Tag Archives: transgender

Guest Post: On Being a Trans Woman and Crossing the Bathroom Line

20 Feb

By Xeph Kalma

I don’t work for a big company. It’s tech, and it’s a small office, and everyone knows each other. The people are generally kind, I guess, and frankly, I mostly feel like I should just be so gosh darn happy to even have a job me that I shouldn’t have any problems with the situation there.

I tell myself that I should just deal with the constant microaggressions, the misgendering, the fact that no one speaks to me unless they have to; I should get used to the fact that I basically get treated like garbage there, because HEY, LET’S BE REAL. As a trans woman of colour, I am literally super, duper, lucky I have a job. Not kidding. Look at the stats. Probably the only reason I’m employed right now is because I started transitioning while at this company.

So I guess what I really mean is that I’m lucky I haven’t been fired yet.

How fucked up is it to say that I, a professional of 10 odd years, I feel sincerely, honestly, lucky to be considered employable? But that’s the honest truth for me and other trans women of colour; our lives are so precarious that it seems like anything and everything could be taken away in a hot second.

Before coming out/while presenting as male, I had no problems finding work. I spent seven years working in South Korea, then came back to Canada and worked for several more. Whenever I left a job, I was always able to find something new, and quickly. I’m good at what I do.

So when I took out a bank loan, I didn’t really think twice about it. I mean, I was always going to have a job, right? So I didn’t worry about not being able to pay it back.

But now pretty much all I think about is the possibility of losing my job, and the huge challenges I would face if I had to find another one.

You might be wondering how I could lose my job – especially if I’m as talented and hard-working as I say. But here’s the thing: while talented and hard-working helped keep me safe when I presented as male, they don’t mean much now that I’m out as trans. Since I started transitioning, nothing I do seems to make my boss happy. I told myself I’d just keep my head down, nose to the grindstone, and hopefully go unnoticed. Unfortunately, that didn’t work as well as I’d hoped; I’m the trans elephant in the room. Even if no talks to me anymore, everyone still notices me.

I told myself, “Just get work hard and get it done. Be true to yourself, carry on with transitioning, work hard.”

I’ve tried to do these things.

But recently I’ve crossed a line.

You see, with all the work I’ve done in transitioning, things started to get really weird in the men’s washroom at work. My co-workers never said anything, but our office is in a complex, and the bathrooms are shared. I began feeling very unsafe in the bathroom whenever there someone else was in there. I started to become very acutely aware of when other people were using the washroom; I trained my ears to the sound of people going and out, so I could use it while it was empty.

Sometimes people would be in there longer than I thought possible, or I would get trapped in the stall for longer than I thought possible because I would wait until the space was empty before quickly washing my hands, drying, and getting the hell out of there. It was torturous, but I felt like listening to these dudes take a ten minute shit was better, easier, than them knowing that, I, just being me, was in there with them.

I worked this bathroom system for months, a huge slice of my time at work taken up by watching, waiting, listening, waiting, worrying about getting “caught,” whatever “caught” mean. Then a friend let me know that due to where I was at in my transition and living in Ontario, I could go change my legal gender marker. It felt like the light at the end of the tunnel. I thought that it I presented a legal document to our human resources department, then things would have to change. So I let my employers and workmates know that I had applied for this document. I let them know that I would be using the woman’s washroom and asked them to start using my preferred pronouns (she/her/hers). I asked human resources to help ease everyone into it; I wanted this to be as smooth for everyone as possible.

I asked human resources to tell my officemates I’m legally a woman.

I thought, “This will be easy.”

Which brings us to now.

It’s been over a month getting this legal document declaring my gender to be female, I still get misgendered 100% of the time at work. Everyone – literally everyone – in office is aware that I identify as a woman. They just don’t acknowledge it.

I’ve started using the women’s washroom.

My ears still acutely listen to doors opening and closing, and I end up hiding in stalls until people are done what they’re doing. I’ve noticed the two cis women in my office doing the same thing; they don’t want to run into me either.

I mean, god forbid, I may be taking a minute to enjoy looking at myself in the mirror and being proud of what I’ve accomplished. I might be fixing my makeup.

And just to be clear: I am, and I do.

But the fact that others have changed their habits because they’re scared to see me in the washroom hurts. It hurts to be treated if I’m not a woman, or not even human for that matter. But what strangely hurts the most is that I seriously, actually, believed that a different letter on my ID would change something.

So I’m worried about losing my job. They can’t legally fire me for using the women’s washroom, but there are other ways, you know? Totally legal ways to get rid of me and make it look like it wasn’t discrimination. These thoughts colour my every action and interaction at work; I’m always on my guard.

That’s what it’s like to be the only trans person in the office, I guess.

I just want cis folk to know something. If you’re cis, I want you to read the following, digest it, try to understand it:

If you ever run into someone who might not visually match the gender of the washroom you’ve found them in, just chill. They are probably way, way, way more scared of you, than you of them. Scared of losing their job, scared of not being able to find employment again, scared of losing housing, scared of having to even look someone in the eye/talk to them. Don’t say anything; just leave us be. We’ll be on our way in no time.

Chances are, especially if we’re alone, we didn’t even want you to find us there.

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Xeph, while mainly being of this world, has spent a large amount of time occupying space in others, and hopes she brought back the best aspects of those other places with her. She’s now committed to somehow, possibly, making this world a better space. She has a background in Earthly psychology and tech, and spent many years passing on communication skills to others. One of the main things she’s learned is, animals are better than people.

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On Parenting and Pride and All That Other Good Stuff

30 Jun

When I was eighteen I was pretty sure that my mother was gay.

Not that she’d ever expressed an attraction to women. Actually, she’d never really expressed an attraction to anyone (aside from George Clooney, otherwise known as Thursday Night Dreamboat Doctor Ross, although I was more of a Noah Wyle girl myself), and the idea of my mother as a sexual being seemed completely foreign to me. At that point she’d been divorced for five years, and as far as I was concerned she didn’t have sex. Or want to have sex. Ever. End of story.

But still, I was pretty sure she was gay.

See, I found this book. I was in her room, doing my best impression of an intrepid girl detective and rummaging through her stuff. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but you never knew what you might find – a nice set of fake pearls, the poncho my grandfather had brought back from Peru when she was a kid, a beat up old copy of Peyton Place. So if I happened to find myself home alone, I would often find myself carefully removing everything from on top of her big wooden chest (mentally cataloguing where everything had been so that I could replace it in exactly the same spot and she would never suspect) and then rifling through its contents. STEALTH.

On this one particular day, as I was moving her small television and our ancient Nintendo system off the chest, I noticed a book that I’d never seen before. It was called Home Truths: Lesbian Mothers Come Out To Their Daughters. Inside the front cover was a hand-written note – “Dear [my mother’s name], don’t forget – always tell the truth. Love, Gloria.”

Truth, by the way, was underlined twice.

I mean.

Come on.

What else was I supposed to take from this other than the fact that my mother had a lesbian lover named Gloria?

Like, seriously.

And I mean of course she was gay; the signs had been there all along. She hadn’t dated anyone since my father had left. She had short hair. She wore sensible shoes. How could I possibly have missed it? The fact that she’d had three kids with a man didn’t mean anything – my friend C____’s mother had come out shortly after divorcing C____’s father and was now dating a woman. They drove to Toronto every year for pride and had matching rainbow lawn chairs. Oh god, were my mother and Gloria going to get matching rainbow lawn chairs and matching Birkenstocks and whatever other matchy-matchy things lesbians have?

And then suddenly I felt really bad, because I realized that she was probably pretty worried about how my sisters and I would react to all of this. I mean, why else would she buy a how-to book? Maybe she was staying up all night thinking about whether or not we’d be cool with her being gay. Maybe she was wondering if her family would disown her. I felt guilty that I came off as someone who might have been judgmental of her sexuality, and I decided that I had to say something.  I figured I would employ my stealth skills and start a super subtle conversation that would lead her to admit that she was in love with a woman, all without me having to admit that I’d been going through her stuff.

I had my chance that evening, as she was driving me to work. Please feel free to picture me in my vile Tim Horton’s uniform, with the maroon polyester pants and the maroon and white striped shirt.

Me: Mom? I just want you to know that I love you no matter what.

My mother: Thanks, Annie.

Me: Like, no matter what. No matter who you are or whatever.

My mother: Great. Thanks.

Me: Like, I don’t care who you love.

My mother: I appreciate that.

Me: I’ll always love you.

My mother (suspicious): What’s all this about?

Me: I just mean that if you’re gay that’s totally fine and I don’t care.

My mother: Why on earth would you think I was gay?

Me: Ok, I was in your room and I wasn’t snooping, I swear to god I wasn’t snooping I was just putting something in the hamper, and I accidentally saw this book next to the tv.

My mother: … what book?

Me: It was about lesbian mothers coming out to their daughters. And your girlfriend wrote you a note in it telling you to always tell the truth. And I don’t care, because I love you even if that is the truth.

My mother: (Dies laughing)

Me: (Sulks, because I hate being laughed at)

My mother: (Dies laughing some more. Like she is crying. Tears running down her face. She has to pull over because she can’t see well enough to drive)

Me: (SUPER SULKY)

My mother: Annie, that is a book my friend Gloria put together. She gave me a free copy and signed it. That’s all.

Me: Because I don’t care if you’re gay! You can just tell me, ok?

My mother: I’m not gay. It was my friend’s book, I swear that’s all. But I appreciate you saying all of this.

Now, looking back ten-plus years later, I’m the one who’s appreciative. I feel lucky that I grew up in a country that is fairly tolerant (although oh god there is still so much room for improvement). I also feel lucky that my parents were pretty laid back and liberal about everything, and worked hard to make sure that there was at least some amount of diversity in my life. When my father moved to Toronto, he rented a place on the edge of the gay village, and I loved visiting him and going off exploring on my own – there was such a weird frisson of excitement walking around in the middle of this culture that was pretty foreign to the rest of my life. I wanted to be like the girls that I saw there, with their half-shaved heads and facial piercings and boy’s clothes. Girls who held hands and kissed in public. I didn’t know any girls like that in Kitchener.

My father took me to my first Toronto Pride Parade when I was fifteen, and I remember being absolutely enchanted by a float of men wearing nothing but tighty whities and sailor hats. They were throwing bottles of water into the crowd. I was really excited when I caught one. I brought it back home with me like it was some kind of prize.

I think a lot about how Theo will view his sexuality as he gets older. I flip-flop from worrying about whether he might be teased or bullied if he deviates from traditional masculine ideas, to panicking over the fact that he might, against my best efforts, buy into those ideas and become a bully himself. The dice seem so loaded any way you roll them – like, I want him to be who he is, and I want him to be brave and stand up for marginalized and oppressed people, but I also want him to always be safe and happy. And I don’t know if I can have it both ways. Not that it’s really up to me – he’ll have to make his own discoveries and choices about himself, and while I can try to pass on my value system to him, I ultimately don’t have any say in who or what he is.

I just want him to know that, as I told my mother, I will love him no matter what his sexuality, no matter what his gender, no matter what, end of sentence, full stop.

I just hope that he always knows that I love him and I’m proud of him.

This. Kid. He just kills me.

This. Kid. He just kills me.

Gilmour Girls: A Reading List for David Gilmour

7 Oct

This list is not as diverse as I wish it could be. It’s still very white, and there isn’t a super great representation of queer and trans* folk. It sort of ended up being both a reading list for David Gilmour and a list of my favourite books by women. Writing this has been a great exercise for me, and has illustrated pretty clearly that I need to expand my own reading repertoire – I do love women writers, but I still tend to favour white, cis-gender women. Helloooooo to my own cultural bias.

I didn’t include any Alice Munro or Virginia Woolf because Gilmour says that he likes both of those authors, and I don’t have multiple books by the same author. Those were some rules that I arbitrarily made up for myself.

Please feel free to add to this list or to fangirl with me over how much you love some of these books. Fangirling is the best!

1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ohhhh, books about Ordinary People set against the backdrop of Serious Historical Events, you get me EVERY. DAMN. TIME.

2. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

The best book that I’ve ever read about the nearly-invisible cruelties that little girls practice on each other, and the lifelong fallout of that sneaky, subtle bullying.

3. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

One of the best depictions of depression and suicidal ideation in classical literature.

4. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

My friend Jesse said it best: Alison Bechdel’s memoirs are like magic. You read them, and they’re technically about her, but somehow you end up learning about yourself?

5. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Shut up, I don’t even care, I fucking love this book. DO NOT LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT. 

FEMINIST KING ARTHUR, Y’ALL

6. Villette by Charlotte Brontë

I don’t care if Jane Eyre is your favourite book of all time, I swear to you that this book is better.

7. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

I have four words for you: Lesbian. Coming. Of. Age.

In the south.

With cheerleaders.

And bourbon.

8. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Oh good lord I am such a sucker for dystopian fiction it is not even funny.

9. My Ántonia by Willa Cather

Sort of like Little House On The Prairie for grownups. Except for the fact that Little House On The Prairie is totally for grownups too.

10. Chéri by Colette

In which a young, beautiful man (who loves silk robes and pearls) is kept and petted and spoiled by a woman twice his age, and then has to deal with her departure when he gets engaged to a much younger woman. Maybe one of the best role reversals in literature? Anyway I love Colette so much.

11. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Like Jane Eyre except better, spookier and more accurate in terms of how creepy and skin-crawly the Mister Rochester character is. You guys, MISTER ROCHESTER IS AWFUL. 

12. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Probably the weirdest book I’ve ever read and that’s saying something.

13. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

I think this is my favourite novel about transgender experience?

14. The Butterfly Ward by Margaret Gibson

This weird little book of short stories found its way into my hands on my birthday about ten years ago. I’ve never read anything else by this author – never even seen anything else by her – but some of the stories in this book haunt me still.

15. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

I don’t even care if you liked the movie. Suck it up and read the book.

16. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

The book that made me realize that I needed to cultivate better, stronger friendships with women. Friendships where I felt empowered instead of competitive.

17. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs Of A Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

I don’t even know how you could see this book’s title and not immediately need to read it

18. The Namesake by Jumpha Lahiri

If you read this book while you are pregnant you will suddenly begin obsessively stock-piling baby names as if there might be some kind of baby name shortage.

19. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

I read this as a very impressionable teenager and was hooked.

20. Small Island by Andrea Levy

Race and class in post-war London how does that sentence fragment not make you tingle with excitement even a little?

21. Fall On Your Knees by Ann Marie MacDonald

I have read this book so many times and it is so painfully near to my heart that I don’t even know what to say about it. Frances Piper is one of my favourite fictional characters of all time ever.

22. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Thomas. Cromwell. THOMAS CROMWELL. MARRY ME THOMAS CROMWELL.

As a post-script, I think that, as David Foster Wallace would say, this was Hilary Mantel’s way of imposing her phallus on the consciousness of the world seriously thought what does that even mean.

23. The Group by Mary McCarthy

A lovely, weirdly prescient little midcentury gem about a group of friends and how their lives diverge after college. A lot of discussion about how fucking hard it is for women to have it “all” – if that’s even possible.

24. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

If this book doesn’t give you Feelings I am pretty sure that means that you don’t have a soul.

25. The Street by Ann Petry

A single mother living on her own 1940s Harlem. Do I have your attention yet?

26. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

As if this was not going to be on this list. Have you even met my blog.

27. Clay Walls by Kim Ronyoung

Faye, a second generation Korean-American, says at one point that reading is, “just a way for me to see how other people live. I haven’t found a book yet written about the people I know.” And then Kim Ronyoung wrote that book.

28. The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This one took me two reads to love, but love it I do.

29. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Speculative fiction gives me a total boner.

30. Push by Sapphire

Ohhh this book made me break out into a sick sweat. Maybe one of the best reminders of my privilege that I’ve ever had?

31. Memoirs Of An Ex-Prom Queen by Alix Kates Schulman

Another one that took me a while to love – I felt like the main character was so privileged and whiny. And then I realized that that was kind of the point, and also that those things didn’t take away from her experiences.

32. Caucasia by Danzy Senna

Probably the first book to really make me think about race – definitely the first time I ever questioned the idea of being colour-blind, and my first encounter with the idea of passing privilege.

33. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

The most painfully accurate description of what it’s like to be a white, lower-middle-class girl.

34. A Tree Grow in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I don’t even care if this is a YA book, it’s balls to the wall one of my favourite books. BALLS TO THE WALL.

35. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

One of those epic books that spans several generations and several families, except this one explores race and class in 1980s England. And it’s so unbelievably good.

36. Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

I don’t even care that this book is super dated, it is the book that made me fall in love with historical fiction and also bromance.

37. Angel by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that Elizabeth Taylor)

Probably the most selfishly awful, incredibly unlikeable protagonist I’ve ever encountered (and that’s including Holden Caulfield), but. 

38. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

Heartbreaking and darkly funny and also Miriam Toews is one of the best human beings on this planet maybe.

39. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t so innocent. Also you will want to punch Newland Archer a bunch. But it’s good, I promise.

40. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Scary Evangelical Christian Lesbian Coming Of Age. No but seriously.

book-porn

The Manly Art of Breastfeeding (or, hey, LLLC, I think maybe you need to be less transphobic)

20 Aug

Full disclosure: for the first year following my son’s birth, I was a member of the La Leche League Canada, and I still occasionally attend meetings. Back in the dark ages when Theo was an itty-bitty newborn, we had a hell of a time breastfeeding, and without the help of an awesome support system which included LLLC, I doubt we would have been able to persevere. So first off, thanks LLLC, for all the amazing work you do. My personal experience with you has mostly been nothing but positive.

Given the fact that I owe the LLLC a huge debt of thanks for my (still ongoing) breastfeeding relationship, it was with a great deal of surprise and dismay that I read about their rejection of Trevor MacDonald’s application to become a leader.

Trevor is a transgender father who gave birth to a son 13 months ago and has been breastfeeding him ever since. Due to past chest-reduction surgery, Trevor has issues with milk production, and uses what sounds like an SNS to supplement with donated milk. Because of this, Trevor initially struggled with breastfeeding, and credits the LLL with providing him with the help and resources he needed. Like me, Trevor would likely have been unable to breastfeed without the help of LLLC. Unlike me, the LLLC will not consider him as a potential leader. Why? Because he self-identifies as a man.

So, let’s break this down: here we have someone who brings a wealth of breastfeeding knowledge, has personal experience with milk production problems and supplementation systems, has navigated the tricky world of milk donation, and wants to share all of this with others who are in need. So what is LLLC’s problem? Well, according to a spokesperson for LLLC:

“[T]he roles of mothers and fathers are not interchangeable. Since an LLLC Leader is a mother who has breastfed a baby, a man cannot become an LLLC Leader.”

and

[Trevor] acknowledge[s] that some women may not be comfortable working with a male Leader. A Leader needs to be able to help all women interested in breastfeeding.”

Er, what? So because of some outdated wording in LLLC policy that doesn’t reflect the current gender landscape we inhabit, Trevor can’t be a leader because he doesn’t identify as a mother. Oh, okay. That makes sense. No wait, it doesn’t. Why can’t they just change the wording to say that an LLLC leader must be a parent who has breastfed? Surely it’s the breastfeeding experience that’s the most important qualification?

Next, what’s up with that thing about the roles of mothers and fathers not being interchangeable? What does that even mean? Hey, LLLC, if you’re listening, I’d really like some clarification about that! Do you mean that biologically, fathers are far less likely to become pregnant, give birth and then breastfeed a child? Because less likely does not equal totally never happens. Or do you mean there’s something inherently different about the way that mothers and fathers parent, and therefore a father could never dispense parenting advice to a mother? If so, I, and a lot of people, have a bone to pick with you.

And then there’s that second quote, about the fact that Trevor, as a transgender male leader, would women uncomfortable – that quote actually makes my skin crawl. Know why? Re-read it, but substitute something about race or religion or sexual orientation in place of male. Now do you see it? Transphobia is just as awful as racism, or religious intolerance or homophobia, but because society is really only just starting to deal with the idea of trans men and women, it is tolerated way, way more frequently.

And finally, Fiona Audy, chair of the organization’s board of directors, said the following:

“La Leche League is about supporting parents who wish to breastfeed their babies, and we don’t want to get drawn into a discussion about gender issues, which is not our focus.”

I hate to tell you this, Fiona, but your organization’s ignorance and intolerance has already drawn you into this discussion. It’s what your organization chooses to do now that will define how you will be seen by me and millions of other people.

Image

Trevor MacDonald with breastfeeding guru Dr. Jack Newman

Trevor has a blog, Milk Junkies, in case you’re interested in checking it out. He has also started a Facebook group called Birthing and Breastfeeding Transmen and Allies.