friends back in college, and not even wanting to explain why those were offensive. But it was something that someone had to do, and I probably would have done better to not be so haughty about it.

Especially since no one's being forced to answer, and some people just love explaining their own people to others who aren't that familiar (yes, they exist).

Although this doesn't let non-trans people off the hook either. No "I just don't understand trans people so I can make fun of them all I want!" along the lines of John Aravosis, Andrew Sullivan, and Rex Wockner. There's not knowing and there's not wanting to know, and the first is forgivable in my book. But the latter seems to sheild themselves in the language of the former and I can see how it can get annoying after a while to hear the same people make the same shitty statements and that it doesn't sound all to different from people who are making a mistake for the first time.

(Also, your original post was about trans issues, feminism, and queer theory, but people seem to have gotten stuck on the transgender aspect. I wonder why that is, although no one really cares if you don't understand queer theory. Even the people who get into it seem to think it's bullshit... in fact, if I read Foucault correctly, that's a basic requirement.)

Alex, you make a good point that no one is forced to answer a question posed in this forum. I think this makes the problem of privilege/entitlement demanding explanations different from when it occurs in person.

In such a real world situation, the asker truly is imposing on the would be explainer. But here, no one in particular is being told they are expected to account for themselves (or their group). If someone does choose to respond with an explanation, their decision is purely voluntary. If they choose not to respond, no one is going to think twice about it.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | September 15, 2008 11:17 AM

I read stuff like the first batch of comments and getting the feeling "damned if you do and damned if you don't."

Some trans people get offended when we ask questions to better understand gender identity issues and then get offended if we don't get it. How are we supposed to get it if we don't talk to one another?

As a Black man, I don't expect non-Black people to just understand what it means to be Black. As a gay man, I don't expect non-gay men to just understand what it means to be gay. And, I don't feel it a burden when people ask me about being either of those things.

It took me a long time to understand what being gay means and I am gay. So, I don't expect non-gay people to automatically know what I think and feel.

Similarly, I am guessing that many trans people do a lot of thinking and soul searching in order to understand their gender identity and how they wish to express it. So, why would any expect people seeking to better understand trans issues not to ask questions?

My way of thinking is that it is better to ask questions that to just do something stupid.

Whose responsibility is it?


It's the responsibility of people who don't know much about Trans* issues to find out. And it's the responsibility of Trans* people to tell others that they don't know too much, and to help provide that information.

I've commented about cis-privilege. But one thing that bothers me about my own privilege, being white, Australian and middle-class, is to be told by American Blacks "Oh, you can't understand how privileged you are".

Maybe I can, if I try hard enough, and listen to what they say. Maybe not fully understand, but I might gain an inkling.

Bil, you've done your bit. I hope I haven't come across as too arrogant in my own fulminations about "cis-privilege" and all that. Yes, it's real, and yes, those who are not Trans* are not initially aware of it. But it's not complicated, and I really think cis-people can understand, or at least get the gist.

They haven't experienced it themselves, any more than I've experienced what it must be like to be a WOC in the USA. But I read TransGriot, and I listen, and maybe I'm not an entirely clue-free zone as the result.

Monica's done an excellent job of edjumacating me on that. Did she have to? Or should I have done it on my own bat? I really don't see how I could, I don't even know what questions to ask. I'm glad she helped me, and grateful too. Maybe I should do a bit more of the same, out of a sense of balance.

In the ultimate, as long as it gets done, exact mechanisms don't matter. We should cut each other some slack. And not sweat the small stuff.

Bil, you've done your bit. I hope I haven't come across as too arrogant in my own fulminations about "cis-privilege" and all that. Yes, it's real, and yes, those who are not Trans* are not initially aware of it. But it's not complicated, and I really think cis-people can understand, or at least get the gist.

Thanks, Zoe. That means a lot coming from you.

You've never been heavy handed; I've learned quite a bit from you personally.

Speaking for myself and from my experiences with other T's,lgb and cisgendered people I don't think it's appropriate for anyone to feel we should or are required to answer questions about being T.There are certain times and formats where I think it is the right thing to do and others where it can result in serious injury or death.Then there are questions that are appropriate and others that are down right insensitive.As for the feminist and queer part of the original post I think those would be better adressed in individual posts.

I tried to keep this one mostly trans related, but it seemed the thread was common with a lot of feminist issues/blogs too.

Speaking for myself and from my experiences with other T's,lgb and cisgendered people I don't think it's appropriate for anyone to feel we should or are required to answer questions about being T.

I'm sorry that you feel that way Amy. The one thing I have tried to impress upon the T* community here in Western Australia is that if they don't talk about being trans* then the trans* community remains the "unknown" in cisgendered/lgb peoples lives. People are generally frightened of the unknown and will discriminate against it because of that fear. The more we demystify what being trans* is, simply by answering their questions, the less we are discriminated against.

You have to remember that knowledge is power, and the more knowledge we give out freely, the more power the Trans* community will gain until one day we will be treated as equals. Refusing to give out that knowledge is just the same as saying, "No, I am happy to be discriminated against"

When I transitioned at work I asked the staff, all of 1600 of them, to email me questions, to ask me at lunch time and also provided a web page where they could leave their questions anonymously if they preferred. I got one anonymous question, about 100 emailed questions and to this day, over a year later, I still get people walk up to me, say hello and ask something they don't understand about me being transsexual. Numerous people have commented that making myself open to their questions made it easier for them to accept having a transitioning transsexual working with them. If being open to questions makes it easier for the next trans* person employed in the boys club that is the Department of Agriculture, then I consider all those questions worthwhile.

When we refuse to answer questions we reinforce the negative stereotypes of what it is to be trans* and we do a disservice not only to our selves but to all other trans* people out there. Essentially we have an obligation to all our sisters AND brothers out there to answer openly and honestly.


Consider the possibility that saying "it's not trans people's responsibility to educate" doesn't mean "trans people should never educate." That's up to each individual person to decide.

The point of asserting this is to make it clear that trans people have boundaries. Often, people seeking education do not respect that and demand to know anything and everything, no matter how intimate and embarrassing.

It is also to make it clear that trans people do not exist to accommodate cis people, especially not at cis whims.

There is nothing wrong with, when a cis person starts asking invasive questions, giving them a reading list and saying "learn the basics."

When we refuse to answer questions we reinforce the negative stereotypes of what it is to be trans* and we do a disservice not only to our selves but to all other trans* people out there. Essentially we have an obligation to all our sisters AND brothers out there to answer openly and honestly.

When we make ourselves available to answer any and all questions at any time, we do a disservice to other trans people by establishing the expectation that it's okay to run roughshod over our boundaries.

And we're not responsible for negative stereotypes that cis people believe about us, and it is not cool to blame trans people who aren't polite enough about handling cis demands for perpetuating negative stereotypes.

Sometimes, I feel like a lot of people in the trans community start transitioning without any strategies for coping with oppressive behavior.

I know I didn't really have any.

Bil, Alex and Michael, I don't think that I have gotten upset whenever people ask for more education in trans issues. I have taken on that hundreds or times, in front of various university classes in two states. I have also educated many others over the years as well. It is one of the things you pretty much take for granted that you have to do if you spend any time as an activist.

What upsets me is someone like Barney Frank saying we haven't educated legislators, when he could help us with that as well if he cared. He doesn't care, so he blames us. Karl Rove would be proud. If he cared, he would give us names of legislators to consentrate on.

HRC is equally to blame in this area, when we have heard over and over and over again that when they visit legislators, they never say anything about us. YET, their mission statement says they suppose to advocate4 for us. Bullshit. They, too, refuse to give us names so we can focus our efforts on specifically legislators.

Bil, you have a popular blog and it is your particular form of communication, information and education. Why would you need a book or another web site when you have all of us to present to you and others thing you may not know a lot about? If people get upset, then they may not be a long-time activist who understands this is what we do.

I have a question for you, Bil. I have heard of some trans people accuse you of being transphobic at times. Can you honestly say that you have overcome or eliminated ALL the transphobia you may have had in the past . . . assuming you can honestly say you had any in the past? Honest?

Bil, Alex and Michael, I don't think that I have gotten upset whenever people ask for more education in trans issues.

That's great, and you were one of the people I was referring to when I said some people don't mind answering questions about their gender/race/nationality/religion/etc.

But I am. I can't not mention that I get annoyed sometimes having to explain what seems absolutely elementary to me. And I've been working on that, and I know I still have a way to go before I catch up to where a lot of the people on this site are, including you.

Re Barney Frank, I think that's the difference between "not knowing" and "not wanting to know" right there.

I have a question for you, Bil. I have heard of some trans people accuse you of being transphobic at times. Can you honestly say that you have overcome or eliminated ALL the transphobia you may have had in the past . . . assuming you can honestly say you had any in the past? Honest?

That's an easy answer. No.

That's why I put out the call for "more education needed." As I said in the original post, when started there was no trans inclusion. I was one of those gay men who thought all trans folk were just overly dramatic drag queens.

The blog has really given me quite the education in trans issues. By sparking the conversation through my own admission of my lack of depth on some issues, I hope to help educate others in the same way you've helped me.

You're a really good example, Monica. You've really helped several readers to understand trans issues better. Personally, I feel like I'm a better advocate because of you and other Projectors like you. While I could read any number of books on the subject, our back and forth and intellectual challenges to each other goes well beyond that. For example, when I lobbied Rep Baron Hill in Denver, I used a statistic that I know came from you in the comments section.

If that is the power of this blog, why should we hesitate to acknowledge our own failings and ask others for help in going further?

I agree with what Monica says about Barney, and that's some of what fueled my personal reaction to the previous post.

I don't have anything that I want to add other than to say that I love Jo's comment. Reading that was a real "click" moment for me.

Make sure you visit Questioning Transphobia for the whole comment. I really cut it quite a bit for space limitations here. She goes into quite a bit more depth there.

Thanks. I'm kinda late to get back into this discussion because I had no internet access yesterday, but when I get finished reading through the existing comments, I may expand on what Bil clipped of my comment from Lisa's blog.

I don't actually mind having to do some education, I just want to be treated as a normal person. I really do quite enjoy the chance to talk someone who is really interested in understanding through what it is to be transsexual.

What I don't like is to have to justify my right to exist as a woman and fighting common prejudices such as transsexuals are "just men who like to wear skirts". As a society, we should be so far beyond that that I get angry and deeply disappointed when I come across this, especially in the supposedly educated feminist and LGB circles.

The fact that you're asking questions, Bil, is just what I love to hear. You're not transsexual, so why should you understand us, but just the fact that you're open to understanding is the most important step.

Thanks, Bil! :)

I saw the comments and thought they were a bit off the mark in this particular instances -- though I understand where they're coming from (more about that in a second).

As with a lot things, the intent and the spirit of the question, and the context in which it's asked, make a huge difference -- as Alex touched on in his first post. You came across as being genuinely interested in learning more. Unfortunately, you're feeling some of the frustration having to deal with folks like Barney Frank, certain rad-fems, clueless heteros, etc.

But by not distinguishing between people who are genuinely interested in learn more, but don't know where to start, and those who expect to be spoon-fed, we end up alienating potential allies. FWIW, I've seen the same sort of reaction on feminist blogs where men show wanting to be allies and get told to "go do their homework" first. Making people feel they're damned if they do and damned if they don't isn't a good way to make friends and influence people.

It's true that there are a number resources out there -- but what the "insiders" forgot is that while these resource may be obvious to those in the know, they're not necessarily obvious to outsiders. For example, sure I could use my Google-fu if I wanted to learn about the lives of the Alaskan on the island where you can see Russia or Iraqi refugees in the States, and I could certainly find some info. Would be accurate info, would it be info that members of these two groups felt was relevant? Maybe. But more likely maybe not.

Anyway, why some of the pushback? I don't presume to speak for Lisa or the other the Question Transphobia commenters, but here my take on it:

- Explanation fatigue. Trans people, feminists, etc. often do explain the basics over and over and over and over, and you just get tired of doing it. It's not that different than a dynamic I've seen in two decades of being in online forums and mailing list, where the old-timers get impatient with newbies after a particular topic gets discussed again for the n-th time. As Alex mentioned, it's feeling like having to explain something that's absolutely elementary -- but that's where everyone needs to take a step back and realize that if it were obvious, the genuine questioner wouldn't be asking.

- "I just want to know" trolling. Folks like Lisa have spent a fair amount of time in circles where trans people seem expected to justify themselves and their existence. Often that sort of dismissive challenging gets framed in "innocent" questions. Or even if it's not malicious, it's questions posed by people who seem clueless about the willful ignorance and/or privilege behind their line of questions. Much in the way, heteros, white people, rich people, etc. can be oblivious to their privilege -- and get defensive when it's pointed out.

- Frustrations at accusations that trans people, feminists, [insert group here] etc. "haven't done enough education." Usually made by people who don't really want to understand -- Barney Frank, Andrew Sullivan, John Aravosis, yeah I'm talking to you. (Often accompanied by an unwillingness to own their own shit, e.g. I don't bash trans people, I just want them excluded from ENDA, the LGB LG movement, and think they're just icky. but that doesn't mean I'm transphobic.)

So it can be easy to assume the worse when someone asks questions. Which is precisely what we need to guard against doing, since treating people that way can create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Your explanation really resonates with me. When I was in college I would do a trans 101 every 2-3 weeks for a year or two. Toward the end, I got one person who told me: "It's so great that you're doing this education, I'm glad you are because with it's education like this that changes things. If you just keep doing this education everything will be fine." It was incredibly kind and positive but it placed on the responsibility for changing the world on my shoulders.

Inside I felt like screaming at her that I do education like this so that people like her can participate and carry on the needed work, not so that she can feel okay setting aside her guilt and then go back to her daily life assured that I'm taking care of the problem. Of course I didn't -- because I was in educator mode instead of human mode and screaming doesn't bring anyone over to your side. But holding yourself back from screaming at things like that again and again for years can take its toll as well.

That's about when I stopped doing trans 101s regularly.

Inside I felt like screaming at her that I do education like this so that people like her can participate and carry on the needed work, not so that she can feel okay setting aside her guilt and then go back to her daily life assured that I'm taking care of the problem.

FWIW Bil, this is exactly the sort of "privileged questioning" that ticks people off. Not that I think you were engaged in it. Rather, as others have said, it was a case of people letting presumptions based on past experiences color the here and now.

Yes. I have spent time on radical feminist blogs answering questions, but you hit a certain point and they snap right back to the transphobia and homophobia*.

The point of my posting Bil's question and my answer on my blog wasn't to call people to arms to tell him to stop asking questions. I wanted more of a discussion and less of a fight than I got, and I didn't try to correct that partly because I ended up being away from computer for the better part of a day. I wanted to point out that being able to ask and expect an answer is a privilege of itself, and I was frustrated because I felt like there was a sense of "do trans people belong? Why do they expect to come in late and reap the fruits of other people's labors" running through a large number of questions like this from the LGB part of the community.

So while Bil himself wasn't saying those things, I wanted to respond because they come up so often.

The point of my posting Bil's question and my answer on my blog wasn't to call people to arms to tell him to stop asking questions.

I'm glad you brought this up, Lisa. I was just reading some of the comments and was going to address it myself.

I don't think shutting off discussion was Lisa's intent. Not in the least. I just thought she brought a very interesting angle to the discussion and her readers fleshed it out some more. Combined with the comment on Father Tony's, it made for an interesting topic.

Also, I don't need readers to defend me against the other comments on Lisa's site. I can hold my own. :) (And I don't think they were necessarily nasty or anything; they were just speaking from their own experiences.) I have a thick skin; I'm a blogger!

Speaking as an M2F transgender/androgyne/whatever the heck it is that I am, I happened to have been born white male so I carry that privilege too. A lifetime of learning to identify that privilege doesn't guarantee that I have shed every last vestige of it in myself. But I'm working on it. It's a lifetime process. Same for ridding myself of internalized transphobia. None of us are immune.

I've written and submitted guest blogs at TBP because of the truly diverse community here and willingness to learn that I sense among fellow participants. And I continue to participate as a reader because I'm learning a lot from everyone here.

Yes, there are plenty of books you could read if you want. I doubt that all of us transfolks could agree on which ones though. I also believe that one of the strengths of TBP is engaging in dialog with each other as friends and compatriots in changing the world to be a better place for all of us. So feel free to ask questions, I'm here and willing to answer.

I am going to be evil and invalidate the life experiences of thousands of men and women.

I think the comments mentioned in the posting are over-reacting to an ally's genuine request for help, and are contributing to the difficulties we all face.

all of us. Not merely trans. Not merely of color. Not merely gay or lesbian or bisexual.

All of us.

They do bring up good points. How does Bil feel about educating someone regarding being gay?

Me, I don't mind doing it. I mind when others who don't like to do so -- for whatever reason -- are told they *must* or they *have to*.

I will not always be agreed with. I do not favor many things which are popular in the internals of the trans community, and I use methods that sorta capitalize on my ability to take privileges of all sorts and use them in my efforts.

The responsibility rests with those who will take up the mantle of doing so.

Transpeople bear the burden because they are *not* privileged. There is no right to privilege and intimate understanding of a group that's not only not uniform, but far more diverse a letter than any of the other three.

If one doesn't educate, then thee will be no change. IT is up to the persecuted to make it visible, and making it visible is education. Otherwise, they are silent, and nothing changes.

Cisfolk do not do research because *they do not know the questions to ask*. What is transgender?

Seriously. There's a simple definition of it, but that definition covers so many things that within one moment, one can get overloaded.

The education is not necessary to justify the civil rights protections. That question is filled with privilege all by itself.

The education is needed to make the violations of civil rights visible. Until is is seen, no one will know it is there.

It is always better to ask. A great way of asking starts with "do you mind if...".

If the answer is yes, they mind, then find someone else. Who will.

That doesn't mean that one should not do their own due diligence. For example, Bil, you have enough information already to start asking google a few questions. TO read wikipedia, and follow the links.

On another site, I spend far too much time countering lies.

Lies about LGBT people, in all manner shape and form. Personal and as discrete groups or a whole.

The question to ask comes down to "why lie?"

Seriously. The truth can be really damaging to the movement. There are enough ugly truths out there to stop us cold.

SO why the lies?

Well, occam's razor: they don't *know* the truth.

They don't know anything about us.

The same applies within our own worlds. We don't know enough about each other. So there are myths and lies within our own community.

Hell, a good third of the projectors here on this very site have bought into the framing of our fight *by the other side* instead of reframing it from our own.

So all of us need to do more self education. All of us need to do our own digging around.

Is it demeaning? Depends on the person. I'm evidence of that, by myself.

Do I knock myself out banging my head against a wall?


But instead of cursing the wall, I get up and keep doing it. And in doing so, I've knocked down a lot of walls.

No, I don't mind. In fact, I speak on a lot of panel discussions, etc about being gay.

But that's just me. I can recognize that others have no interest in doing anything like that and don't feel like they are obligated to do so.

Melanie Davis | September 15, 2008 5:17 PM

Okay, as for me, I like talking to people about what it has beant for me to be trans and what I know of the greater trans experience, which isn't all that much. I think that personal, direct education goes beyond the droll academic books and the "Hey, look at me!!!" autobiographies to give a real sense of who a trans person is. Dialogue, back and forth, agreements and arguments, and the planting of the seeds of understanding in each-other's heads. Ask away, some people will give you a walloping for your cis-bourne ignorance, but how the hell else are you supposed to get beyond it? Those comments of "go educate yourself" are understandable, and a part of the problem as well.

So, I would encourage you to start local. Talk to some local trans folk and listen to their stories. You're going to get a lot of horror stories along with a healthy(?) dose of bitterness and some paranoia, self-pity, and unvented anger. Decades of living in your own version of a POW camp will do that to a person. But you will also find strength, determination, intelligence, love, and, sometimes, bliss.

Working at Borders gave me more than just a window into future poverty, I got to meet a ton of trans people from Andrea James to my favourite transman about town whose name shall be kept secret. Drag queens and kings, CDs, TVs, genderqueers, mtf, ftm, intersexed transfolk, androgynes, the whole spectrum waltzed or tiptoed through the book stacks. We're legion, so find one of us willing to talk about things, and then find another. All of us experience this life differently, and all share common threads. It's finding those commonalities athat allows us to understand the differences on a personal level.

I don't believe that those with privilege have to be humbled and humiliated before they can be educated. You're gay, you know what it feels like to be in a minority group with diminished rights and a dominant culture that marginalises you (despite your white maleness), you might be able to empathise with the female and trans experiences eventhough you will never "know what it's like" to be a woman or trans. Anybody who keeps beating that horse of "you can't understand" is not looking for allies. Walk away from that scene.

As for gaining a feminist perspective, the same advice hods true, you just have to listen to and observe the women and world around you. It's easy to forget the cultures of those around us. I don't see male culture much any more, something for which I am grateful, but it also isolates me and I have lost perspective there. I have no sense of African-, Asian-, Native-, Chilean-, & etc.- American cultures in Indiana, but I can see how they are portrayed in the local media, or not protrayed, and I can keep my circle of friends open to accept whomever may stumble along into it. Through them, and their perspectives, I increase my own.

So read a little for blogs and books are only background, static information, and occasionally look over the laptop monitor at the people in the café. Engage your fellow life forms, and find the answers you're looking for.

Okay, this is rambling and kind of repetitive, but I have a 3yo , so you'll have to excuse.

As an aside, who gets to call themselves a cis-transgendered person.

I don't believe that those with privilege have to be humbled and humiliated before they can be educated.

Agreed. To be honest, I've seen this sort of attitude in a variety of places and it's not only wrong, but counter-productive.

Being an ambassador of "my tribe" constantly can get tiring -- even though I also like talking about trans issues, especially since they're so few public crossdressers.

But what's the alternative? While in theory it's all well and good to argue that the oppressed shouldn't be responsible for educating the privileged (or those who are also oppressed but less so than us), the reality on the ground is that if we don't tell our stories, who will? If we don't educate others, who will?

BTW, Father Tony's observation that:

The reaction you are getting especially at the blog cited above is an avalanche of hatred and mockery of your "innocence" which is being seen as the dilettantism of your gay male power and privilege.

I think has some truth to it. In a variety of contexts I've seen "grass is greener" thinking by members of "second class" groups toward those they see as privileged. Which in turn can drive envy and resentment that gets expressed in this sort of angry.

I'm definitely not implying privilege doesn't exist. Rather that that it gets idealized -- much like Eddie Murphy's SNL skit, "White Like Me," where white people give each other free stuff and have wild parties on the bus when black people aren't around. The problem in talking about privilege this way is that it rarely resonates with the experiences of those who are indeed privileged.* It's true privilege is "the wind at your back that you don't even feel" so that often hard for people to discern, let alone own their privilege. But such idealized pictures of privilege are often at with how people experience their lives -- and over-hyping makes it easy for them to (wrongly) dismiss any idea that they might be privileged.

* For example, I've heard from several trans men who had previously been lesbian separatists, that there was a huge disconnect between the lives they're now leading as men and what they thought it would be like. Yes, they most definitely gained privilege, but there were trade-offs and costs that they're never imagined. Nora Vincent experienced similar feelings during her 18-months posing as man, documented in her flawed-but-well-worth-reading book, "Self-Made Man."

Read all of Dwerk's comment at Father Tony's blog, btw. It's rather, er, enlightening as to the speaker's intentions.

Agreed. Completely.

I clipped the pertinent part since quite a bit of it was rather, well, distasteful.

Just so we're clear, I was not quoting Father Tony, but a commenter on Father Tony's blog.

Everyone got that? No getting bad opinions of Father Tony anyone... It wasn't him. :)

Thanks Bil,
I was reading through these comments wondering when I'd get to one that wrongly assumed I had said those things. And, as an fyi, I never read Dwerk's comment on my post all the way through until you highlighted it above. He certainly ought to keep away from caffeine.

This entire discussion has been permanently worthwhile, for me at least.

Before tackling the question, I think it pays to remember the frustration of having to explain yourself to your family, friends, co-workers (especially for transsexuals who transition in place and have a very visible and apparent process on a stage in front of everyone), and then seeing a whole bunch of prejudices and assumptions trump everything that you've just said, anyway. It's tiring, repetitive, and sometimes feels just pointless.

When we talk about whose responsibility, we're not just talking about doing the dirty work and telling people. There's a responsibility to listen and absorb the information, a responsibility to respect (which should be in place before a word even needs to be spoken), a responsibility to seek out more and varied information, and a responsibility to be patient (usually on the part of the transwoman or transman, because short explanations don't usually account for the whole diversity of the community, so there are bound to be some points of confusion). The latter is what I'd say needs to be in place when it comes to allies who don't grok absolutely everything but just honestly want clarification.

I don't believe that everyone has a requirement to be "out." We earn the right to stealth if we want it (although it doesn't always work out that way).

That said, I do think that there is some responsibility for the community as a whole to get our stories and accurate information out there. If we don't, you can be sure that misinformation will propagate like stink.

Melanie Davis | September 15, 2008 8:38 PM

One thing I forgot to mention is that for every person we do tell our stories to, there are many more who will hear it. I can't remember how many people have come back to me and said that they told their friend(s) about me, or about this trans person they know after trans people came up in a conversation. And when I kind of wince and ask what they said or how it was received, the response was almost universally positive.

It gets back to that planting a seed thing. The more people who are touched in a positive way, the farther into oblivion falls the Jerry Springer image of us. That's why I get so upset when I see smart young women who refuse to call themselves feminists though their beliefs are feminist in nature. Limpbaugh and the religious reich have succeeded in turning the collective definition of feminist into a slur. If I hear "I'm not a feminazi or anything..." as an excuse to drop the feminist identity, I'm going to swap Rush's Viagra with nitroglycerine.

Angela Brightfeather | September 16, 2008 12:23 AM

I get so tired of having education thrown up in my face. I have heard it for the last 42 years and been doing education that long at Universities, Colleges, High Shools and everywhere I have gone in that time and it always sounds like the same thing to me since about 1994. It's a stall for granting equal rights to transgender people by elitist GLB people who are just to lazy to look it up in Google or reae about it on a zillion websites.

The aficionado of this lament is Barney Frank and every other congressional offcie that throws our education material in the cicular file after we have left fromt heir offices.

What I want to know is how many classes are being given on Gay 101 or Lesbian 101 or Bisexual 101? I have never heard of a gay man going to a singular lesbian meeting to explain gay issues and the exact same thing happening with lesbians going to gay men's meetings, etc.

And please, don't tell me that the issues are all the same for gays, lesbians and bisexuals. That is just silly and anyone who has been out in the GLBT community for more than a nanosecond or reads GLBT publications, articles, blogs or participates in any exclusive Yahoo group knows full well that there was never, and still is, no gay group devoted to educating lesbians and visa versa.

Personally, I'm done with it. In this day and age of communications and the internet, people can find out anything they want to. And that is the key. Do they want to? So far it is obvious that many do not want to or even care to find out about transgender issues.

This leaves people like myself and other Trans activists, having to put on our "vice principle" hats and tell people to do their homework, which makes us sound angry. The fact is that we have every right to be angry about lazy people who put on a facade of caring, but don't go to Trans support group meetings or take the time to sit and talk and ask questions based on what they have already read. Instead all we hear is the constant drone of "more education please".

Every GLB person out there should understand by now, if it is Barny Frank that is asking to be educted more, then you know it is another polticial play to divert attention from the real issue of equal rights for Transgender people. At least I can give more credit to the intelligence of GLB people than Frank can.

It's very simple. To be able to express your own gender and live freely to do so, allows some people, like Transgender people, to experience a sense of ecstasy and joy. The main purpose of living is to experience as many moments of ecstasy and joy in a person's life as possible, before they die. Just like every other human being.

So there you have it! You are now educated about what our main issue is. Other people do not allow us the freedom to express our own gender, based soley by what we have between our legs and what a doctor told our parents what we appear to be when we were born.

Now that your educated, can you give us a hand at getting our equal rights? Is it to hard for some GLB people to understand that we all suffer from homophobia and that we have to fight it together?
You know, when my father was fighting in WWII to stop the Nazis and he landed in France, he didn't have to know how to speak French before they joined forces to beat the enemy. I guess sometimes you don't have to know all the details, when you have a common enemy.

Speaking of defending yourself, Bil, which you just said you don't need, you've just got to say that you were a POW.

I hear that works just fine and no one can criticize you after that.

Just a few days ago Gina wrote about an survey that asked for all women to participate in a research study, but it was worded in a way that specifically excluded trans women and ONLY trans women and reminded my strongly of Michfests "womyn born womyn" policy. The message seemed clear to me, trans women are not "real women". Many of the comments questioned why we would object to our exclusion and some even seemed to say "It seems like a reasonable policy to me, what's all the fuss about?".

Marriage equality advocate say that same sex families are "real families" and that exluding them from marrying is unjust. And it's true, they ARE "real families" and it is unjust. I'm sure most here agree.

When trans women insist that we ARE "real women" in abstract conversations there are many who agree with us. But when we are singled out for exclusion from women's places/activities/whatever, much of that support evaporates, even among our "allies". The attitude seems to be "if you want my support to affirm your basic humanity and rights, you'll first have to justify your existance to my satisfaction".

A common attitude among people is that if they don't understand something then it must be invalid. Trans people are constantly (constantly!) being questioned about our feelings and motivations for transitioning and our explanations are most often discarded in favour of pre-existing views and stereotypes.

To me this is the heart of the matter. Our identities simply aren't believed as valid by most people, including LGBs. I ask trans people out there, how many times have you explained your feelings and motivations to others that you know, such heart-felt and thorough stories that you were completely sure that they understood, that they "got it"? Only to be later disappointed by words and/or attitudes coming from them?

What I ask is this:

After listening to our explanations and our experiences, even if what we'd said leaves you completely befuddled and scratching your head, please, please acknowledge that we are still fully human, fully equal. That we DO deserve basic rights and protections from harassment and discrimination (ie: policies that exclude us, and ONLY us), even if you don't understand us.

Is understanding really required to recognize someone elses humanity?

After listening to our explanations and our experiences, even if what we'd said leaves you completely befuddled and scratching your head, please, please acknowledge that we are still fully human, fully equal. That we DO deserve basic rights and protections from harassment and discrimination (ie: policies that exclude us, and ONLY us), even if you don't understand us.

Is understanding really required to recognize someone elses humanity?

This. When these discussions happen, trans people are held to much higher standards than cis people, to the point that it is usually impossible to meet those standards.

The fact is that it should not be necessary to educate people on every aspect of our lives to justify our existence and access to civil rights. Our existence should be sufficient to justify our existence and access to civil rights.

The fact is, no matter what people understand or believe about trans people, we exist, and thousands - tens or hundreds of thousands - of us come with a rather similar (but not identical) set of stories about our lives and how they relate to sex and gender. We have these stories before the first time we hear the words "transsexual" or "gender identity disorder" or "genderqueer" or "transgender" or about hormones or surgery.

And the question should never be "Can we mind meld with people and implant intimate knowledge of our lives into their brains?" because that's simply not a fair demand, and yet it is the demand made of us whenever talk of education begins.

Being trans isn't a moral condition, it's not a delusion, it's not confusion about gender or identity. The problems and barriers trans people face are social - the fact that people do not believe we are who and what we say we are. There are reams of books and articles written by psychiatrists and medical doctors who have worked with trans people, who verify that this is the best treatment for who we are, that nothing else has worked. Why is this ignored?

Also, every word Angela Brightfeather said. I love her so much right now.

Also, like Mercedes said, while we have a responsiblity to educate, others have a resposibility to listen. It's the second part that isn't happening.

As I said, trans people are constantly being questioned and asked to explain/justify ourselves. Many happily answer hoping to dispel misconceptions and stereotypes.

Some of the most basic transexual issues are (imo):
Trans men ARE "real men".
Trans women ARE "real women".
We are also the full equals of all other men and women.
Full equality means full inclusion, NOT separate but equal.
- - - - -

We have tried to say this again and again and again and again and again til we are blue in the face, here and in countless other places. And, for the most part, our words aren't listened to, they aren't believed. Not deep down. Many say they support what we say, but all too often later words and/or attitudes from them make it clear that they don't really believe that we are "real men" or "real women" deserving full inclusion.

This is extremely exasperating, tiring and depressing. And I'm sure it's a big part of the reason for the anger towards requests for education.

I think Mouse and Lisa have explained eloquently the frustrations trans people can feel at doing continual Trans 101 education -- and some of the push back about cis-gendered people needing to be willing to "do their own damn education."

That said, one of the useful lessons I learned about interacting with others is that one needs to focus on the here and now with the specific person at hand. In other words, yeah it's frustrating in the extreme to try to educate people who hold trans people to a much higher standard, and/or to people who aren't really interested in learning even if they claim their are -- but we need to be willing to set aside that past history and focus on whether the person we're interacting with now is willing to listen and learn. Not saying it's always easy to do.... I've had moment of "why am I the one who's gotta do all the educating" myself.

Melanie Davis | September 17, 2008 3:32 PM

I second that.

I also think of someone I know who basically had to leave school because she ran so many Trans 101 sessions and answered so many questions she had no time for herself to recover.

The problem with answering all questions to educate means that Trans boundaries are permeable while cis boundaries are not. And one of the most important things a potential supporter needs to learn is that trans people have valid boundaries.

I haven't thoroughly read all the comments here, but felt I'd give a little more background on the comment of mine that Bil quoted in his post, especially with regard to the comment from Father Tony's pad.

I am not angry with Bil, nor am I hateful, rude or attacking him. I genuinely feel his questions are well intentioned, but I do think he needs to alter his paradigm somewhat. We are not saying that we (those of us who have commented) refuse to answer questions about our transgender/transsexual status and lives. Rather, we're stating that it's unfair and unreasonable to expect trans persons to educate the ignorant on trans issues. If you're interested in equality, which includes all people, then you don't start out requiring explanations of why someone deserves the rights that you enjoy. In my opinion, anyway, the basic assumption is that all people have the same rights, yet they're not being recognized for some.

When you put yourself in the position that the burden of education and convincing of the privileged falls on the oppressed, you are part of the problem, not the solution. Again, I don't feel that Bil is mean-spirited, and I think he genuinely wants to know more on this subject. He's just gone about it the wrong way.

Bil, why not use many of the resources on the Internet to build your fundamental knowledge of transgender and transsexual people?. Using that knowledge as a starting point, you can then move to asking specific, detailed questions to better help you be effective in pursuing equality for everyone. Then we don't all have to waste time on the trans 101 stuff and can get right to the point.

Hopefully that explains my position a little better.

In fairness to Bil (and other well-meaning allies), I'd note that while those resources may be obvious to trans people, they're not necessarily to those who aren't. (Try finding 101 info about something you don't know much about -- e.g. Iraqi refugees in America -- and see how it can be hard to figure where to start.)

Sure one can google "transgender," "transsexual," "crossdresser" and get a lot of results, but if you don't know much about these subjects, can you tell if the sites listed are accurate and authoritative? Do they have agendas? Might some of them be out-and-out deceptive, like the "ex-trans" sites lurking out there.

Which is not to excuse people from doing their own homework. But personally, I'd prefer that they ask me for some recommendations about where are good sources for learning that fundamental info.

While I was talking about asking for education, I offered a shedload of links for Bil (or anyone else) to read.

'Cause I never said I wouldn't educate. Why even maintain my blog if I don't?

I agree with Lisa on this point. I never said I wouldn't offer education or information about my own experiences. I said that I feel it's wrong for it to be EXPECTED that the trans community do all the education, with what amounts to no effort (other than coming to class) on the part of the cis society. But, to complicate things, we're not only expected to teach, but graded on how well we convince others that we're deserving of the same rights they enjoy.

Melanie Davis | September 17, 2008 3:27 PM

Rather, we're stating that it's unfair and unreasonable to expect trans persons to educate the ignorant on trans issues.

If not us, then who? I'm not saying that you have the responsibility, yourself, just that members of the community are the best suited for dispensing information about the community. There are so many bad resources out there on the internet, why would you cast somebody adrift without knowing how to navigate the dangerous waters of ignorance? If you don't want to educate, I understand and that's cool, but I don't hold the same view, so sent the questioning my way! I'd rather guide people to good resources than to have them stop by some old, misguided, Money/Blanchard/Reperative therapy/Focus On The Family crap and have to un-learn the confused.

Some people are grass-roots activists, some are teachers, some are artists, some are doctors, some are mechanics. Thank you for your contributions, but please let the rest of us speak for ourselves.

Nobody said that we wouldn't educate or offer assistance. It's the expectation that we will teach them, or else our call for equal rights is invalid, that rubs me the wrong way.

If you require someone to educate you about themselves, including the things you likely won't understand, before you'd consider supporting their rights, you're not being an ally.

John R. Selig | September 17, 2008 3:16 PM

This thread has been fascinating and I might as well throw in my own two cents worth.

I will be the first to admit that I have a lot more to learn about transgender people. Fortunately I have had the opportunity to get to know a number of transgender people both in person and have also had several as guests on my John Selig Outspoken podcast.

From my discussions with transgender people and my own observations the fight for transgender equality is a good 10 years or more behind the fight for LGB equality. The good news is that positive movement is going on even though it feels frustratingly slow. Personally I was extremely proud of the LGBT community for getting solidly behind an inclusive ENDA bill. With the exception of the HRC our community was united in the necessity that it be LGBT and not LGB. Let's face it, how often is our community united on anything? I mean there are a bunch of Log Cabin Republicans endorsing and will be voting for McCain and Palin. I am so disgusted with the HRC over ENDA as well as some other issues that they have lost my support as long as Joe Solmonese remains at the helm.

With all of the above being said, any minority, any oppressed group makes progress by coming out and sharing their stories. Coming out is far more than telling somebody what or who you are but letting them get to know you and get to walk a mile in your moccasins so to speak. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to tell my story about coming out at the age of 37 after being married for 13 years, about raising my son as an out gay dad.

I have gotten tons of questions from all sorts of people, many of the the same but some different. Some questions have been insightful and some have been absurd. But I have always looked upon the opportunity to share my story, whether in person, in print or via electronic media as a tremendous opportunity to change minds. I love the questions because that means that people want to learn that they are interested enough in the subject to have open minds and learn. One opens minds one person at a time.

Being transgender is a concept that hasn't hit the radar of so much of our society. Most know L & G folks and some B folks. but few have gotten to know transgender people. Even in our own community we see drag queens in the bars or at parades and take them as being actors in a role. but few of us have really taken the time to really get to know transgender people on a one on one basis. So transgender issues are not front and center for many of us.

I know there is a temptation to want people to do their own research. It shouldn't be my job to educate them, is an understandable thought. However, reality is that they are not facing the discrimination, I am, you are, we are. So it is my self-interest to do everything in my power (and your and ours) to come out, tell my story and to educate people. They don't need the education. They are just fine the way they are. They aren't felling the prejudice that I face, that you face, that we face. So if somebody has an open mind and expresses some willingness to learn, grab onto the opportunity. After you share your story, what you face, the hate, the misunderstanding, the inability to get or keep work, etc. then they will get to know you as a human being and hopefully they will have an "A Ha" moment. Then, and for many, only then will they have a desire to do their own homework. I always say that it is far easier to hate somebody you know and love than a stereotype.

A good 13 or so years ago I was on a flight from Arizona, where i was living for 15 months, to Atlanta. I started a conversation with a gentleman sitting next to me and I told him my story. It is a long flight from Phoenix to Atlanta so I had him captivated for the better part of 4 hours (notice I said captivated, not captive). He asked tons of questions and was shocked by what I told him. Before getting off of the plane he told me that I was the first gay person that he had ever spoken in depth with and that he was a Mormon. What I had told him was very different from what he had heard from his church and what he had read. I had opened his mind and he told me that he had some serious research and thinking to do. He thanked me profusely for taking the time to talk with him. Had I not spent the time with him there is no way that he would have ever done his own homework.

Now I know that those of us in the LGB community are much more familiar with transgender issues than the Mormon sitting next to me was aware of gay people. However, just like everybody else we get caught up in our own lives and don't spend as much time as we should involved in all of the facets of our community. Let's face it, there is as much prejudice in the LGBT community as there is in the mainstream. I have seen sexism, ageism, racism, anti-Semitism, genderism, etc. So my recommendation is that if people are asking questions, take the time and make the effort to fill an open mind that can hear and feel your story, lots of information and then and perhaps only then the desire to do some additional reading on their own.

As Rob Eichberg, (who wrote the great book "Coming Out an Act of Love," co-founded The Experience Workshop and also founded National Coming out Day, now the National Coming Out Project) said, "Coming out is a process." We are never done coming out. We do so to new people every day.

I never had much understanding or interest about transgender people (other than the fact that I detest prejudice against any group) until I listened to a presentation at a Dallas PFLAG meeting by a M to F transgender employee at American Airlines tell her story in the mid 90s. I was blown away as were all of the people in the audience that night. Soon after the meeting PFLAG national was thinking of adding transgender to their mission statement and was polling the local chapters for input. The Dallas Chapter not only was supportive of the idea but they pushed strongly that PFLAG MUST include transgender people. Since then I have always been interested in transgender issues but I still have much more to learn.

In fact, one of the main reasons why I started my John Selig Outspoken podcast was to be a service to our community for everybody to have an electronic achieve of role models and opinion leaders from all different parts of the LGBT community. I take great pains in interviewing guests so that listeners can get to know them up close and personal. I look for guests from many different parts of the community. My next interview will be with a Cherokee lesbian medicine woman.

So in closing, my suggestion is welcome the questions. In an ideal world people would take on the responsibility of educating themselves. But we don't live in an ideal world. If we did, George W. Bush wouldn't be in the White House and John McCain wouldn't have a strong possibility of becoming the next President! Take the time to educate, even if it is for the 10th time this week. By doing so you will be making a huge difference for transgender people everywhere and the T part of LGBT rights will catch up the the LGB part.

I think it comes down to a question of priorities. How much time or effort are you prepared to spend educating yourself about an issue? Basic and advanced information is out there and in your position as a voluntary community advocate (I'd say creating the Bilerco Project counts) you have the motivation to learn.

That said, the time and mental space to engage in learning of any sort is a privileged position - one of class rather than gender or sexuality. The other demands on your time may limit your ability to educate yourself, so you look for short-cuts. I think that is fine, even admirable given your interest in LGBT issues, but at the end of the day, the rest of us are looking for short-cuts too and "oh read the damn book yourself, I'm not summarizing it for you" is sometimes all the educating we've got time for.

Myself, I'm in the Twisty Faster school of internet debate as far as trans issues*: I think there is space for Trans 201, 301 or 401 and it is totally fine if those in need of 101 spend more time listening/reading than participating. Trust me, you do learn things that way too!

*Except that I am not as articulate and twice as likely to lose my temper.

It occurs to me that when Bil says “please educate me” he is actually saying “please educate me and my readers,” which is a rather different thing, and liable to produce a lot more benefit.

I’m also trying to put myself in his position. If I wanted to know about, say, Native American culture, would I educate myself or find some Native Americans to ask? I think I would do the latter if I could. I’d worry that any information I found for myself would be more influenced by John Wayne than by actual Native Americans. Similarly anyone trying to educate themselves about trans people might run across Janice Raymond or J. Michael Bailey.

Having said that, I understand completely why many trans people are fed up with the whole education thing. Obviously some people are not cut out to be educators, and are uncomfortable being continually forced into that position. But even those people who do want to explain often find their message thrown back in their faces.

To begin with there are some groups who have already made a political decision about the meaning of gender, and that decision may not allow for the way that some trans people feel about themselves. It is very disheartening to go through the whole education process only to be told that you are wrong and that you must have been brainwashed by someone else.

Then there are the people who are so afraid of being thought non-conformant that they close their ears to your explanations and reassurances. If the main theme in someone’s head is “what will other people think of me if I am associated with you” then you won’t get through to them by talking about yourself. They have to stop being afraid before they can start to learn.

Finally many people have great difficulty accepting that other people see the world differently. You can go through the whole explanation of being uncomfortable in your assigned gender and comfortable in your preferred gender, but all they are thinking is “that’s weird, this person must be crazy.” Explaining that a set of steps is a problem for someone in a wheelchair is relatively straightforward. Few people are going to tell a person without legs that she should just pull herself together and start walking. But all too often trans people get told that if they didn’t have such crazy ideas about themselves then all of their problems would be solved. People with serious allergies might recognize the problem.

One of the best pieces of trans education I have ever seen was when a (cis) friend of mine put a post on his blog asking his readers how they knew what gender they were, and when they became aware of this. This put the onus firmly on them to justify their gender. Many of them could find no explanation except, “I just know, I have always known.”

Be careful about comparing oppressions - I know more than a few people who use wheelchairs who are often told that they're lazy, faking, should get up and walk around, etc. I know you specified someone without legs, but you then used an example that a large number of people with disabilities - including many who use wheelchairs - are also subjected to, and not just those with allergies.


It occurs to me that when Bil says “please educate me” he is actually saying “please educate me and my readers,” which is a rather different thing, and liable to produce a lot more benefit.

I got that. Part of my own answer (on my blog) was to make it clear that asking and expecting an answer is an exercise in power over someone else.

Yep, I knew someone would call me on that. I did try to make it clear, but no matter how hard you try you will always manage to upset someone. On the other hand, examples are things that humans often respond well to. You can get people to change their minds if you can manage to find an example that they can relate to.

And yes, you are right that asking a question and expecting a response is an exercise in power. But Bil is also offering a platform, which is an exercise in sharing power. Obviously he could have managed things differently, but the platform is still there.

You didn't upset me, but I do think that the disability example is a poor one because this is something people with disabilities experience too.

And it sort of establishes a hierarchy where you can see someone is visibly unable to walk and that's somehow more acceptable because with no legs...but a person with legs doesn't receive the same consideration. And when you're riding the bus in a wheelchair, it doesn't matter why you're in the wheelchair, at least some of the other riders will be complete jerks because accommodating a wheelchair user takes additional time as well as space on the bus.

I think it is a valid point that people react better to what they can see vs. what they can't see - except that a lot of times people can look at trans people and see they're trans. I suspect that it's simply a matter of - people see being trans as a matter of choice, and because it relates to one's sex (and thus cultural taboos), it's also seen as moral. People condemn it on both of those grounds rather frequently, often with elaboration (like radical feminist ideas about reifying the gender binary, or accusations of fetishism), and often combining them.

Also, I realize that Bil is offering a platform. I felt it was important to establish the context under which such platform offering occurs. It's not an either/or thing where I have to choose between "Bil's inviting discussion on this topic" and "This is a privileged action", and in fact I did both in my first post.

I know you're not only addressing me, but I'm not sure people are missing that point. But asking for education for one person or many people is's the same exercise, just with more efficiency.

And again, this isn't a reason not to do the education. Rather, the point is that it's not a favor to sit down and listen, it's a favor for the trans person to spend time educating. The request for an education is the request for a favor. Listening after that is simple courtesy.

Point taken about the disability thing. Here's hoping I'm not going to get myself into more trouble now.

You have a very good point about people reacting to what they can see. People do create artificial hierarchies, and this is often based on whether or not the person they are looking at has an obvious "choice" about their condition. Often this is very unfair, and education is required. In some cases that can be very easy (but I shall refrain from giving examples because there will always be exceptions), but in the case of trans people it is very difficult to get people to accept that for many people being trans is not a "choice", and then if it not a choice that it is not a form of mental illness. Which goes back to what I was saying about trans education being hard because people simply don't believe you.

That wasn't trouble. :)

And I agree that trans education is hard because people don't believe you - and have made it myself.

It's not that I'm opposed to education, I just feel that there's an unfair burden placed on trans people's shoulders for educating enough to convince people - especially for civil rights, in the case of ENDA - when, as Monica Roberts just posted on my blog:

Why do transpeople deserve rights?

because we’re Americans living in this country, that’s why.

But we have to prove to people that our lives are valid before these rights should be fought for?

To begin with there are some groups who have already made a political decision about the meaning of gender, and that decision may not allow for the way that some trans people feel about themselves. It is very disheartening to go through the whole education process only to be told that you are wrong and that you must have been brainwashed by someone else.

Isn't this by and large what members of the transgender movement are doing? Saying that a trans-person is this or that is for the most part a political statement. Along with that statement comes the insistence that everyone else agree.

Beyond the bedrock principles of humanity and fair treatment, how much diversity of thought and opinion is allowed?

Isn't this by and large what members of the transgender movement are doing? Saying that a trans-person is this or that is for the most part a political statement.

Why? Is it any more of a political statement for me to say that I am a woman than it is for you to say you are a man? What makes that a political statement? Why do you define my identity, my existence, as a political statement against my will?

The difference that you're failing to acknowledge is that when I say I'm a woman, I'm talking about myself. When other people say I'm not a woman, they're imposing their politics upon me against my will. These are not equal stances, and it is misleading to imply that they are.

Along with that statement comes the insistence that everyone else agree.

I don't insist upon agreement, but... Do you think it really is a simple difference of opinion as to whether a trans person's identity is valid or not? That my sense of myself as female and a woman is simply a matter of opinion? That if someone tells me I'm not really a woman - despite not being able to read my mind, despite not having lived my life - that this is simply a matter of opinion? That such statements not only serve as opinions for those hostile to my existence, but have also been used to defend murderers from serious punishment after they've killed trans women?

I don't say they should agree with me, but I think it's important to acknowledge how damaging such speech is to trans people, and how insulting it is to characterize a trans person's sense of hirself and hir identity as simply a matter of opinion, or frame hir identity as political simply because some people don't like it.

Beyond the bedrock principles of humanity and fair treatment, how much diversity of thought and opinion is allowed?

Quite frequently, I hear people complain that being criticized for their transphobia is silencing, that trans people somehow shut them up (although they don't seem to stop talking about how horrible trans people are). I'm not sure how it's possible to squelch any diversity of thought and opinion, and it's laughable to imply that trans people as a group have such power to begin with.

I don't care if there's agreement, but there definitely needs to be less whining from people who get called on their transphobic and trans misogynist statements and actions. If they think I can handle having my life reduced to "a man in a dress" who "cut off my penis", then they can handle being called out on saying such hateful BS.

gregC wrote:

Beyond the bedrock principles of humanity and fair treatment, how much diversity of thought and opinion is allowed?
Very Good Question!

I think that the dividing line is when you define others and over-ride their own definitions of themselves, and doing so as an axiom, incapable of disproof and requiring no evidence.

Thus, to take a concrete and actual example, rather than a hypothetical possible-but-doesn't-actually-happen, someone who uses political philosophy to define all gays as paedophiles.

Or Raymondites for that matter.

I think it comes down to everyone being entitled to their own opinions, but no-one is entitled to their own facts.

I think that the dividing line is when you define others and over-ride their own definitions of themselves, and doing so as an axiom, incapable of disproof and requiring no evidence. Thus, to take a concrete and actual example, rather than a hypothetical possible-but-doesn't-actually-happen, someone who uses political philosophy to define all gays as paedophiles. Or Raymondites for that matter. I think it comes down to everyone being entitled to their own opinions, but no-one is entitled to their own facts.

Defining trans-people in ways similar to those who would define all gays as pedophiles would violate the basic premise of my question (humanity and fairness). But I do understand your example as a boundary.

I appreciate your answer about opinions. I value self-definition, but sometimes I question how reliable it is. As you say, no one is entitled to their own facts. When talking about sex and gender what constitutes fact? Who gets to choose?

Greg, think about if someone challenged your identity with this question: "When talking about sexual orientation what constitutes fact? Who gets to choose?"

Would be annoyed, angered, etc. by that? If so, then maybe can understand why trans people get angry about the implied expectation that trans people bear the burden of proof to "prove" our identities.

Would I be annoyed, angered? Not really. Amused would be more accurate. I can fairly objectively say that I'm a gay man. I'd even be willing to let you write the definition, and as long as it contains some mention of romantic and or erotic desire for members of my own sex/gender (again, you pick which [or both] and how you define either) I qualify.

Look at it this way, Greg. Suppose you were explaining to someone that you are gay (and apologies if you are not, but let's go with the example). So you go through the whole thing about being sexually attracted to men, and the person you are talking to says, "I'm sorry, the existence of homosexuals is a lie put about by our political enemies. You have been brainwashed and will have to be deprogrammed."

Get the idea?

I do see what you're saying. I hope I didn't come off as thinking that transgender does not exist. It is real. It is not a matter of brainwashing.

If I misinterpreted your meaning, that's on me. When I question the assertion that trans = male or female/man or woman it is because my self-education has led me to see transgender as its own "thing" independent of and co-equal to male or female. (are FTM and MTF 3rd and 4th gender or two sides of the same coin? that's a dissertation for someone else to write)

And that's why self-education can be dangerous. Transgender is very much an umbrella term. There are many trans people who would be very happy with being described as a separate gender from male and female, but there are other trans people who identify very strongly as either male or female and would see being required to identify as a third gender as just as much an imposition as being required to identify with their birth-assigned gender. When you are doing trans education you have to be very careful not to favor one view or the other.

Yeah, self-education is a bear. I think the Pope said the same thing to Gutenberg about his little printing project. :)

Seriously though...

I take your point. I appreciate your patience, and you have given me something to think about. Of course the sooner I more fully embrace No Self the sooner the distinctions will cease to matter.

Thanks for being so open-minded, Greg.

The article T is for... might help you understand the differences between the many different things grouped together for convenience under the "Transgender" umbrella.

Zoe, I read your article this morning. I was able to extract a lot from it. Combined with some other things, it has been a very enlightening morning.

Cheryl, I had an ah-ha moment this morning. I can put myself in the position of being told that I'm "brainwashed". It happens when I hear someone say that my gayness is a social construct. My stomach knots up, I get a headache, and so on. It was a pretty liberating experience.

Ah, there you go. Trans people are forever being told that their transness is a social construct.

Or even that gender is a social construct, and therefore being trans is simply a delusion.

And never mind that the person who used first used "gender" in reference to trans people didn't even mean the same thing that "gender is a social construct" addresses.

Hi gregC!

You must remember that "T is for..." is my own personal and highly opinionated view. I'm glad it's helped, and I hope you read a few other opinions too, some of which will be quite different.

Also, remember the cultural differences. I'm Australian, and although we do "blunt honesty" well, "nuance and diplomacy" are not our national forte. I suppose that is obvious though!

trans man = cis man = man just like gay man = straight man = man.

They're not third and fourth genders, they're the same genders as cis genders.

John R. Selig | September 18, 2008 12:58 AM

I understand that people get tired explaining about being transgender to others. I get tired as a gay man having to explain to people what it means to be gay, how my marriage to my wife fell apart and how I raised my son instead of my wife (many eye brows were raised there when that happened 18 years ago). I lived in suburban Dallas in the time surrounded by lots of loving straight Christians. I get tired of explaining that I am a liberal and don't love George W. Bush or John McCain or Sarah Palin. I get tired of explaining why I am a Jewish atheist who doesn't like to have religion and politics mixed, who doesn't like hearing prayers at public events, especially ones that end with closings that say, "In Jesus Name we pray, amen."

But here is the thing if we don't stand up for ourselves, explain who we are, answer questions and put a human face on who we are then who else is going to do it? If people ask dumb questions and challenge you do you honestly think that they are going to accept the information better from a book or a website. You have a far better chance of changing minds by a personal discussion then any other method.

Life isn't fair. Everybody has challenges. I have been overweight my entire life (not a great plus in the dating department in the gay community); neither was coming out at 37 for that matter.

We must all play the hand that we are dealt. However, if we aren't willing to stand up for ourselves then nobody else is going to do so. Allies are not won through bitterness and anger.

I have found in coming out to people that they tend to reflect back the mood I use in coming out to them and sharing my story. If I apologize for who I am or if I give a feeling of negativity then that is what I get back. But if I share how fortunate I was to find myself and finally live an open life and how my whole world turned around, that I am thrilled to finally be the person I was meant to be others are far less likely to react negatively.

Once I have their attention and empathy I can share the challenges that I have faced and that others have faced. Even as a gay man I have ben able to discuss gender identity issues and help others understand and then accept transgender people as just another group of people who are different from others (just like left-handed people are different or blonds are different or tall people are different).

Unfortunately, if we want to be treated fairly and with respect we have to be willing to stand up for ourselves. We have far more at stake than any person that asks us about our sexual orientation or gender identity. gays and lesbians are far more accepted by society than transgender people. That wasn't the case thirty years ago. Would we have gotten as far as we have had we not taken the time to educate, family, friends, co-workers and even complete strangers. We all face rejection and outright hate from time to time. Still the onus is on us to stick up for who we are.

Hopefully I manage to follow your advice most of the time. I try to maintain a positive attitude and stick up for myself. But there are times when that is hard, and other people go through hard times too. I try not to lecture them, because really that's just another form of "pull yourself together."

John R. Selig | September 18, 2008 8:30 AM


Believe me I know it is hard. One of the main reasons that I became an LGBT activist, writer, podcaster etc. is because of the many outstanding heroes that I have and continue to meet everyday in our community. I was shocked by what I saw after I came out and had my eye opened.

The horror stories are many but the spirit is even greater. I remember sitting in an LGBT youth group where counselors were trying to console 50+ kids who had just found out that one of their friends had hung himself the night before. The counselors asked how many of the kids had thought about killing them elves; 75% of their hands went into the air. The counselor next asked how many had tried (75% of those hands remained up).

I salute you and everybody else that posts and reads The Bilerico Project. We are all fighters and suvivors and we all make a difference. Sometimes it is harder than others. Sometimes we snap. i did the other night when a McCain supporter sent me his umteenth email knocking Obama and praising McCain; I had him have it with both barrels and then gassed him to make sure he was dead. It is okay not to be perfect. None of us.

We shouldn't have to ask for respect and equality. Unfortunately we do and we are the most powerful tool in receiving both. I get tired just like everybody else but I have you and others to prop me up and back me up. If we give-up though, the bad guys win. I'll be damned if I will let that happen!

Thanks for all you do.

Rev. Cathryn Platine | September 18, 2008 1:23 PM

Quite interesting.......

I see a lot of the same old familar faces weighing in. What does a potential ally need to know about trans issues? That there are tonnes of ways of being trans, often contradictory to each other so any one person is only going to give their version. But most importantly of all, that ALL people deserve a level playing field regarding the basics of life.....period. You don't have to understand trans, just that human rights are supposed to be universal and trans of all flavours are human.

Your doing a great thing by asking questions and encouraging discourse about Being T. Thank You! All I would ever want is for all of us to be able to see each other as good people! I wish that others would not think it is OK to Kill us, beat us up or even to have some one call us " Fag"! I wish that our own T community could respect each others T-Ness and not eat our own, as it has been Blogged!
I wish Susan Stanton had not been deluged with hate and been able to have help on her transition! Gosh!, when I read what i wish, it almost sounds like a Miss America speech. This Blog is good Bil!
Just got word that Barney Frank had disable LBGT's arrested? WHAT????????

I sent Alex an article about that to post here, but since he is busy, he hasn't gotten back to me. A good friend was one of the people arrested. I did post the article at my blog, but I expanded on what I learned from it.

It was not 50 people arrested. 50 people were there, but only 15 were arrested. I don't know why ADAPT is stretching the truth here.

Read the whole press release:

15 arrested at Barney Frank's office
19 arrested at Senator Shelby's office
"Nearly 25 were arrested" after speaking to Senator Dodd.

Okay, Bil

You've had some educating.

Now, though, it sorta falls back on you.

How many people have you taught what you've taken from here? How have you passed it on?

What *other* questions do you have now?

You've had a hell of a class. Now come sthe part that everyone sorta dreads.

The test.

Show us what you've learned.

Teachers learn everyday in their classrooms. But they test their ability to teach by seeing what has been learned.

We've taught.

Format is easy: an essay on what you think it means to be trans...

I want to talk a little bit about why speaking for others is problematic, and why asking for someone to educate you constitutes asking them to speak for other people. I'm drawing a lot from Linda Alcoff's The Problem of Speaking For Others.

When you come to a transperson and you say, "Please tell me and my readers more about transpeople," it isn't just problematic because that places the burden on that group to educate others on their identity/reason for existing/etc. It's also problematic because it assumes that one transperson is going to be able to speak for all transpeople. That question presupposes that trans identity is simple to understand and reducible to one identity for all transpeople.

Another side to the coin of asking people to give you information rather than seeking it on your own (and I would hope that if you identified somewhere along the lines of LGBTQA or an ally of such folk you would know how to tell if a source is bigoted) is that it allows you to feel as if you don't have to do your job if other people don't give you a Trans 101.

I don't know. It all makes me uncomfortable. I know that sometimes the only way to solidify or check the validity of ideas is to talk to someone who identifies that way. But I don't know if the internet is the place to have a "call for educators" for any issue.

I held off on commenting all day on Friday, and then the weekend got away with me and now it's monday and this probably won't be read, but here goes.The comments in this thread brought up a couple of different issues for me, and I wasn't really sure where to start.

Somewhere up thread, someone said something along the lines of "transpeople are telling us [cisfolks] that they want different things - some people want us to task questions, some people want us to educate ourselvs - so how are we supposed to know that the trans* community wants if even they can't agree?"

This comes up a lot in discussions about particular communities and being an ally, and I'm always kind of confused, because in what world would all of the members of any given group agree on everything? As someone else already mentioned, there are transpeople in any number of fields and areas of interest and skill. There are transpeople who are educators, activists, business-type folks, non-profit workers, social workers, politicians, blue-collar laborers, etc. Transpeople, just like cispeople, represent the whole human spectrum of interests, passions, skills, and backgrounds - so, odds are, they aren't all going to have the same opinion on any given issue because they aren't all the same.

I mean, this point seems pretty basic, and I think most people think that they get it, but it often gets lost in conversations about being an ally.

How to treat people respectfully, how to work in solidarity with a movement, and how to support people are all complicated, shades-of-gray kinds of challenges. There isn't always a black-and-white dividing line of what is "good" ally behavior and what is "bad" ally behavior - because all of that depends on the individual people you are working and/or interacting with. There are some obvious "bad" behaviors - like blatant transphobia, violence, derogatory language, dehumanization, delegitimzation of people's identities, etc. But then there's also the realm of "well-intentioned but perhaps rather cissexist and/or ignorant behavior that may or may not offend someone." That's where things get murkier, because of all those reasons mentioned above about transpeople not all being the same.

I certainly can't give an easy answer about what to do with that grey area. In so far as no one trans person can speak for all trans people, I, as a ciswoman, certainly couldn't (and wouldn't dream of trying to) speak for trans people (or any group larger than myself and my cat). However, I think Lisa's comment about boundaries is really key, and is pretty much how I approach situations where I'm not sure what's appropriate or wanted from me, as a ciswoman (or a white woman, able-bodied woman, etc).

"The problem with answering all questions to educate means that Trans boundaries are permeable while cis boundaries are not. And one of the most important things a potential supporter needs to learn is that trans people have valid boundaries."

While asking someone to answer all of your questions about their lives, bodies, sex lives, medical history, political stances, etc in the interest of education and political goals might not always be appropriate, I'm generally of the mind that asking someone about their boundaries and/or expectations(in any context) is a pretty safe bet. Letting someone define their boundaries FOR you, and then respecting those boundaries, puts the power and control in the hands of the (in this instance) trans person. Letting someone else set the tone and standards for the conversation is really important.

... which brings me to my second point, about process.

The comment of mine that Bil clipped from Lisa's blog was specifically addressing how questions and criticisms of process are handled in these kinds of conversation. (Note: I'm talking generally here, not just about Bil, or any particular projector or commenter or anything specific. This is GENERAL.)

One of the things that feminist theory, and feminists, womanists, and other variously-identified folks critical of the status quo, have advanced for quite some time now is the idea that the questions of who, how, and why of particular pieces of knowledge aren't irrelevant to the substance of that knowledge. On a basic level, this challenges the idea of objectivity, and forces us to put anything that is "known" in context. What I want to focus on here is the question of how knowledge is generated, conveyed, and communicated.

How we talk about things is, in some cases, just as important as what is said. Because the rules of language and rhetoric are aligned with the folks who set those rules in place, a particularly privileged group, and so maintaining particular rules of engagement puts folks for whom that feels natural and right into a position of power. Think about how often you hear a loud woman being criticized for her tone, for being "pushy," for being "too much" of something undesirable. The same thing doesn't happen to dudes, unless of course they are men of color (like all of this "uppity" bs in the media right now), or queer ("flaunting their sexuality"), or of some other marginalized group. HOW we talk about things sends messages about what kinds of voices are valued, and that value judgment is a judgment on particular groups of people and kinds of bodies.

So, when conversations about privilege come up, and a person in a marginalized position is critical of the PROCESS of that conversation, it's not just irrelevant hyperbole intended to distract folks from the all-important mission of education. It is a form of education.

Also, when we consider starting these conversations about privilege, it's thus also important to think about how the tone is set, and who is dictating the process, because without marginalized voices and perspectives in positions of power from the beginning, odds are you are going to be universalizing and privileging a particular way of engaging and talking that will probably exclude some of those voices you are most looking to hear from.