Men & Everyone Else
Callan Williams, © 1994
So the boss changed the signs on the doors of the rest rooms to Men and Everyone Else. These gals loved it, and "the change" could use the toilet! Isn't that a great story!
The person telling this story at a support group meeting was smiling. He felt that this little jest had made life easier for the transgendered woman in transition, and was accepted well by the other women at the office.
It is easy to see why women would accept this "joke". Women love irony, and the irony of a man pronouncing his exclusive view of society, by labeling the rest rooms in this offensive way, is delicious. In the patriarchy, there are men, the power players - and then there is everyone else, excluded by virtue of their gender. It is a model of gender not based on the masculine and feminine, rather a model based only on masculine. Everything not masculine is something else, femininity as the shadow of masculinity. Masculinity as an exclusive club, to which you belong - or you don't.
Women have learned all their lives to live with this view. Men rarely congregate in men's rooms, but women often see the rest room as a safe place, off limits to the macho dance. It is a place to get out of the continuous assault of the masculine. This is one reason that women are often sensitive about who uses their facilities.
But what does the blatancy of these labels suggest? Is it something that we should simply accept gracefully?
For one thing, it denies that the transgendered woman is really a woman. She is simply no longer a man. She is outside of the system of gender, without its restrictions - and without its protections. Kate Bornstein talks about how it feels to be ungendered, and it is a very vulnerable place. Brandon Teena was outside of the system of gender, not protected as a woman or a man, and he was raped and murdered for it.
Which rest room would an FTM person use? Would this new man be allowed the privilege of being allowed to pee with the men - or would he be relegated to "Everyone Else" status?
Are gay men allowed in the Men's room? Or are they "something else?"
Where would a crossdresser pee? Would they switch rest rooms according to dress, at one point being privileged to go with the men, and at other points just using the other room? Do they retain the status of men yet still be entitled to use any stall?
When we express transgender without having to renounce the male privilege that we have grown up with, we do not fully accept our connection to the full circle of humans. If the world is uncomfortable with queers, they are uncomfortable with you, gender outlaw that you are.
At the very least, we must work to make sure that all gender expressions are respected equally, not demanding respect for ours and lumping all others into "everyone else." We must be able to understand that anytime any gender expression is diminished, we are all diminished, all lessened.
Transgendered people, such as crossdressers, can keep their role in the patriarchy. The point is to use that role for the enlightenment and the betterment of all, and not to allow the exclusion of any. We know that it would be wrong to have toilets marked Whites and Everyone Else. Why do we assume that gender expression should be less protected?
It is good that the women in the office chose to welcome the transgendered woman into their midst, for there are many stories about how bathroom problems have caused serious problems during transition, often forcing the need to create a third, isolated bathroom, falling outside the system of gender. We can be seen as not a person, gendered, but a thing, outside of gender, outside of humanity. An old saw goes "In the war between the sexes, men see MTW as traitors and women see MTW as spies. In any case, they want to shoot them!"
We can accept the good intentions of the boss who wanted to be compassionate and even humorous in putting up the signs, and we can understand why the women accepted them. We do not have to work to change this one incident.
But we all have to work to change the climate that this incident illustrates. The exclusive nature of gender in this heterosexist, patriarchal culture is limiting to all people. It continues gender stereotypes that are, especially for men, the exclusive group, very confining. It means that it is possible for others to decide that you don't measure up to the standards they impose on your gender role, and to punish you for it.
Men who beat up on faggots, women who torment dykes and many others are punishing people for being outside some arbitrary definition of gender roles. Queer people, those who do not fall simply into gender stereotypes, by birth or choice, are often tormented for their "deviance." They are gender outlaws, and as transgendered people, so are we, no matter how well we hide in the camouflage of traditional gender roles.
Each of us must be willing to stand up for the right of all to their own gender expression with respect. This may be marching in a parade, or merely making a point about how all humans are the same, worthy of respect, in a discussion at the office.
We must know in our hearts, and speak on our lips, that there is never an "everybody else." There is only us, and we all are unique, we are all the same. Help others be treated the way you would like to be treated - for you will be treated like them.
Freedom Of Gender Expression
Copyright © 1996 Callan Williams
When someone disapproves of you dress in the mall, what are they judging? In most cases, they don't judge your outfit, especially if it would be acceptable on someone female bodied. Usually they make a leap to judge the motivations of someone born male who would wear that outfit -- and then they condemn those motivations they assigned.
One question that has always haunted me is the responsibility I have in displaying my gender transgression in public. Is it unreasonable to expose others, including children, to the reality of gender transgressive behavior, of males wearing clothing assigned to females? I know that many people would argue that it is because it is immoral, unnatural -- arguments I disagree with.
It is immoral to force people into a non-consensual act, whatever that is -- theft, rape, abuse, whatever. Do I force them into a non-consensual act by having to view me?
I realized that in this country, that decision has been made pretty clearly in the First Amendment to the Constitution. I have the right of free speech, free expression of who I am, as long as that speech is not obscene or incendiary.
It seems impossible to argue that clothing that would be acceptable on one human are obscene or incendiary on another. Do we have a set of standards of behavior, or one set of community standards?
Freedom of expression -- even freedom of gender expression -- is a first ammendment issue, and we have the right to dress as we wish
The other set of public issues have to do with public accomodations. While there may be bylaws against using a restroom not appropriate for your sex, how do people feel about others using restrooms inappropriate for their gender?
It may be appropriate for me to use the woman's room (gender) but not the female facilities (sex.) Does that mean I should use the male facilities, but not the men's room? How do men feel about people in pantyhose using their facilities?
The question is simple: are humans who are gender transgressive denied the use of any and all public facilities because they don't fit either bill? That is discrimination, pure and simple.
In the long run, all people in this world can judge is our actions towards others. They can never judge our soul -- especially at a glance from across the mall. We have the right to free espression, and the requirement to make our own agreement with our God. We may choose to care what people think, in order to be effective with them-- but the only obligation we have is to treat them with respect and grace. --just like we want to be treated.
Those Heterosexual Gays!
Callan Williams © 1994
Let's face it. You're a faggot. I mean you dress up in women's clothes, know about makeup, maybe even hang out in gay bars.
Oh, maybe you have never had sexual relations with another man. Maybe you have, but only a few times as an experiment. You are not homosexual.
But you are a faggot. Anyone who is uncomfortable with homosexuals will be uncomfortable with you. Do you think that gay bashers would skip you if they saw you out in a dress? In fact, some states talk about "perceived sexual identity" when talking about gay bashing.
With the approach of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, where a bunch of drag queens in New York City finally decided to stop police harassment of a lesbian cross dresser, and started the gay rights movement, we need to think about how much we have in common with our gay brothers and sisters.
In fact, Boyd McDonald, collector and publisher of lots of real life homosexual stories argued that homosexual and gay are two different things. Homosexual defines sexual acts, but gay is a lifestyle.
Before Stonewall, sex was just sex. Men, while they didn't discuss it, saw less stigma about homosexual acts. They were just an event in their lives. But gay people defined a lifestyle that was supportive of homosexual relationships. They came out of the closet, so that people who engaged in homosexual acts were seen as somehow in a different lifestyle.
But the gay lifestyle is becoming much more expansive. We see red ribbons on virtually everyone at an awards ceremony. All the hippest discos are full of gay people. Creativity, style, flash all seem to point to gay people.
You don't have to be homosexual to be gay, claims GQ magazine. People are choosing to live in this accepting, colorful lifestyle, even if they are oriented as heterosexuals. We see more and more gay characters on TV, in movies. We begin to accept the gay lifestyle as natural, an outgrowth of how some people are wired.
We know about being wired differently. Many of us know that drag queens are our sisters, expressing their transgender differently because they are oriented towards men and live in a gay lifestyle. That changes their cross-dressing expression.
How do you feel about this? Are you comfortable with the thought that you are scare the homophobic at least as much as any sissy? Have you thought about how much you have in common with those whose sexual orientation is not typical?
We sometimes think that because we can live our life in a closet that the issues that touch gay people don't touch us. This is not true. We need to be accepting of other people's lives if we ever expect them to be accepting of ours.
But as we come to grips with our lives, we also come to grips with how others may come to view us, and know that living in an accepting world is the best way. And that accepting world is the gay world, the world where lives are open, diverse and comfortable.
Think about supporting gay rights, supporting your rights in your community. The rising tide lifts all boats.
And you too can learn to be proud of being queer, proud of contributions and strength. You will know that you have helped make this world more open for you, and your children. And this is very good.