5 Things You Should Stop Doing To Your Post-Transition Trans Friends, or “Some things your trans friends might be too polite to ask you to stop doing.”

So, here I am falling into another terrible blogger cliche, and using the age-old internet crutch: the list article. There are all kinds of wonderful lists about things you shouldn’t say to trans people. Like this one from Matt Kailey at Tranifesto, and this one from Justin Cascio at One in Six Trans Men. But those are general, all purpose, “these are the things that make you look like a total asshole” lists…this is an area that I don’t think has been covered very much. While the medical part of transition can go on for years and years (depending on hormones, surgical choices, etc), there comes a point relatively quickly where the rest of transition is essentially complete. For me, that point really hit when my name change occurred. I was already living full-time at that point, and it really marked the point where the bulk of the “journey” portion of transition was over. When that point hits, it’s time to think about how you approach certain conversational topics with your trans friend(s), as the reality of the situation is often rather different than it as a few months (or a year or two) before.For those of you who have been awesome enough to stick by a trans friend through transition, or who met a new friend during an early stage of transition, the evolution of conversation can be difficult once they reach what I tend to call “post-transition”. Sometimes things that really were supportive and helpful early on start to feel a little overwrought or repetitive as time goes on.  So, with that in mind, here are 5 things you should definitely stop doing to your post-transition trans friends:

1. Stop introducing them as, or referring to them as your “trans*” friend. I know…when it’s early in transition, and we’re either not feeling terribly confident about our appearance or having difficulty “blending in”, it can feel necessary to give people a heads-up to avoid potential awkwardness. It’s still not exactly a great thing to do to even then, but I’ll give it a bit of a pass. But seriously, let go once things are settled down! I know it can feel like you’re embracing their identity and demonstrating your support by talking about (or introducing) them as your “totally awesome trans* friend,” but it’s kinda like introducing someone as your “totally awesome circumcised friend.” You’re sharing private information about our genitals to a stranger.  Not everyone in the world needs to know that we’re trans, and it really should be our decision when and how we disclose it.

2. Stop asking about “how things are going with the whole [transition/hormone/etc] thing” every time you see us. Again, this is one of those things that I know you probably feel is being really supportive. But we reach a point where we get tired of talking about transition-related stuff every time we see friends. It starts to feel like it’s biggest thing our friends see about us (which I’m sure it actually isn’t, but still). Once someone is living full-time and on hormones, there’s usually not a ton of day-to-day (or even month-to- month) news. Do you really want to hear “well, I think my breasts grew like a millimeter or two, and I have like 3% less body hair” every time we talk?

3. Stop telling us how brave you think we are for transitioning every time you see us. Honestly, it’d be nice if people would give this up after the initial “coming out” conversation. Once again, I KNOW this meant to convey support, but I’ll be perfectly honest…I don’t generally think of myself as brave. I think of myself as doing what I had to do to survive, and I’ve had other trans people echo this sentiment. I understand that from the outside, you might see it as a very brave act. I think it’s a perfectly fine (and often encouraging) sentiment to express right after someone comes out. But when it happens half a dozen (or more) times, it starts to feel like (for me at least) like I’m battling something like cancer. In any case, it’s definitely not something you need to declare every time you see us.

4. Stop commenting about “how far we’ve come along.” And definitely stop giving them a serious appraising look every time you see them. This is especially the case if you’re saying things like “Gosh, you look just like a real girl!” I know that personally, this makes me feel like I’m being examined and scrutinized, which is absolutely panic-inducing. Plus, it has a subtle hint to it that you previously thought they looked badly (or at least worse than they do now). It’s much better to let us point out the changes we’re excited about (if there are any) than to suggest that you were examining them looking for the changes that might have occurred.

5. Stop asking us what the “next step” is in our transition. This is one of those things that I think people say in order to demonstrate that they’re interested in this big thing going on in our lives. But for a lot of us, once the metaphorical dust has settled (i.e. we’re living full-time, our names are changed, etc), it’s just kind of…life. We might not be taking any more “steps” at all, or any other steps might be a long way off. In either case, it can make us feel a bit like “crikey, isn’t this enough?”. The early stages of social and medical transition are a whirlwind of change and process, and once we get through, we’re often burned out on thinking/talking about the process itself. Again, let US broach this subject if there is, indeed, a next step coming up for us.

So you’re saying “Shit, I’m so used to talking about the gender/transition stuff…now what do I talk about?” If you have a brain fart about what else to say/do in place of the above, try one of the following:

1. Tell them they look amazing (without qualifiers). By this I mean not “You look amazing for someone born a man!” or “You look so good for a trans woman!” and so on. Just give a sincere, unqualified compliment (i.e. “Wow, you look fantastic!” or “Gosh, your hair is gorgeous!”). It’s a nice little boost to our confidence without reminders that you’re thinking about our gender identity.

2. Ask them about something new or exciting in their lives not related to transition. Did your friend start a new job recently? Meet a new partner? Get a new cat? Finish a degree? Take a Hawaiian vacation? Take up the art of blind-folded flower arranging? They’re your friend, so hopefully you know about SOMETHING in their lives other than the fact that they’ve been going through transition. Everyone loves the chance to gush about the new thing they’re excited about, and it’s a reminder that you see them as a whole person.

3. Give them a genuine, unhesitating gesture of affection. Hugs are good, if you’re the hugging sort. Gentle shoulder touch, friendly punch-in-the-arm, air kisses, or intricate secret-society handshake are also options if they’re the sort of thing you and your friend are comfortable with. I definitely don’t advocate UNWANTED affection of any kind (seriously, they’re your friend…you should know what kinds of friendly affection they find acceptable/unacceptable). The genuine, unhesitating part is important! Even the best, most accepting of allies/friends can get a little weird/uncomfortable about how physical interactions with their trans friends work post-transition, and we can definitely sense that hesitation (or at least I can). Unhesitating affection signals a degree of acceptance that isn’t always easy to express through words.

Final note: This is not the sort of list that is meant to AT ALL belittle or insult the allies of trans people, so please don’t take it the wrong way and send me hate mail. Allies deserve a bajillion thank-yous for standing by us, and there’s zero implication here that doing any of these five things makes you a bad person…it’s just an opportunity to point out some things that can help make better allies (and friends).

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On Stealth in the Trans Community, or “How I accidently slipped into invisiblity, nearly lost myself, and came out wiser for it.”

The concept of stealth is oft-debated and fairly controversial topic within the trans community. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, the general connotation is the idea of living one’s life without disclosing or acknowledging their pre-transition life. In the most classic sense of the term, it generally refers to a transwoman who- after GCS- does everything possible to erase evidence that she had ever been male-assigned and never discloses it again, often asking family to lie/conceal their pre-transition life, and/or otherwise completely cutting off from those who had known them before transition. As the trans community has evolved, the notions of just what exactly is and is not “stealth” have become far grayer. Can a non-op transwoman go stealth? Is it stealth if you deny your trans status to everyone but your romantic partner? What about simply blending in and not explicitly mentioning one’s trans status to casual acquaintances? Perhaps most importantly, given how trans people are treated in society, is going stealth really such a bad thing? I previously discussed the problem of disclosure to one’s sexual partners, but this issue is far thornier, and my views have definitely evolved as I’ve moved through my own transition.

Defining what exactly “IS stealth” is complicated, and the breadth of opinion within the community appears to be fairly wide. For me, I tend to put the dividing line at “active deception”…that is, you venture into “living stealth” when you’re starting to actively lie. Again, I know there’s some gray area here, after all, most would argue that an lie of omission is still a lie. But, to me, I don’t feel that we have any requirement to disclose pretty much anything about ourselves (and I mean ANY of us, cis or trans) to complete strangers or casual acquaintances. Quite simply, everyone is entitled to keep private what they feel is personal, private information.  The wonderful folks over at TransAdvocate did quite a fantastic series on stealth over the summer that hit on a lot of my general feelings on the matter, and this piece from Cristan Williams hits the nail right on the head. She writes:

Not telling the grocery sacker that you’re trans is not stealth. Trying to get your parents to lie to your new boyfriend is being stealth. Not telling every co-worker in the building that you’re trans is not being stealth. Not telling your best friend is being stealth.

There are tend to be generally two major camps of opinion regarding the acceptability of going stealth: those who believe it’s a completely reasonable thing to do given the current climate of transphobia, and those who hold that stealth is a betrayal of the queer (particularly trans) community. For those who hold to the acceptability of stealth, one of the primary arguments is often that being trans is mostly a medical problem, and once that problem (one’s incongruent assigned-at-birth sex) is corrected, there’s no longer any need to identify or come out as trans. Other simply argue that if you have the ability to do so (owing to one’s attractiveness, ability obtain GCS, etc), then why should you? One the other side, there are many who believe that slipping into a stealth life deprives the trans community of much needed visibility. After all, many of the large gains in LGB acceptance are due to the visibility and personal relationships that LGB folks have developed, and this has been born out in numerous polls. Additionally, some argue that the trans community is often the only support available for trans people- especially early on their transition, and that the voices of those who have successfully transitioned are sorely needed as examples and role-models for those just starting out, and therefore to “turn your back” on the community that supported you is unacceptable. Of course, the arguments on both sides of this issue go considerably further, but that’s pretty much the gist of it.

For me, I spent much of the early part of my transition firmly in the “stealth is not okay” camp. I’m definitely not at all ashamed of being a trans woman, and I feel that being visible and vocal IS the best way for us to make progress for our teeny-tiny majority. Of course, it’s also an easy thing to say when almost everyone around you has known you before and through your transition. I was lucky enough to have very supportive friends who stuck with me, so I didn’t really encounter the choice to not disclose my trans status. Even new people in the early days who only knew me in a female presentation were always aware that I’m trans right off the bat. I’m not going to say that I ran around in public wearing a giant “HEY EVERYBODY, I’M TRANSGENDER” sign, but as I’ve mentioned before…I don’t think not telling every single stranger has anything to do with stealth (after all, no one tells every stranger in the street about what their genitals look like!).

As it turns out, the chance to get a fresh start can give you quite a shift in perspective. When I left my full-time career job to return to University for my PhD, I suddenly found myself in an environment where nobody knew anything about me. A few of the faculty were aware, as I hadn’t yet finished changing my name, but other than that I was just some random, shy new girl to everyone else. For the first few weeks, I was DEAD sure everyone knew I was trans and that I was totally delusional about this “fresh start” business. But, as I slowly drew up the courage to converse with classmates (particularly the other girls in my program), I realized that I had quietly slid into cis-assumption. And, I have to admit…it was really, really nice. No Trans 101, no awkward stairs while people try to pick out the incongruencies that would give aware my birth sex, no avoidant or hesitant conversations. At times, I’d begin to wonder if someone had finally picked up on something that would get me clocked, but then I’d be feeling unwell and someone would ask if it was my ‘time of the month”, or something along those lines. I even once made a major slip and mentioned my complete avoidance of Catholic hospitals because of my fear of being left to die, to which my wonderful classmate said “Well, it’s not like you HAVE to tell them that you’re gay!”. So as the weeks stretched into months, the idea that I HAD to tell everyone that I’m a trans woman slowly drifted to background…it became easier to just skip around the potential issues and make the small revisions to my personal history to make it congruent with what they perceive of me. Initially, I chalked it up to “oh, well, I don’t know these people! It’s none of their business!”. Once I got to know a few people better, I told myself that I was just protecting myself…life was already stressful enough in grad school, why should I risk making it worse by coming out? About two-thirds of the way into the semester, it really hit me- I had edged into the gray outer reaches of stealth. While I’m not asking anyone to lie for me, I am being revisionist about my personal history for the sake of “passing”, and that’s definitely active deception.

Again, I just kinda put it to the back of my mind for a long while, as I had numerous other personal stresses to deal with at the time. For the a good portion of the semester, I had actually put pretty much ALL thoughts about trans/queer/feminist issues and most of my activist tendencies on hold so I could focus completely on brutally difficult core classes in my PhD program. However, as I reached the last few weeks of Fall semester and my brain gradually unfogged from the extreme studying, I realized how much I missed all of that…which in turn led me to serious examine my being semi-stealth when it comes school. I have to admit now, that I’m bothered by my behavior. Sure, I’m being visible for queer women (which is, of course, important!) as a whole, but my stealthy-ness isn’t do a damn thing for the trans community, and that’s not at all like me. I feel like I’m bending to will of cis-society, being a “good” trans girl by not making a fuss and quietly going about my business. Furthermore, it really started to erode my personal identity…I wasn’t being ME; I was being the person that society wanted to be. And it happened EASILY…it’s the path of least resistance in many sense. And as I said, I even enjoyed to an extent. It’s forced a major shift in my perceptions of stealth and those who choose it.

I still definitely want people to not be stealth…I do think it’s harmful on a personal level, and I’ve now personally experienced how easily it can start to erode your own identity. But even more, I want to live in a world where no one ever feels like they HAVE to go stealth, where trans people are just as loved and accepted as anyone else. I’ve previously harbored some pretty negative feelings about stealth trans people, and certainly made some fairly negative statements about them. And for that, I’m sorry. Being trans is among the most difficult situations that can be thrust upon a person, and anyone who manages to survive it and live a life that makes them happy should be celebrated…even if they choose to distance themselves from our community. If stealth is way that makes your life happy and livable, I support you. If being out and proud is what makes you happy, I support you and stand with you. To that end, I’m ready to start being more visible. I’m ready to shake people’s perceptions of what a trans woman is, and to be a success story in the sciences that we really need. I’m scared to death to do it, but I know it’s only way to really do what I set to do when made the decision to transition: to live my life genuinely as the real me.

A Day of Victory for Gay Marriage, or “Believe it or not, the Equal Protection clause applies to everyone, not just white, straight, cisgender people.”

DOMA ruled uncostitutional: Full Supreme Court opinion | WJLA.com.

Hollingsworth v. Parry (Prop 8) Full Text via HuffPo

So today was a big day for queer rights in the United States, but not quite as big of a day as we had hoped. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court broadly struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented federal recognition of otherwise legal same-sex marriages, as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. In a related matter, the Supreme Court found that a group of proponents of Proposition 8 in California (which overturned the legality of same-sex marriage in that state) did not have the legal standing to continue the appeal after the State refused to continue to defend the voter-approved initiative. The high court had the opportunity to make a wider ruling on overall legality of same-sex marriage, but chose a much narrower scope, as predicted by many court watchers.

So what does this all mean? Well, the biggest thing is means is that United State federal government will have to treat all marriages equally, no matter the genders of the couple. This means significant tax benefits, social security survivor benefits, military spouse benefits, and much more. I think it also puts some pressure on the states to re-examine their so called “Definition of Marriage” laws. For the majority opinion penned by Justice Kennedy:

DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency.

Kennedy’s entire opinion is very indicting of the entire concept of DOMA, and I cried several times while reading it. Not surprisingly, the conservative members of the Court were sour eggs on the entire thing, and the dissenting opinions reflect their continued homophobia. From Justice Alito’s dissent:

At present, no one—including social scientists, philosophers, and historians—can predict with any certainty what the long-term ramifications of widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage will be.

Alito is invoking the age-old- and completely unfounded- homophobic worries about the “dangers” that queer people pose to society at large. Scalia, ever the charmer, reinforces his protestations from Lawerence v Texas that laws may mandate “sexual norms” and makes the same tired comparison of same-sex marriage to polygamy:

As I have observed before, the Constitution does not forbid the government to enforce traditional moral and sexual norms. See Lawrence v.Texas, 539 U. S. 558, 599(2003) (SCALIA , J., dissenting). I will not swell the U. S. Reports with restatements of that point. It is enough to say that the Constitution neither requires nor forbids our society to approve of same-sex marriage, much as it neither requires nor forbids us to approve of no-fault divorce, polygamy, or the consumption of alcohol. 

There are many more gems like this sprinkled through all the dissents.

The case involving Prop 8 in California, Hollingsworth v Perry, is a much different beast. If you don’t remember, the legislators of the State of California approved same sex marriage several years ago. Then a pack of angry, well-funded Christian Right groups pushed forward with a referendum that forced a state-constitution amendment that banned gay marriage. The entire matter ended up in Federal district court, where the proposition was a struck down. At this point, the State decided to not pursue any appeals in the matter. However, the proponents of Prop 8 pushed on with the appeals in the State’s stead. Today, the Supreme Court rules that those proponents did not have any legal standing to do so, as they were not seeking remedy for any “personal and tangible harm.” So this means that gay marriage is once again legal in the state of California, but it’s broader implications are limited. In many ways, this is a punt by the Court. The one positive thing here, however, is that reinforces the notion that the angry Christian Right activists have absolutely no standing to force the courts to continue to consider appeals on any gay-marriage decisions if the States are no longer interested in defending their “one-man-one-woman” marriage laws.

Overall, today is definitely a day to celebrate a victory for queer rights in our country, and I’m overjoyed at the progress made today. However, we we still have MANY states where gay marriage remains illegal, and many places where LGBT discrimination remains perfectly legal. So, today may be a major battle win, but the war is far from over. Let’s carry this enthusiasm onwards and continue our push for equality for all!

 

A Period of Adjustment, or “Sometimes our friends just need some fricking time to get used to the idea.”

Coming out. It’s one of those hallmark processes of transition for the vast majority of us. It’s a process that’s often fraught with complications and awkwardness for everyone involved. For those of us doing the coming out, there’s a ton of stress and anxiety about the how, when and where of those conversations, and even who to have those conversations with. A lot has been written around the blogosphere about all of those items. But I think something equally important to consider is how the process of coming out affects those around us, and to give them the time and space to process the information if necessary.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Some people are just going to be shitty and stay shitty, no matter what. I think some of us probably are lucky enough to have nothing but supportive people in their lives, but I imagine that’s the exception, not the norm. When we start the process, I believe it’s very important to be prepared for the possibility that some people in our lives will never be able to accept our transition and remain a part of our lives. Whether it’s the standard transphobic nonsense, an inability to process a change this significant, or some other personal hang-up, it’s just a reality given the state of our culture when it comes to transgression of the accepted “norms” of gender. For people like this, there’s just a point where we have to throw up our hands and let go. Education and patience will only get you so far, and eventually you are just wasting your time and emotional energy. But I think with a little patience, many people who may initially have difficulties accepting that their friend or family member is transgender will eventually come to some degree of acceptance and support.

One of the first things that we as trans folks need to remind ourselves is that no matter what, we have always had MUCH longer to process our gender identity than those around us. For most of us, that process goes on for years with tons of introspection, learning, and exploration long before we share that journey with anyone else. Our friends and family members don’t have the benefit of that experience, and many times aren’t privy to that portion of the journey at all. I know that for myself, that entire process was intensely personal and private, and I’m still not overly comfortable sharing it almost anyone. So when the facts of someone’s gender transition finally come out (generally, along with that person’s coming-out), I’m sure it came seem quite sudden and even jarring to many.  Building on that, for those of us actually doing the transitioning, the facts of a transgender life are our everyday immediate reality, and in some respects, they become relatively mundane to us fairly quickly. But it’s important to remember that those around us, having a transperson in their life, with all the complications that it brings, is a completely new experience. And for a large portion of people, new is almost universally scary and confusing. What I’m getting is that those in our circles may need a period of time to adjust to the “new normal”, as almost all of us do when something major changes in our lives, and we need to learn to be okay with that.

I think, though, that the heart of some of the trouble we experience when coming out have a lot more to do with identity more so than experience. For many of the trans community, our identity when presenting as our assigned-at-birth sex is largely a construction, a convenient facade we built and held up for years so that we could function relatively without hassle in the world. There are often facets of our real selves woven into it, but it’s just not really the person we are inside. But we put a great deal of care into those constructions for our own personal safety (and I think many of us thought we’d hold onto them forever at one point). The problem is, everyone involved in our lives developed a relationship with that facade, without every really knowing what was going on underneath. So while we may feel relieved and excited to cast aside that construction and let the “real us” shine through as we transition, people important to us have attachments to that identity and all that it entails. They have memories with and of that person, stories that they share about them, and a relationship they feel they understand with them. For many, it can feel like their friend, spouse, child, etc has died, and they will feel the need to mourn that person. And I feel that that is totally normal, and that we as a community need to make allowance for it. I’m not saying we all suddenly become completely new and different people and there was nothing genuine about us before transition. But often there’s enough newness once we embrace what we feel inside and slip off our masks that the analogy rings pretty true. And really, I think that that kind of attachment is meaningful and it should touch us- it means that we are important, and we did well in cultivating that relationship. I truly believe that once our loved ones can understand how important transition is, and how much it’s improving our lives, they will more often than not be able to embrace the changes and hold onto that relationship.

If we aren’t willing to try to understand the complicated emotions that may surface when we come out to those we care about, then we put the relationships that could enrich our lives and ease the burden of our journey in jeopardy. I know that most of us are almost constant on guard for rejection so that we can harden ourselves to it before it has the chance to do much damage. So, when we see loved ones struggling to understand or cope with the realities of the changes we are going through, we’ll tend to see rejection and instinctively push that person away. Sadly, this tends to only worsens the problem. After all, who wants to put effort into understanding someone who isn’t willing to put in that same amount of effort for you? Now we’ve possibly lost a relationship, and the community has lost a potential ally, all for a lack of patience and empathy on our part. And really, is that exactly what we’re usually asking for from our friends and family members when we come out- patience and empathy?

Ultimately, I think what is needed is to realize that the coming-out conversation is a two way street. As much as we might not like to admit it (or just plain sometimes forget!), in coming out to someone, we’re asking for something big of them. We’re asking them to re-align their personal conception of who we are, and in many ways, to let go of someone they may have loved very deeply. I’m not saying we’re out of line for asking for these things…I believe that it’s a reasonable thing to ask from someone who cares about you once they understand the severity of the situation. What I am saying is that everyone deals with big things in their own way, and we owe it to the people who love us to give them the time and space to process it in way that works best for them. If we can give them a little patience and empathy, I suspect we’ll get it back in spades.

AMP v. Myriad Decision, or “Hey, our genes belong to us again…sort of.”

U.S. Supreme Court Rules On Gene Patents | Popular Science.

I held off on posting a full-length article yesterday, as I knew this decision was being handed down today, and I like being topical!

[Disclosure: I am a member of the Association for Molecular Pathology]

Being a scientist, I can’t NOT talk about one of the most important Supreme Court cases involving my field..well..ever. Today, the AMP v Myriad Genetics ruling was handed down,  and it’s earth-shattering for those of us who work in the areas of genetic and molecular biology. For me, I think there’s a lot of good, but it’s far from what I was hoping for.

I’ll start with some background. I’m not going to teach a whole intro genetics or molecular biology courses here…if you aren’t familiar with the basics of genetics or DNA, you want to spend some time reading through the material here first. Important for this discussion is to understand that genomic DNA or gDNA is the raw, unchanged strands of DNA isolated from cells. cDNA is a form of “synthetic” DNA that does precisely match the sequence in the genome (most frequently it has had the introns cut out, but I’ll get to this in a minute). Years ago, Myriad Genetics discovered the existence of two genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) that have a significant impact of breast cancer risk. The applied for and were awarded patents covering everything having to do with these genes. From there on out, they required licensing fees from anyone who wanted to do ANYTHING with BRCA1 and BRCA2, from screening tests to research and more. Many other whole-gene patents have been granted since, effectively giving a number of companies exclusive domain to test people for changes in the genes they hold patents for. It’s been a practice fraught with controversy for many years. Some have argued that not allowing patents removes incentives for investment in genetic research, as the patent allows the firm that discovered it to recoup its costs through direct testing sales and/or licensing fees (not unlike the model for the pharmaceutical industry.) Opponents have argued that US law specifically excludes “unaltered products of nature” from being patented, and that allowing these patents to continue restricts research progress and hampers medical advancements. A few years back, a major professional organization in genetics- The Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP)- sued Myriad to challenge the validity of their patents. The case wound its way through the Federal court system, and eventually was taken up by the Supreme Court earlier this year. Today, the SCOTUS handed down their ruling. The very basic interpretation of what the court held is that genes themselves cannot be patented, however cDNA sequences can. Most people who have been following this case for a while expected a ruling along these lines. This invalidates a large portion of Myriad’s patent control of BRCA1 and BRCA2 and seriously weakens the patent positions of a number of companies with important gene patents.

I have long argued against the idea of gene patenting. Like many other in my field, I have never been comfortable with a number of the implications, the largest being the idea that a company someone holds control over my ability to learn information about the one of the most basic parts of my body, my genome. Please don’t misunderstand, as a scientist, I full understand the importance of intellectual property protections. However, my DNA belongs to me, and I hold strongly that I’m the one who should have ultimate control over its analysis. Furthermore, I feel that gene patents fail another crucial test: you cannot invent “around” them. A hallmark of the concept of the patent is the idea that whatever is patented can still be improved upon. If you’re intelligent enough to design a way to get to the same endpoint by different methods, then you’re in the clear (and can even be granted a patent of your own). However, granting complete patent control over the gene itself removes that “invent around” possibility, which (to me) is a violation of the basic tenants of patent law and patentability.

The decision has some pretty important implications as genetic and genomic technology race forward. So called next-generation sequencing technology is rapidly bringing down the costs of large scale sequencing of the human genome (as well as exome and transcriptome, which again, we’ll cover shortly), and whole gene sequencing is staged to move from an extremely complex, expensive, and time-consuming test to something relatively routine within just the next year or so. This technology will allow us to sequence entire genes (and soon entire genomes) of large numbers of individuals and give us insights into genetic function and variability beyond out wildest dreams, as well as significant advancements in personalized medicine. If gene patents had been allowed to stand, it would have created a nightmare of licensing complications for interpreting complete genome sequences. Companies wishing to offer complete genome testing would have been required to negotiate licenses (and fees) with every single holder of a patent on a human gene. Not only would this have been an administrative nightmare and a constant risk of litigation, it would have almost certainly made this kind of testing prohibitively expensive to all but the richest of patients, turning a potentially paradigm-shifting medical advancement into a niche sector.

The decision isn’t perfect however. The upholding of cDNA patents leaves a number of complex issues in place. The largest among these (at least from my reading of the case law) is transcriptome research. One of the most common places where cDNA is made is from messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA’s function within the cell is to provide instructions to produce proteins. mRNA is isolated from cells to study the changes in these signals (generally known as gene expression). The sum of all these mRNAs from a cell is known as the transcriptome. Current technology allows us to examine large portions of the transcriptome to monitor gene expression in cells, tissue, and ultimately organisms, and it has wide-ranging applications in medical research, particularly in complex situations like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.  Again, as the technology in molecular biology advances, we are able to examine much larger portions of the transcriptome and gain a much deeper understanding of the mechanisms at place in many processes, both cellular and throughout an organism and the potential for major advancements in human health is huge. However, if the cDNA made from the mRNA of a particular gene remains under patent, we again run into the issues of licensing for this kind of work. It seems to me that it’s more the wording of explanation of what cDNA is that skirts the “natural products” restriction, not any significant difference in fact. cDNA is essentially a copy of a natural product (mRNA); it just so happens that the particular method in which nucleic acids replicate (through complimentary sequences) gives it appearance of something novel. It’s still essentially a patent on something innate to my body (the genes it’s expressing, rather than the basic instruction set). It still fails at the “invent around” test, and I believe these patents should have (at least as they apply to mRNA) been overturned as well. I believe the repercussions of allowing these patents to remain will significantly stifle research in gene expression and the transcriptome for years to come.

I think the AMP v Myriad ruling is an important step forward, and a correction to a major standing error in US intellectual property law. I believe it will open to door for major advances in many areas of medicine and basic science, and it maintains an individual’s absolute control over the content of their genetic code. However, the upholding of cDNA patents is a sticking point for me, and I’m anxious to see how this plays out in research community and in IP litigation.

The Reaction to Season 3, Episode 9 of Game of Thrones, or “Why your tears should be music to the the writer’s ears.” (SPOILERS!)

I really enjoy HBO’s Game of Thrones. It’s a fantastic bit of nerd television, with beautiful cinematography, excellent acting, and great writing. Sure, I have some gripes sometimes about the particular uses of violence and/or nudity in some episodes. But, in the end, I think it does an excellent job of translating the original material. One of the most memorable and important scenes in A Storm of Swords, the book upon which season 3 is based, it the so called Red Wedding, where Robb Stark and his mother Catelyn, along with most of his army are murdered at the arranged wedding of his uncle to the daughter of an powerful lord. I think for many of us who have read the books and are now watching the series, it’s one of the most anticipate moments yet.

Well, after the episode aired, every social media outlet exploded with rage and anger from fans of the series (it seems to be mostly from those who didn’t know this was coming). Some folks are angry at the sheer graphicness of the violence, particularly the shot of Robb’s wife, Talisa, being stabbed repeatedly in the belly (she’s pregnant). This is a departure from the books, largely because Talisa’s entire identity is a departure. In the novels, Robb marries the daughter for a Lannister bannerman, and she doesn’t even attend the wedding, nor is she pregnant. Some of argued that there was no need for this level of graphic violence against a pregnant woman, or to make her pregnant at all if the plan was to kill her off. But I didn’t hear nearly his level of outrage last season after the episode where Joffrey orders all of his father’s bastard children murdered, and men with swords brutally murder infants in front of their mothers. I’d argue that scene was MUCH more horrific, but it didn’t gain this level of attention precisely because the writing doesn’t drive you to have a deep care about those children. So I’d argue that readers are upset mostly because of their attachment to Talisa, not the particulars of her murder. And that really brings me to my point, that the strong emotional reaction that people had to the episode is proof that the series is good.

The tropes of “good guys win” and “plot armor” are extraordinarily common in literature, particularly in the fantasy genre. Fantasy tends to be an fairly escapist type of fiction, and so the common perception is that those who are on the side of “good” will win the day, and the “bad guys” will get what’s coming to them in the end. After all, who wants to “escape” into a world where genuinely awful things happen and the world isn’t fair or “right”. We have plenty of that here in the real world. But while that may make for a “fun” read or a “fun” series to watch, it really doesn’t make for GREAT literature or GREAT television (just ask Joss Whedon). So much of the dynamic tension and emotion of a series is lost if you’re never seriously concerned about what could happen to the main characters, particularly the characters you like. I argue that what truly draws someone into the action is that anticipation of what could happen, and it’s what makes you root for those characters even harder. To me, whether you’re talking books, movies, or television, the mark of truly well made fiction is the depth of emotion the creators are able to draw out of you. It means you really connected with the characters and the story, and what happens to them MATTERS to you. That’s no small feat for a story. So if you were full of heartbreak and mourning, if tears were streaming down your face, or even if your heart just sank while you watched Talisa fall to the floor, while you saw the dying rob hold his young wife, or when you heard Lady Catelyn beg for her son’s life, then the creators of GoT have absolutely done their jobs, and done them extraordinarily well. And now you are even more fully aware that in Game of Thrones, absolutely no one is safe. And that makes the series just that much more enthralling.

George RR Martin, the writer of the novels and the Executive Producer of the series, has said on numerous occasions that the world he created does not follow the usual fantasy tropes, even if it seems to carry some familiar themes (Queens and knights, dragons and monsters). And anyone who watched the first season should have had any delusions of things turning out happy for almost anyone in Westeros shaken right out of them. As so poignantly stated eluded to by the torturer of Theon Greyjoy: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” If you don’t want to watch television that can affect you emotionally, I suggest that “reality” TV might be more your style.

“Transsexual” Pornography and The Allure of the “Shemale,” or “How I stopped being angry at TG porn stars and wanted to hug Bailey Jay.”

Before I dive into the dicey subject, let me make a few key disclaimers. The overall social acceptability of porn and the feminist positions on porn are subjects for many many articles, and better written authors than myself have tackled them. I may have something to say on the subject at a later date, but for now, I’m restricting strictly to the subject of porn that falls very generally in the category of “transsexual”. Furthermore, my inclusion of words that I know to be offensive (and that I am offended by) is a conscious choice…they are unavoidable in the this particular subject. Also, I know this particularly article is very heavily focused on transwomen, and I apologize for that. While I’m aware of a growing amount of porn involving trans-men, I just don’t have any experience with how people perceive it.  Finally, I’d like to reiterate my primary disclaimer on this blog…this is a work of my own opinion, and I make no claims as to how the rest of the trans (or any other community I am a part of) may feel.

As I’ve talked about before, one of the things the things that trans folks seem to have to struggle most constantly against is the ton of stereotypes about us. I’ve discussed why that is before, so I’ll not rehash that here. But a key source of these stereotypes is porn, particularly when it comes our sexuality. Don’t get me wrong, all kinds of weird views of ALL women’s sexuality get propagated through skin flicks. But let’s face it…cis-gendered straight women are just a lot more numerous. That gives them at least a little more leverage in combating their stereotypes. Most people who attracted to FAAB women will probably have sex with a few of them over their lifetime. Just given our numbers, a lot fewer people will have an intimate experience with a transwoman.; that means a lot fewer chances to fight these stereotypes directly.

I have a number of beefs with CONTENT of TG porn. The biggest one is the sheer amount of it that is mind-blowingly transphobic. A common theme seems to be “straight” men being “tricked” into a sexual encounter with a transwoman. This just reinforces a number of ridiculous views about transwomen being frauds and manipulators, out to “dupe” straight men. Of course, there is also the language problem. Terms like “shemale”, “hermaphrodite”, “he-she”, “dickgirl”, “trap”, and the ubiquitous “tranny” are common in the titles as well as the dialogue of TG porn, which gives validation to the usage of these hateful, offensive terms. Lastly, there’s penetration problem. So much of trans-related porn features men being penetrated in some way by the actresses dick. My issue here is twofold. It perpetuates the male fantasy of the top transwoman. While I know that top transwomen exist, in my experience they are definitely the exception and not the norm. I know that I personally find the idea of penetrating anyone pretty awful and likely to induce a horrible bout of dysphoria, and I’ve heard that sentiment echoed by a lot of the transwomen I know. A quick glance at the casual encounters section of your local craigslist is all you need to see just how popular this fantasy is (More on that in a minute). Granted, I’m not interested in men for ANY intimate purpose, but the sheer number of times I’ve been approached in person or online by a man interested in blowing me or being fucked by me is astounding, and I know I’m not alone in this. But in all honesty, it’s my second objection to this situation that really grates on me. All of this presses into people’s minds that transwomen are a danger to men’s sexualities, that we are all out for your precious virgin bums, that we are trying to turn you all GAY. While that seems to be the sort of thing that gets a lot of men off, it’s also the sort of thing that many men find TERRIFYING. And terrified men are often violent men. And violent, terrified men murder transwomen. Again, other articles here discuss the ridiculous notion that being attracted to a transwoman makes you gay, so we’ll not recover that ground. But so many men are scared that even thinking we’re pretty is turning them gay…the idea that we all really like buggering the shit out of “helpless” dudes makes the situation a hundred times worse.

You might ask, well then, if men are so scared of being gay, and of transwomen, why is there so much trans porn? Why is this “shemale” stuff so popular? The answer is right there in the question…because men are afraid of being gay (or bi). There’s no denying that we live in a society where women have a much greater freedom to explore their same-gender sexual interests than men (again, a topic for later article perhaps). There’s the old joke that a woman can screw a hundred girls when she’s in college, and still be “just experimenting”. But if a guy even touches some other guy’s dick once, he’s gay for life. I think this isn’t just a societal view, but a concept that men have internalized. I think a lot of men DO have same-gender sexual curiosities, but feel that exploring it would risk turning them permanent homosexual. So, what would make sucking dick ok? Well, if a girl had a dick, it would be “less gay”! And the analogy extends for anal sex. It’s a way of abrogating responsibility for their curiosity about cock. So now, the “shemale” (a beautiful woman with huge porn-star breasts and a big, functional cock) becomes an object of fantasy, which is then reinforced through porn. Next thing you know, said man is approaching any trans woman he can find in real life or online, asking to suck her dick. I think this same desire to shirk responsibility for dick-curiosity is expressed by the (so I’m told by a number of sex-worker friends) extremely common male request for “forced” bisexuality play. Because if the pretty lady is “making” you do it, you aren’t responsible!

Don’t get me wrong, in many ways, I feel bad for these guys. It’s not entirely their fault…society has hand-cuffed them, and the homosocial male culture has warped THEIR brains too. They’d be a lot happier and healthier if they could just explore their sexual desires as they wish without all the worries about the views of their sexual orientation. Everyone is damaged by rigid sexual binarism. If people could just accept the spectrum of sexual orientation, and not be so hung up on labels…yeah, I know. I’m dreaming.

Because of the damage I feel is caused by trans porn, I’ve personally struggled with my views of trans porn actresses for a long time. On the one hand, I’m firmly of the opinion that women have the right to do whatever they like with their bodies, including producing pornography. I also try my very best not to pass judgement on how people express their sexuality as long as they aren’t harming others non-consensually. I also recognize the difficulties that most transwomen face with secure employment and financing transition, and how that leads so many of us into sex work. But part of me has always felt a little betrayed by what they’re doing. Trans porn actresses are often very attractive and frequently intelligent and well-spoken, and if they could be visible doing almost ANYTHING else, I feel like they could be doing so much to help improve the image of our community. And since we do struggle so hard against the stereotypes that so many media types portray about us, it stings to see “one of our own” helping to cement those stereotypes.

But then a funny thing happened to me. I was reading one of my favorite trans blogs, wehappytrans, and I saw they had filmed one of their famous 7 questions segments with Bailey Jay, who is quite possibly the best known trans porn actress around. I was expecting to be angry or irritated. But I’ll be completely honest, I got a rude awakening. She turned out to be smart, and charming. She quoted Kate Bornstein. I related to her. She called out transwomen for their anger and cattiness towards each other. I felt guilty. I cried. And by the end I wanted to just give her a big hug. While I don’t necessarily agree with her career choice, I can very much get behind what she’s saying, and I’ve let go of my negative feelings towards the adult actresses in the trans community. We ALL have a hard enough time as it is, without tearing each other down. There are better ways to fix these problems. While I’m sure she will never see this, Bailey deserves a big thank you from me for sharing so much of herself in her 7Q video, and changing my views so thoroughly. So here it is: Thank you, Bailey Jay, for giving me an emotional smack upside the head and opening my eyes.

Even an opinionated pain-in-the-ass like me can have her point of view rocked.

Bailey’s 7 Questions on WeHappyTrans

The Taboo of Trans Advocacy, or “We don’t talk about trannies in public.”

In that last few years, gay rights advocacy has grown well beyond LGBT community. People of all sexual orientations are making arguments for marriage equality and legal protections for sexual orientation. Straight employees are pressing their employees to provide same-gender partner benefits, and for equal opportunity clauses for their workplaces. Local municipalities are passing human rights ordinances covering sexual orientation.  Public figures who come out are applauded for their bravery. Governors, Senators, and even the President are coming out in support of gay rights. It is the most progressive time in history for the gay and lesbian community. I’ll stop short of calling gay rights advocacy “trendy”, but there’s a definite perception of it being, how should we say, sexy? Unfortunately, trans people are not so lucky.

The first problem, of course, is the age old problem of the rather small minority of the population that trans people make up. There just aren’t nearly as many trans people are there are gay folks. This, in turn, means much fewer people know (or are aware that they know) a transgender individual. The problem here cannot be understated. Numerous polls have pointed towards a strong correlation between having a gay friend or family member and support for gay rights. Compounding this is the fact that transpeople tend to put forth a lot of effort to not be noticed. Many go stealth if they can, and even people who don’t go completely stealth generally don’t go out of their way to be identified as transgender. So even if someone DOES have a trans person somewhere in their life, it’s entirely possible that they aren’t aware of it.

But that’s really just the surface problem. The larger problem is that there seems to exist a taboo on trans advocacy. Most of us (trans people and allies included) seem to be afraid to stand up and fight for transgender rights and trans inclusion. For transpeople, I think one of the largest problems is our shame. We are so heavily and constantly vilified all throughout media and culture that we are ashamed of being trans; we have internalized cultural transphobia to such an extent that we’re not only transphobic to each other, but we’re transphobic to ourselves. This shame drives to avoid anything that give people the idea that we’re transgender, including advocating for ourselves. I believe some of this shame extends to our friends and allies, too. As much as we might care about our trans friends, the culture of transphobia makes us afraid to advocate for them, afraid that other might judge us for even being associated with the trans community. In much of society’s eyes, being an trans advocate or a trans ally makes you a degenerate or associates you with degenerates.

As a community, trans people are not exactly helping themselves in many cases. The most privileged among us- those of us who are white, young, thin, and attractive- have by far the best access to individuals and institutions who could most facilitate change for our community. Unfortunately, this privilege allows them to distance themselves from the community and from an overt trans identity. And to a certain extent, who can blame them? To be trans means to be in constant danger of harassment, perfectly legal discrimination, hate crimes, and more. If one can distance themselves from all of that, why wouldn’t they? Because in the end, they’re trading a short term comfort and safety for further entrenchment of the things they are trying to avoid. If the most privileged abandon us, then it’s those of us with less access, less influence, and less social acceptability who are left holding the bag, fighting on for our rights. This not only reduces our voice by sheer numbers, but cuts down our influence where we need it most. I don’t think we all need wear our trans pride flags as capes every day, but we need to not let the allure of quietly blending in drive us to stop pushing for the things that will ultimately bring us real progress and acceptance.

Cis-gender gays and lesbians are not off the hook in this regard, either. When it comes to the LGBT community, it seems like the T is often preferred to be silent. While a number of queer rights groups (I’m looking at you, HRC) are all too happy to take our hard work, and our donations, the push for trans rights often take a back seat. We’re told that pushing for trans rights as a part of gay rights will sour the public on the gay rights push, and hold back the progress being made. The idea, they say, is that acceptance of LGB people is the larger issue, and the progress they’re making helps us too! But this sounds a lot like the shame I mentioned before. They are ashamed that trans people are associated with them, and would prefer we just keep our mouths closed and our donations coming in. And a look at any of the recent studies about things like transgender violence (1), transgender homelessness (2) , or transgender health (3) give us pretty strong evidence that things are not really getting better for trans people, despite the major progress made in gay acceptance.

So what’s the takeaway here? It’s simple, actually. ALL OF US- transpeople, the LGBT community,  and cis/straight allies- need to get over our shame and internalized transphobia. I realize that I’m painting with broad strokes in this piece, and that many people ARE working on this, and do work their asses off as advocates…so please forgive my generalities. But in the grand scheme of things, we all need to be doing more. We need to writing to our HR departments and pushing for trans-inclusive healthcare. We need to be pushing our places of employment to include gender identity in their non-discrimination statements. We need to be writing our local, state, and national leaders to support gender identity protections in housing, employment, and public programs. We need to be calling out and correcting transphobia when we see it in our everyday lives. We need to stop trading the convenience of blending in for the passive acceptance of trans exclusion. Most of all, we need to learn to love ourselves and each other, stop being ashamed, and erase the taboos of trans advocacy.

The Trans Bathroom Dilemma, or “Just leave me alone- I have to pee.”

 I’m honestly kind of depressed that I have to talk about this subject at all. But, sadly, trans people having a safe place to void their bladder is actually a real political issue. Don’t believe me? Check this out: (1). If this were to actually pass, if I had to use a public bathroom, I’d basically have the choice of risking assault in the men’s room or arrest in the ladies room. Every so often, someone on the Right seems to get a bug in their bum about where trans people use the toilet. As far as I know, we’re the only people in the US whose ability to utilize a public bathroom is the subject of a legislative debate.

Let’s take a look at some of the arguments being thrown around, shall we? Premise 1: Transwomen are really just male perverts trying to get access to women’s restroom. Yes, CLEARLY we spend thousands of dollars on therapy, hormones, surgery, laser/electrolysis, etc and risk complete rejection by our friends and family, face completely legal discrimination in housing and employment, and essentially risk our lives every day simply for the thrill of seeing genetic women in the bathroom. Wait, no we don’t. That’s effing crazy. No one with any kind of brain would take on the troubles of transition for that. And yes, I recognize that a large portion of society thinks that we’re all a bunch of degenerate perverts living out a fetish, and that’s what drives a lot of this fear bullshit. But if you take even half a second to realize what exactly you’re “signing up for” when you decide to transition, those arguments lose a lot of their steam.  Premise 2: Women are vulnerable in the bathroom, and transwomen will rape them if they are allowed to use the bathroom. Well, a significant search of the internet shows ZERO cases of a genetic female being raped by a transwoman in a bathroom. In fact, I can find no reports of a genetic female being raped by a transwoman at all. I’m not saying that it hasn’t happened and that it can’t ever happen (rape is highly underreported, after all)…but it appears a very unlikely and rather rare event. However, I did find MANY reports of genetic women being raped by cisgender men in women’s bathroom. So even though  there are almost certainly a lot more transwomen using the ladies restroom then there are cisgender men using the ladies room, the evidence seems to indicate that if you’re going to be sexually assaulted in the ladies room, it’s probably going to be by a cis-man. Now, before everyone starts writing me nasty letters, I’m NOT saying that cis-gendered men are all a bunch of rapists. I’m going to repeat that, just for the sake of not being eviscerated in comments: I am NOT saying that all cis-men just run around sexually assaulting people. But the statistics clearly indicate that the majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by cis-men.

While we’re on that touchy subject, let’s get into another common statement heard when this subject comes up- “Why can’t [insert pejorative here] just use the bathrooms of their birth gender?” I’ll start with the idea of transwomen using the men’s room. My first inclination is just to yell “because they’re not men!” and be done with it. But that really doesn’t accomplish anything. So how about this…because it’s incredibly dangerous. Trans people deal with a much higher risk of harassment, as well as physical and sexual assault than the general population. Now, you put a transwoman alone in a space away from the eyes of the public, where her presence is going to be very obvious, where men are likely to feel like THEIR “private space” is being intruded upon, where she has to take down her pants and/or undergarments? This is a recipe for disaster, plain and simple. Now, a transwoman using a women’s restroom is not without dangers as this incident shows. (2) Any yes, I complete recognize that the ideal situation is people realize that it’s not ok to beat the shit out of transpeople just because they had to go pee (or, you know FOR ANY REASON). But we’re a long way for the end of transphobic violence, and dammit, I still sometimes have to meet biological demand outside a private residence on occasion.

For transmen, I think the situation is even direr in some ways. I’m fairly sure the same people who are totally panicked about the idea of transwomen in the ladies room would not be much more forgiving of the idea of transmen in there. The logical inconsistency here blows my mind, but I long ago learned that logic goes out the window when dealing with transphobia. So ideally, we’d let transmen use the men’s room. But there’s danger here, too. Transmen are not immune to hate crimes and transphobic rape, and the risks they take on using the guy’s bathroom, too. In a very real way, they’re damned and at significant risk no matter what they do. I think the take away is that a public restroom remains an extremely hazardous situations for ALL trans people to navigate.

Once we get into enforcement, this entire situation just takes on an entirely more ludicrous tone. How exactly do we go about making sure there are no trans people using the “wrong” bathroom. I’m sure a fair number of people would say “well, you can just tell by looking at them!”, but I’m not going to even dignify that with a response. So do we start putting cameras in the bathroom to make sure everyone on the toilet has the appropriate equipment? I don’t see that being terrible popular with…anyone. Plus, how on earth would you deal with people who have already had GCS? (The bill very specifically says BIRTH gender, so even someone who had undergone GCS would affected by this) I mean, really…will we have to hire experts in genital anatomy to identify bathroom “intruders”? Alright, so we skip the toilet cam route. So do we hire guards at the doors to check everyone’s IDs like some sort of Restroom Gestapo? While I appreciate the potential job-creating angle of this, it seems a wee bit impractical (pun totally intended). And it still is foiled by those dastardly folks who’ve had their bottom surgery and gotten their legal gender marker changed.  Hmm, so that’s probably too expensive to really work, either. Well, maybe we’ll just leave it to the other bathroom patrons to police the genitals of everyone in the loo that day. Just feel free to bust down any stall and check the equipment of whoever is sitting there. I’m sure THAT won’t create any conflict! Wait, I’ve got it! I’m a woman of science, why didn’t I think of this before? CLEARLY the answer is develop a rapid genetic test for biological sex and performing it on everyone trying to use the restroom! I’m a genius! I’ll make BILLIONS! Muahahaha! Oh wait…there’s still problems like genetic mosaicism, complete androgen insensitively syndrome, sex determining chromosome aberrations, and more. Rats, there goes my fortune. So tell us, oh wise Arizona legislatures, what IS the plan for enforcing this crazy law? What’s that?…oh right, it’s crickets.

So what on earth can we do to make this situation better for everyone? A number of solutions have been proposed for this issue. In more than a few people’s minds, I’m sure the simplest and best solution is for transgender folks to just stay the hell out of public places (I’ve personally been told I shouldn’t be out in public more than once). But let’s give no further credence to that nonesense. Transgender-specific bathrooms often come up as an idea, and while this idea has a good sentiment, it has a few major flaws. Primary among them is that it forces trans people to out themselves if they use them, which is atrociously unfair. We also run the very real risk of the same “separate but ‘equal’” problem that occurred during the racial segregation.  A better suggestion is the idea of “gender neutral” bathrooms that anyone can use. This has the advantages of providing a safe bathroom for genderqueer people of all types, as well as for anyone who just prefers a private restroom. I suppose that’s an important point; if gender neutral bathrooms are implemented, it’s imperative that they be private and lockable for safety reasons. It would also be nice I efforts were made to maintain at least some standard of cleanliness, and not just left neglected/ignored. In an ideal world, people are just accepting of trans people and the need for bathroom complications fades away, but I recognize that’s mostly pipe dream. Some institutions have already created gender-neutral restroom facilities, and the idea is continuing to traction in some of the more liberal portions of the country. [(3), (4), (5)] From a practical standpoint, I think the idea is an excellent one, and could very much make life easier and safer for trans people. But part of me will always be a little disappointed that we, as a society, have to make such a big deal about a relatively simple biological need.

In the end, the entire situation is just a glaring example of the overt obsession that people have with the genitals of transgender individuals.

On Disclosure, or “Why my genitals are none of your effing business.”

Something I seem to see to be being discussed frequently around the interwebs these days is difficulty of when a trans person is -ethically or otherwise- obligated to disclose their “trans status” to someone else. And it seems like a lot of cis-folks seem to have an awful lot of opinions about who is entitled to information about trans people’s junk. So, I’m just going to make this very, very blunt. NO ONE has any RIGHT to know ANYTHING about ANYONE else’s genitals. Sorry, but the fact that I was unlucky enough to be born with a brain that doesn’t match up with my body does not give people special privilege to details of whatever is, was, or may ever be in my pants. Now, I will grant one VERY VERY small caveat…but it’s with a great deal of reluctance. Trans folks who have not had GRS should think about disclosing to partners before everyone starts to get naked, but only because it’s a matter safety. It upsets me to make this recommendation, but the world is still a hostile place for trans people, and we still get beaten or murdered because someone isn’t happy with what they see when our clothes come off. But this SHOULDN’T be the case, and there is still no obligation to disclose. Still with me? Good, let’s go deeper (no pun intended).

So let’s get this out of the way…I’m not necessarily talking about being “stealth”. Some of this discussion may apply to those choosing to live stealth, but that’s a subject that can be a post all of its own. We’ll take this step-by-step. An individual’s right to privacy is well established in our country, even if it’s not necessarily always respected by our government or the corporations around us. Nonetheless, people are not required to spill the personal details of our identities to every friend, acquaintance or stranger we happen across. We do not have personal data sheets stapled to our shirts detailing who and what we are to anyone who cares to look. Furthermore, the even greater degree of privacy for our personal medical information is enshrined in law and common politeness. Both HIPAA and your parent’s admonishments that’s not polite to ask “what’s wrong with your _____” are testaments to this fact. Being trans is definitely a medical issue; we’re required to be under a mental health professional’s care for transition, and doctors and surgeons are folks involved in helping us change our bodies to match our brains. Sounds awfully medical to me. What makes being trans different? Why are those pieces of medical information somehow less worthy of privacy than others? Well, some might say, people who have STIs are obligated to share this information with potential partners. Yes, I agree, they absolutely are. However, that’s a matter of risk awareness. A person with an STI has the potential to do harm to others if they do not disclose. I don’t see any way that my choosing not to disclose my birth gender to someone has the potential to harm others.

Well, you might say, I have the right to know who I am having sex with! Sure, but hear me out. Let’s say you meet a woman, and you find her attractive, and you find that the two of you have chemistry and enjoy each other’s company. Eventually, you find yourselves about to get down, and the clothes start coming off. During the course of this encounter, you find that your lovely lady happens to no longer have functioning genitals. She was born female, but due to cancer or misadventure, her genitals were so badly damaged that she was left with essentially nothing functional. I would be a little offended by anyone who wanted to argue that she was required to disclose this beforehand. Furthermore, at no point do you have any obligation to continue a sexual encounter. If you find that whatever your potential partner is working with doesn’t rock your boat, then sail on my friend. Now if we take this a step further with the same situation…you do find a functioning set of genitals, and your encounter continues through whatever constitutes completion. Now, it happened to be that those genitals used to be shaped a bit differently, say…a penis…why should that make a difference? You still saw what was down there, and found it pleasing enough to keep going. Where is the difference between these two situations? Oh right, there isn’t one. But wait, you say, she didn’t used to be a woman! SO EFFING WHAT. She’s had GRS, so she’s almost certain also had her legal gender marker changed on all her government documents. So, she is legally female. Her hormone profile and genitals mark her as female, medically. You found her attractive enough to have intimate interest, so clearly you identify her as female. Hmm…if it looks like a duck, smells like a duck, and quacks like a duck…well, you might just be looking at an animal of the Anatidae family (you know…ducks). There is no logical reason to demand to know about her genital surgery, any more than it would make sense to demand to know if she had had a tonsillectomy.

Disclosure of one’s trans status is an intensely personal decision. It’s up to us to decide if or when to share this information with you. Period.