thinking outside the gender binary

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I saw a post recently on my Facebook newsfeed about Caitlyn Jenner that most disturbed me. It was condescending and oppressive to all trans folks. This particular individual shared a post that essentially called all trans people frauds. “Being a woman is more than just boobs and nice hair. He is so disgusting.” Why I forced myself to read the entire ignorant post is beyond me. Perhaps I saw it as an opportunity to educate; but in the end, I just un-followed this person. I am not sure if it was the right choice. I don’t want to side with oppression and ignorance.

All that said, this experience has led me help educate myself and others about the trans community.  I am a heterosexual cisgender woman; NOT BY ANY MEANS an expert on trans individuals. However, I do not think it should be up to trans folks to educate US on who they are. I think it is our responsibility to educate ourselves. 

Let’s start at the basics with a definition. According to Transequality.org,

“Transgender identity is not a mental illness that can be cured with treatment. Rather, transgender people experience a persistent and authentic difference between our assigned sex and our understanding of our own gender. For some people, this leads to emotional distress. This pain often can be relieved by freely expressing our genders, wearing clothing we are comfortable in, and, for some, making a physical transition from one gender to another.”

Please, can everyone get out of their heads the idea that a trans person wakes up and casually decides they don’t want to be a man/woman (sorry for binary) anymore.

You are not responsibly for determining someone’s gender. So don’t.

Know that transgender people belong to different social, cultural, and economic identity groups (e.g., race, social class, religion, age, disability, etc.) and there is not one universal way to look or be transgender.

We have been socialized to immediately determine someone’s gender upon coming into contact with them. Are they a man or a woman? We celebrate gender while an individual is still growing in the womb; we splatter blue OR pink about to signify the assumed gender this unborn child holds. We are OBSESSED with gender. Yet, we are slow to accept and educate ourselves on anything outside the gendery binary of cisman or ciswoman. FYI: CIS is when an individual’s experience of their own gender agrees with the sex they were assigned at birth.

What can we do? No-what MUST we do? Educate ourselves. Stop judging. Stop obsessing. Be accepting.

The APA provides a whole slew of things we can do to be supportive of the trans-community:

  • Educate yourself about transgender issues by reading books, attending conferences, and consulting with transgender experts. Be aware of your attitudes concerning people with gender-nonconforming appearance or behavior.

  • Know that transgender people have membership in various sociocultural identity groups (e.g., race, social class, religion, age, disability, etc.) and there is not one universal way to look or be transgender.
  • Use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity; if in doubt, ask.
  • Don’t make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for hormonal or medical treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans. If you have a reason to know (e.g., you are a physician conducting a necessary physical exam or you are a person who is interested in dating someone that you’ve learned is transgender), ask.
  • Don’t confuse gender nonconformity with being transgender. Not all people who appear androgynous or gender nonconforming identify as transgender or desire gender affirmation treatment.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person in your life.
  • Get support in processing your own reactions. It can take some time to adjust to seeing someone you know well transitioning. Having someone close to you transition will be an adjustment and can be challenging, especially for partners, parents, and children.
  • Seek support in dealing with your feelings. You are not alone. Mental health professionals and support groups for family, friends, and significant others of transgender people can be useful resources.
  • Advocate for transgender rights, including social and economic justice and appropriate psychological care.Familiarize yourself with the local and state or provincial laws that protect transgender people from discrimination.

That was an incredibly basic and general overview. But you have to start somewhere.

Educate yourself and spread love, my friends.

have a (transphobic) Happy Halloween??

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As of late, my Facebook news-feed has been plastered with photos of a Caitlyn Jenner Halloween costume. Most people are criticizing it, some are defending it.

I read this article where a Halloween store is defending the sale of this costume:

“At Spirit Halloween, we create a wide range of costumes that are often based upon celebrities, public figures, heroes and superheroes,” said Lisa Barr, senior director of marking at Spirit Halloween. “We feel that Caitlyn Jenner is all of the above and that she should be celebrated. The Caitlyn Jenner costume reflects just that.”

Do you think that people buying and wearing this costume will be honoring Caitlyn Jenner?

Hmmmmm. Call me crazy, but I predict heterosexual men wearing this costume as a mockery of the trans-community.

I LOVE Halloween. It is a holiday that revolves around candy. I am in. I love dressing up, getting together with friends, and having a good time. I love seeing what costumes everyone decides to wear.

What I hate about Halloween time:

All of the racist, sexist, transphobic costumes I see. Something is wrong when I go to a Halloween store and all I can find is a “sexy nurse” or “French maid” costume. I am ALL about women doing whatever da fuq they want. But we should have more options. If I do buy a costume, I typically buy from what is labelled as the “men’s side” of the store. (Last year, I made my own costume and was a women’s suffragist fighting for the right to vote).

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Halloween is not a chance to mock, disrespect, or dishonor someone’s culture, heritage, sexual/gender orientation/identity, etc. BE A HUMANE PERSON FOR FUCK’S SAKE.

Last year, I remember getting sick after seeing photos of people dressed up as Trayvon Martin (in black face-PLEASE DON’T BLACK FACE) and George Zimmerman. Ohhhhh, were you honoring the young black man that died unjustly? Silly me. The facial expressions of the gentlemen dressed as Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman seem less than honorable.

Halloween is supposed to be fun. Don’t be an ignorant asshole and ruin the holiday for everyone.

P.S. I found this rad Tumblr called Fuck No Racist Halloween Costumes…check it out.

Ann Arbor City Councilman Chuck Warpehoski responds re: verbal harassment in AA

Late last night, I received an email response from AA City Councilman, Chuck Warpehoski. I actually felt a bit encouraged by his email, which I shared with him. His email and my thoughts follow.

Ms. Greenfield,

Thank you for your comments on this matter. This is an important issue, and I will ask our legal staff to give us an understanding of the legal tools we have at our disposal on the issue.

Of course, legal tools are just part of the response to issues like this. Ultimately it is a community norms and values discussion where we need to set clear expectations that this kind of behavior is not accepted. Can you share more about the site of this offense? It sounds like the commentary is coming from a crew working on a specific property. I would be willing to contact the property owner or company with the crew to address the behavior. I would also be willing to set up a meeting with staff from Safe House to discuss intervention strategies.

In the meantime, whether we use legal pressure or community pressure, the best thing you can do is to help document the problem. When does it happen? At what property or properties? Is the company or group involved named? The #BlackLivesMatter protests have shown the power of video records, so setting your phone to record what happens before you walk by to provide evidence can be very powerful. (I offer the last suggestion as a non-lawyer and it is not legal advice).

I’m sorry you have to put up with this. It is not behavior that I want to see in Ann Arbor—or anywhere for that matter. I will work with you to stop it.

-Chuck

For the first time in my communications with city authorities I felt that someone responded with suggestions for preventative measures. I GET that I need to call the police every time. I do. And I will. But I keep stressing that we, as a community, need to do more. We need to prevent and END this harassment- not just accept it and react to it.

I like the idea of getting Safe House (although I am thinking SAPAC may be a better fit) involved- at least for brainstorming. I am trying to think of new ideas and efforts that can be taken.

Do YOU have any ideas? This is a communal issue. We all need to work together to end rape culture and shift the way we view and treat women.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor responds re: verbal harassment in Ann Arbor

My sweet friend, Andrea, suggested I write Ann Arbor Mayor, Christopher Taylor, and the AA City Council in regards to my experiences with verbal harassment in this city.

I was pleased that he promptly responded within the hour. His response is below. My thoughts follow.

Dear Ms. Greenfield,

Thank you for writing to us, though I very much regret the circumstances.
You have the right to walk in Ann Arbor without harassment.
In the event that this happens again, please do call the police.  Many citizens are reluctant to take this step in response to non-violent transgressions, but I urge you to overcome this reluctance.  The police are there to help.  They want to help.  The police will come and they will speak to harassers and they will speak with the job site supervisor.  I do not know what consequences will be for the men harassing you — that depends upon the on-the ground circumstances as the officer finds them — but I can say that no job site welcomes this sort of inquiry and most will take swift action to prevent its further occurence.
If you are having further trouble at a particular location there are other approaches too.  It’s a small town.  I would be happy to write to the property owner / builder to let them know how their job site is being conducted.  I suspect that this communication too would be sufficiently unwelcome so as to result in a stern conversation.
You’ve been in Ann Arbor long enough to know that discrimination and harassment of any kind is anathema to our core values.  Thank you for letting us know that we still have work to do.
Please let me know what happens next and if I can be of assistance.
Christopher
My overall takeaway right now: CALL THE POLICE. IF you’re verbally harassed, call the police. Every time. I found this PDF very helpful in terms of understanding the law in Michigan and my rights.
My main reason for being squeamish with all the responses I have been getting is that everything is reactive instead of preventative. We need to stop rape culture. Women have been taught to expect street harassment. It’s our job to then report it. I get it. But am I so crazy to dream of a world where I don’t have to deal with this bull-shit in the first place?
I suggested to the Mayor that the city considers an initiative or community effort to prevent and end verbal harassment.
This isn’t done. Far from.

update: Ann Arbor Police Respond to my complaints re verbal harassment

I received two emails in my inbox this morning from the Ann Arbor police department in regards to my complaint regarding verbal harassment. The emails are pasted below, along with my thoughts in bold.

Good Morning Ms. Greenfield,

Thank you for your e-mail.

I am sorry that you have received verbal harassment while working in Ann Arbor.  Comments like the ones you have described are not representative of the City of Ann Arbor community. I disagree- I am verbally harassed every week. Ann Arbor does not fall immune to this social monstrosity.  Am I the only person this is happening to? Really? 

What you can do when it is happening…call 911 (emergency line) or 734-994-2911 (non-emergency line), request that an officer respond to your location.  Explain to the officer what is happening and that it is not welcomed.  The Officer will be able to explain what they can do. What can the officer do-I asked this in a response email? What repercussions are there for the perpetrators of verbal harassment? AKA, will something be accomplished if I call?

I am going to copy our Community Engagement Officers Martelle and Kooy regarding your e-mail.  I will ask them to make contact with you directly regarding the incident.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Renee Bush, Lieutenant

Ann Arbor PD

Jessica,

I was handed your complaint from Lt Bush. If you are comfortable with doing so I would suggest telling these subjects something like, “ Your comments are not appreciated. Stop ! “ I did respond. And was laughed at. This does nothing. 

However, as Lt Bush suggested as well, you could certainly call the non-emergency line and request an officer be sent out. He/she would then make contact with the foreman on site there. This wasn’t a construction site. These were five men in a group next to my car. 

If this is a chronic issue occurring at the same site and time I also would be able to go over to the job site and speak with the foreman on scene this week. This is a chronic issue in general

I hope this helps.

Officer Thomas Kooy, Community Engagement

My response to both emails:

Thanks for your responses.

I have been in Ann Arbor for years (graduate school at the University of Michigan, lived for a year, worked for years). These comments are not something new. This is something I experience on a very, very regular basis. It is not unique to one spot or location of the city. Verbal harassment is a horrible, exhausting, and demeaning experience I have to deal with regularly. I do not think this is unique to me as a woman.
Is the city taking efforts to end verbal harassment? If I were to call the police every time I am verbally harassed, I would be on the phone weekly…likely multiple times per week. Should I do this?
Yesterday, as I was being barked at and told crude comments, I did ask the five men to stop. To which they started laughing at me. I did not further engage with them because there were five of them- I am one person. I did not feel safe to further engage.
If I do call a police officer, what will be done? Will there be repercussions for the perpetrators verbally harassing me?
What can we do as a community to end this? I don’t want to feel uncomfortable or unsafe walking around.
Thanks for help.
Jessica Greenfield
I think it is important for me to note that I am in no way trying to “shit” on the Ann Arbor Police Department. I do think, however, there emails were not very helpful. I think their responses are reflective of larger systemic issues regarding verbal harassment. Women are expected to deal with it. I believe women don’t report verbal harassment because we don’t think anything will be done. Will something be done? I’ll let you know what the police say. 
The more I reach out for help in ending this patriarchal bull-shit the more dis-encouraged I feel. 
We need to do more. 

dead men don’t catcall

“Maybe if I work harder to be more invisible, I won’t get catcalled.”

This is an actual thought I have regularly. I have written about street harassment before, made Facebook statuses about things that have been said to me, got people riled up, and then…. it happens all again. It is a horrific repetitive cycle.

So, what prompts me to write this time?

This morning as I was getting out of my car to enter my place of employment, five men standing next to a moving truck at the building next to my nonprofit’s building began to bark at me. “We see what you have and we want it.” More barking. I turn towards them and say, “Can you not?” to which they all laugh and roar. Cool.

I preach being a strong and independent woman. My mother raised me that way. It has taken me years to become proud and in love with my body’s curves. All of that goes away in an instant when I am catcalled. I want to be invisible. I want to hide under a rock and cry. I feel small. I feel weak. I start hating men, the world, and want to give up on humanity.

I go to the internet to try and find some solidarity.

I find Hollaback!, which is a non-profit dedicated to ending street harassment. There are some resources (nothing I haven’t seen before) for people that have been harassed. They have an opportunity to share your story, which I do. It makes me feel a little better. I read the stories of other women and feel slightly better-solidarity. I am not alone.

I decide to email the Ann Arbor police and see what efforts are being done to combat street harassment. I ask them-what should I do when I am verbally harassed? What can be done? Should I call the non-emergency police line and report it?

I text my boyfriend (such an amazing feminist and supporter in my life) and my siblings. They support me. I am encouraged to report the men to the police.

I. Am. So. Tired. Of. This.

I just wanted to be treated humanely. I want to valued as a human being. I don’t want to be referred to as a piece of ass. I don’t want to feel weak. I don’t want to feel invisible. I am sick of trying to make myself look smaller. I am here. I am a person and I don’t want to have to hide.

I am so tired.

I want to end this post with some positive revelation or peace-making discovery, but I don’t have one. Not now.

I am just so tired.

Hello world!

This is my umpteenth attempt at writing a blog. I have never been good at sustaining a journal, blog, or morning workout routine. Last time I tried writing a blog, I ended up reblogging adorable photos of kittens and puppies (#noregrets).

As I have grown and continued to learn about myself, I have discovered that I love to write. I am currently working on a memoir (AH) and decided WHY NOT start a blog simultaneously? I blame my mom for this habit; she was notorious for starting another 2-3 books while being in the midst of one.

I hope to use this blog to write about things that are meaningful to me and the world and potentially spark some intellectual dialogue. But I wouldn’t be surprise if in two weeks I am doing a critical analysis of which Bob’s Burgers character best represents me.

We’ll see what happens.

Peace and love, friends (and internet strangers).

Jessica