Alex Blaze

One thing we all agree on: If children see a breast, they die

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 04, 2010 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: beach, camp rehoboth, Delaware, gender, rehoboth beach, The Advocate, topless, transgender, women

The story about the group of trans women who supposedly went topless on Rehoboth Beach in Delaware ("supposedly" because no one's talked to them and the only people saying they did are the cops) has now been picked up by several other media sources. When I posted about the story on Monday, only a police-scanner blog and a local rightwing hate radio show had picked up on the story. Now it's been in two state papers, The Advocate, the local NBC affiliate, NBC's national site, on the AP wire, and dozens of other media.

It's interesting for me to be following the news this closely right now and to see how these stories come together (or not). My original complaint was that misgendering the subjects of the story makes it utterly incoherent, and the only media organization that used the appropriate gender indicators here was The Advocate. None of them have noted that only two trans women in the group had breast implants, according to police, and the state paper that published the applicable snippets of local code didn't bother to ask police what would happen if trans men, with or without top surgery, would be allowed to go shirtless on the beach.

That's the media. More people have been talking about this story, and it seems less like anyone's trying to enforce puritanical and sexist laws about who can go topless and who can't at the beach and more like people are working through their own discomfort with people's bodies that are different from their own.

Banks said police only enforce the laws and want to make sure that people who visit the beach are comfortable. Police have not had previous problems with this kind of behavior, and there is no need for a specific law to address it, Banks said.

What about the comfort of the trans women on the beach? Fortunately, the police haven't released their names so the media can't hound them, but if men are more comfortable going topless then there's no reason to believe that some women wouldn't be more comfortable as well.

Moreover, protecting people's comfort - when the source of their discomfort is, here, their own problem - doesn't seem like a great reason to write a law so that some people can be arrested and fined. That won't stop the city council from looking into it:

"We'll see if we need to address it," said Kathy McGuiness, one of Rehoboth's commissioners. McGuiness said this will be a topic at a town hall meeting next week.

"I can't speak for the mayor or anyone else. I can speak for myself because I am a commissioner. I hardly see us reversing the topless law. I don't think we are going to repeal it and allow women to go topless. Now if someone is going to go through the process of having implants, then they probably should think about following the laws of the person they would like to become," McGuiness said.

But they shouldn't be treated under the law as the person they are, I take it. It's interesting that she wants trans women to follow the more restrictive laws women have to follow on the beach, but is she supporting an easier process for transgender people to change gender markers on their legal documents in Delaware? Does she want people to follow the rules, as she says, or is she just concerned about the comfort of people like her and not at all concerned about anything as fancy and abstract as just application of the law?

The police chief told another paper that they could have been arrested for "disorderly conduct," which he blithely says is just sort of a "catch-all" for anything police officers feel like arresting people for. It's the same charge generally used to arrest gay men in parks who hit on other men but don't actually engage in sexual activity (which would be lewd conduct or indecent exposure), and it usually gets dropped. But the point isn't to actually prosecute people, but to use arrests as punishments in and of themselves.

Indeed, there's nothing disorderly about a man taking his shirt off at the beach (just as cops don't see anything disorderly about men who hit on women in parks), so why would it be disorderly for a woman to do it? Oh, right, because the cops say so. These "disorderly conduct" laws should be written so that the police can't make up crimes at the spur of the moment (and then not even have the decency to pretend like there's a standard definition for "disorderly conduct" when talking to the press).

Apparently there's a local LGBT org at Rehoboth, and while I cringe a few times at this quote, he does make a good point about the response from cis/straight people and the local hate radio station:

Steve Elkins, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, a nonprofit based in Rehoboth that aims to promote a positive environment for the gay and lesbian community, essentially agreed.

"Technically it wasn't against the law. However, there are situations where people who -- because of feelings about their birth, because of who they are -- perceive themselves as females. I think we have to respect that, but on the other hand since they chose to identify themselves as females, they have to respect the law."

Elkins said he also thinks that it is horrific that some people who voiced outrage through radio talk shows and the Internet only have a problem because they were transgendered.

"Whoever called and complained [initially] complained about a woman having her top off," he said. "The people now trying to make something about the fact that they were also men, they are trying to have it both ways. You can't have it both ways."

Indeed, they can't. But they don't really want it both ways. They want it only one way, their way, and their goal is just to be more comfortable at the expense of other people's bodies. When you look at it from that perspective, it's entirely consistent.

So this started in local media on Monday, it was run by national media by Friday, so expect Bill-O, Rush, Andrea Lafferty, et al. to be flogging this next week.

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OK, I'm confused. Please take me back to the beginning and tell me if anyone has any idea why this small group of people who claim to be women decided to bare their breasts. Or did I miss the point? Were they claiming to be men? Or were they women trying to protest the dual standard that men get to go topless on the beach but women do not?

What the police did and how the media reacted is, to me, the second scenario. What prompted them in the first place?

Sorry, I wrote this assuming that people had read my post from Monday on the same topic. Don't assume, etc., etc.

They went topless, a lifeguard told them to put on shirts, they said no, that it was discriminatory (police didn't really specify, although they made it sound like the women said it was discriminatory against trans women, not women generally), and then the lifeguard called the police. They put on shirts before the police arrived and no one was arrested.

According to the police, though. No one's interviewed these people.

Thanks for writing about this Alex. Here's my blog post about it:

This is so typical of how media covers all sorts of trans issues. It's also important to note that, even though the AP has stated guidelines for covering transgender people, those are totally thrown out the window, and the misgendering in their wire stories is reprinted and linked in perpetuity. (as of yesterday, AP has since corrected it's initial misgendering but the links and stories created from it remain). It's pretty obvious AP isn't that concerned what its stringers actually write nor how accurate it is.

The question of whether this was illegal of not is of less concern to me than how trans women are legally ID'd as men (and why can't women be topless at beaches without being harrassed).

So wait, is the problem that the women in question were topless in public, thus violating a very specific law (puritanical as it may be, it is still on the books and enforceable)?
Did they claim to be guys still so the law doesn't apply?

The whole thing is all very confusing.

The sequence:

A few people on the beach complained to the lifeguard about women going topless (at this point the word transgender didn't even enter into it).

The lifeguard notified their boss who notified the cops. (prematurely in my book)

The lifeguard went to the topless women in question and determined they were (according to news reports) men (sic). No, there was any check of genitals. The trans women put their tops back on.

The cops came and were confused as to what they should do (it's not as if there was a riot or anything). They contacted their chief who said not to do anything since the sunbathers were technically men (sic) and the statute only concerned women. No, the sunbathers did not try to identify as men to get away with it, they identified themselves as being transgender. Two of them had prior breast augmentation.

Newspapers including AP reported on this with blaring headlines saying "transgender men topless at the beach" and using male pronouns. No names were given.

Honestly, I *still* haven't a clue what this incident is all about (and I *did* read the original article when it was posted).

I get that they 'apparently' were trans women who have had breast implants, but haven't had SRS, but the rest makes my head spin. So, they were going topless on the beach. Why? If they identify and present as women, the law says they have to wear a top (it seems to even go a bit further to 'if you have feminine breasts you have to wear a top', since they wer ultimately identified as 'male' but still in trouble?). Were they trying to make a point about double standards, or trans women, or what? Or maybe they identify as genderqueer, and consider themselves outside the laws against topless women? Maybe when they got called out, they tried to play the gender binary against the lifeguard?

Even apart from the typical misgendering by the str8 community, this seems pretty strange from the info given. It would *really* be nice if someone talked to the topless ppl involved to get their take...

Yup. Don't worry, though, that won't stop this story from being next week's hot topic.

I don't find it confusing at all. Trans people are not allowed to have their driver's license sex marker changed until after GRS and proof with having their birth certificate changed. So, the State of Delaware considers pre-op trans women legally male (men,) regardless of what their body looks like. If they are considered legally men, then they should have the right to do what men do, such as going topless at the beach.

I find what they did as a bold move and one that should be done on all beaches where that state has the same stupid law. States are trying to have it both ways, by calling pre-op and non-op trans women "men" with their legal documents, but want them to adhere to laws that only apply to women. It is up to brave trans women to show them they can't have it both ways. I would do it here in Georgia, but I have an "F" on my drivers license. The problem is that there are probably only a handful of pre-op trans women in the country who have the means and the nerve to do this.

In fact in Delaware you can change your gender on your driver's license without SRS. You can in the majority of states.

Here's the criteria for Delaware:

Need: Court ordered name change and therapist or doctor's letter verifying living as female full-time and undergoing treatment. Est. Fee: $1.15

We have zero information as to whether the life guard or the cops checked their drivers licenses or just "recognized" them as trans. So that's really just conjecture.

It's not a majority, because it's right at or close to 50%. All the states along the southern East Coast, starting with Virgina and all of the Gulf Coast states have this requirement. That's a lot of damn beaches to go topless at.

Seems to me to be much ado about nothing. I wish there was a video of the whole incident or at the very least the people interacting with the lifeguard. Here's my guess (total fiction) at what it might show.....

Lifeguard approaches people and says "uh, this is not a topless beach". Response by someone.."Its OK because legally I'm a man". Lifeguard after a moment's hesitation..." about doing us both a favor and putting your tops back on because I think there's some police on the way". One of the people..."hey folks lets cover back up or this could be on tonight's news." At this point tops are put back on by all those in the small group and the lifeguard breathes a sigh of relief.

Meanwhile...a reporter duly monitoring the police frequencies rushes to the scene... a bit late. Statements are taken by reporter. Police come and go because they have seen nothing worthy of an arrest or even a ticket.

Everything that happened after that is silly IMHO.

polargirl360 | June 4, 2010 3:05 PM

It appears as if they are protesting the paradoxical double standard of trying to legally misgender transgender women.

If they are considered fully male in Delaware, then they have all the legal rights, privileges, responsibilities, and limitations of men. Problem is: The laws of nature and sexual attraction supersede any human laws including those that try to misgender transgender women. This situation does however cause public nuisance despite being legal for a transgender woman to go topless even in front of children.

Laws aimed at restricting behavior of transgender people are unconstitutionally vague due to transgender not being legally defined and arbitrarily defined by anyone who sees fit. If an androgynous looking Emo subculture guy with gynecomastia went topless, would he be considered transgender and have to wear a top despite him obviously not self-indentifying as transgender.

The second problem in this case is defining how big breasts on "men" have to be before it being illegal and the measurement tests that cops would humiliatingly force men to submit to breast measurement tests if their size was borderline and needed further inspection to determine if he is legal topless.

Protesting paradoxial laws is an effective way for transgender people to gain legal recognition since paradox forces the issue like it is doing in Texas with the married lesbians where one partner was intersex and assigned male at birth.

The way I see it, there are only a few options if you're going to have consistent laws.

1. Treat all legal males as legal males. This means that pre-op transwoman are allowed to go topless.

2. Make it so that when a transsexual gets a diagnosis of GID and starts transitioning that their legal sex is changed. This means that pre-op transwoman can't go topless.

3. Ignore the transgender issues entirely and do away with topless laws.

I don't see any of these happening, unfortunately, I think it's much more likely they'll pretend to go with number one, but in actuality, hold transfolk to a completely different standard than cisfolk.

Also, an interesting read:

Oh, another thought, intersex. The legal definition of sex doesn't allow for people who don't fit either definition. What do you do with somebody with Kleinfelters (XXY), XX males, XY females, or individuals with both ovarian and testicular tissues (true hermaphroditism). Hell, even if the individual doesn't have true hermaphroditism, what do you do with people who are chimeric and have some cells that are XX and some cells that are XY?

I think that there are way too many aspects of law that depend on a citizen's sex. We need to do away with having differences based on it. Make sex as meaningful as eye color or hair color. If you're undergoing transition, fine, just make a quick stop to the DMV and change it on your license. The same laws should apply to males, females, and those in between.

I like Vene's take on this.
The gender binary is really an artifical construct in and of itself and rigidly enforced by judeo-christian types.
As a 'legal male' who's got boobs I've been cautioned not to go topless by a state trooper. Theres a whole slew of legal issues for IS people to deal with. The sticking point isn't the laws, its those people who can not bend or flex to allow those of us who are different to enjoy the same rights or enjoy life and happiness as those who fit with in the gender binary.
Truely, if they are legally male then they should be allowed to go topless if the law states that only women must be covered up. If they are legally female, then they should cover up as the law states. However, if there is no clear cut law regarding topless women (often there isn't, they just use a catch-all law like disturbing the peace) then they should be allowed to go topless.

Or, we can all just start wearing armored burkas...

Gina I think your approach is kinda backwards. Why should the legislative powers have to even deal with defining women and men on the beach? Why even carry your drivers license on the sand? If a person is a woman then act like one and wear at least a bikini top. If a person is a man (in their own mind) and wants to go topless then it shouldn't matter whether that person has breasts or not. But, if a man gets questioned for going topless then that man has to decide if he wants to put on a shirt or bikini top or anything else to cover up or argue with the authorities who are insisting he do so. Uh Oh, so now the man puts on a skimpy bikini top and smiles at the lifeguard or police and says "I need to pee so I'll just head on over to that nice ladies restroom".

It can all be done with a smile and a tranquil attitude. No reason to spoil a perfectly beautiful day at the beach. :)

"If a person is a woman then act like one"

I don't think your definition of "acting like a woman" lines up with mine. What was that phrase about "well-behaved women"...?

"No reason to spoil a perfectly beautiful day at the beach"

That line would be better directed at the police officers and the law, in my opinion. Breasts don't cause harm, no matter who has them or what the anatomy elsewhere on their body happens to be.

Hey Advocate, here's a pro tip: Just because they're trans, doesn't mean their breasts are "surgically enhanced" by default. Only two of them had top surgery.

But this begs the question: Who gives a shit? Why is this even mentioned? It is not relevant whether they had boob jobs or not. The only reason breast augmentation gets played out in these news stories is to reinforce the judgment of trans women as "artificial".

Well that certainly clears this whole incident up. CK07 must have a day job working for BP in their public relations department. :)

The gist of it seems that they're trans guys and the media thinks that the only possible way to be trans is to be MTF. Perhaps "Surgically Enhanced" means that the guys got top surgery but the police officer decided that they're not "really" men. The whole thing makes a lot more sense then when the story says that they told the officer that they're trans to try to clear it up.

OK, this finally makes sense!

The media often remind me of the guys in Search for the Holy Grail who all cry, "Run away! Run away!" and dont even bother to see what is really going on--one outlet publishes something, and the others just pile on without doing any real journalism...

Wow. Congratulations, media, for getting trans identities so ridiculously wrong not even we could translate the story without first-hand testimony.

polargirl360 | June 4, 2010 10:57 PM

If these people are self-identified transmasuline/genderqueers, than how did two of them with surgically enhanced breasts get into the story? This makes no sense.

Cis people on average have little to no understanding of trans identities. It's likely just a game of telephone where they hear "transgender" and immediately go "CHICKS WITH DICKS" and run with that.

People don't realize trans men exist. They hear "trans", "chest", and "surgery," and immediately go to "breast implants."

It's actually only in the context of trans men that talking about chest surgery actually makes sense in this case - trans women wouldn't be disclosing their implant status. It would be completely irrelevant because most trans women grow their own.

In New York State, women are allowed to go topless after the courts found in 1992 that a statute applicable only to women was discriminatory. There are apparently 10 states that have so ruled. See

polargirl360 | June 5, 2010 9:52 AM

If they are transmasucline/genderqueers nad are legally men then they have the legal right to go topless. This should have been a non-issue for the two that had top surgery.

A topless demonstration with both trans men and trans women to protest unjust migendering laws and harrassment when they are legally gendered correctly needs to be hed to raise attention to this issue.

Thanks OP for pointing out the sexism of the cissexist laws in the first place. Since you are really hashing this out, and I came across it, I thought I would respond. I see you picked up the comment of someone who knows the beachgoers as well on feminste.

I also know the folks being scrutinized by the media, and in fact, they identify on the transmasculine spectrum: as transmen, genderqueer, and trans. They never spoke with any police, just young lifegaurds, the first understood and so the issue was thought to be resolved, the second came over telling the beachgoers that they must put on their tops and that the police were on their way. The beachgoers immediately complied, for their own safety, while asserting that they were experiencing discrimination as trans people.

Point 1: The media is obsessed with its single narrative of trans people: the hypersexualized transwoman is the only depiction that can be comprehended. Transmasculine folks are completely absent.

Point 2: Gender policing is impossible. If the lifegaurds read these trans bodies inaccurately, exactly how are they going to enforce existing laws? and new ordinances proposed that would target people on the trans feminine spectrum?

Gender policing will further erode the safety of all gender non conforming and trans folks. AS WELL AS ALLLL PEOPLE WHO DONT NEATLY FIT CISSEXIST LOGIC: butch dykes, AGs, fat men, women with short hair, men with long hair.

So on the basis of sexism, cissexism, fatphobia, transphobia, and all other abuse being spouted in the comments sections across the web, radio talk shows, news stations, conservative blogs, as well as the Associated Press version of the story, WE ARE UNITED.

I look forward to hearing more analysis from the different perspectives who read this blog! And I appreciate hearing that toplessness is decriminalized in 10 states.