Tuesday, November 21, 2006


The next few days of the conference, I spent most of my time in sessions about working with trans youth. I felt this was the area where I had the least experience and information so, since I was there to learn, I thought I would. The first thing we did in session was to introduce ourselves. Our facilitator asked that when doing introductions to use this format: name, gender, sexual orientation, what gender pronouns we prefer, and what we do for work. I found it rather nice. There were about 15 people in the room. I was one of the three heterosexual people. After introductions, our facilitator asked how we felt about it and the two other heterosexuals said they felt very uncomfortable, embarrassed, and put on the spot. She said heterosexuals often feel that way because we aren’t used to have to identify ourselves because we live in an a culture where what is assumed about us is generally correct. I kind of thought maybe I liked it because what people assume about me racially is generally incorrect and that maybe if introductions with a bunch of personal information were common I would avoid a lot of anger and resentment at being around in some conversations. I know racial orientation and sexual orientation aren’t the same thing and don’t contain the same issues, but a lot of what they were talking about in the trans sessions I could draw a lot of parallels with in the racial struggles in this country. Mostly in reference to the ideas of passing, assumed status, and a feeling of constantly being marginalized.

Another very interesting thing we discussed was “gender identity disorder”. By classifying it as a disorder, many people who want to transition are able to get supported by their insurance. If they cannot be diagnosed it falls under cosmetic surgery and is generally not given any assistance. Many things tend to be labeled as disorders because they begin to be studied under clinical situations but when dealing with people who are not institutionalized, the nomenclature remains the same. Also many people, with reason, don't like to be labled as having a disorder for simply being themselves. I could be wrong, but I think it was fairly recently that homosexuality was no longer considered a psychological problem. I wonder if transsexualism (is that even a word?) will follow that path and, if it does, how that will change the accessibility of surgery.

According to our facilitator, the trans population is the most marginalized in the LGBTQ community and often studies thabout LGBTQ issues often don’t deal with the “T” very much. Although I don't have a ton of background that would make sense to me. Unfortunately we didn’t have the chance to really get into the root cause of that. One theory is that because it is a more minor group of a minority population that there isn’t as much material or research to write about. Also, because trans can mean so many different things, it often depends on who is doing a study as to what definition is used. Generally people tend to operate on what they called the binary model of gender. That model states that there is male and female and that you can’t be in-between (unless you are talking about intersex individuals which is an entirely other subject) and that model leaves out many of the people who identify as trans. From our discussion, it seems there is work being done to change the way we think about gender as a whole and to almost reclassify the binary definition.

I want to end with one of my favorite quotes from the first session on trans youth. I’ll continue with the second session tomorrow. They talked a lot about how most it is easier to accept a F-M transition in our society than a M-F because of the power dynamics in American culture. Then a discussion followed about hostility in the lesbian community toward those who chose to transition. One of the people in the group said “All the good butch dykes are transitioning”. I don’t really know why that was my favorite quote but I found something about it really funny. Maybe because I was taken back to racial discussions about all the good black men dating outside the race, or maybe it was just the tone in her voice when she said it (it was with a chuckle), or maybe because I know and work with plenty of people who would classify themselves as butch or studs and they would never consider transitioning because it isn’t who they are. I don’t think it matters. More to come tomorrow.

Oh, the song I couldn’t remember yesterday was Once, Twice, Seven Times a Werewolf by Half Handed Cloud. Now I’ll see where the music takes me.

Cigarettes, X-Ray Spex- There is something wonderfully dated about X-Ray Spex. From what I know they ended in the late 70s but to me they sound real 1984. I really like it though. I have to credit Tony with this band. I would have never listened to anything punkish if it weren’t for him and I like a lot of that stuff.

Welcome to Paradise, Green Day- Ok, I like Dookie. I don’t care how awful and lame that is and many people would tell me to go and hide my head in the sand but I’m going to own it. I love the 90s. Remember how I just said I wouldn’t listen to anything punkish if it weren’t for Tony. That statement still counts because although some people will tell you Dookie is a punk album, and there are elements of punk in it, it just doesn’t really qualify. Those people are wrong and so not punk rock. I’m not punk rock either but at least I don’t pose and pretend I am because I like Dookie.

Reptile, Nine Inch Nails- Wow, I am kind of a lame today. I am actually quite a lame everyday but sometimes my music doesn’t reflect how bad I am. To make myself even more of a dork I will admit that I listened to all of Live Through This on the way to work this morning. I didn’t sing along because people that sing on the train during rush hour are really annoying. Still, no one really should have the nerve to listen to that entire album in 2006. Whatever.


John Hutnyk said...

thanks for that refreshing take/enthusiasm. felt like I might have been there even, maybe...

CSG said...

I admire people that can cope with the problems of the rest of us. I mean, working with people that have important social problems. Specially kids and young people. I worked as a teacher for some time and, although it was a great experiece, some of the kids had real problems at home. I couldn't do anything to help, neither was I prepared. I really admired the social workers that worked with them.

I'm not sure about what you really do, you probably explained it in the past, but I'm sure you do a great job! You can tell by the way you explain your thoughts.

Natalie said...

John- I try, thanks.

CSG- I work at a non-profit employment agency that targes low-income youth. We also have a GED program that I used to be a bigger part of and worked exclusively with wards of the state. I still work with those students some. Now I am teaching a Customer Service certification course. So my direct work doesn't exactly apply to the conference but my interests do. I am hoping to go back to school for teaching in the next few years.

Brooke said...

Friend, I just listened to all of Live Through This last week.

All of this trans stuff is very interesting to me. A lot of Anya's clients are trans/transitioning - she's often the person who determines if they are ready to undergo surgery. She showed me an interesting article about a little girl (5ish, I think) who identifies as a boy and who's parents want her to have reasingment surgery before puberty because they are so sure she will get it eventually and it would spare her a lot of torment. I can definitely see both sides of that one. I will stop rambling, but you should talk to Anya about this stuff someday. Her dissertation is all about stigma among people with HIV, transgendered persons, and trans persons with HIV - the point being that HIV is the much lesser stigma, and transgendered patients often actually get better care and are less marginalized if they are HIV positive.

I will see you tomorrow, probably. Yay!

Mom said...

Thanks for writing about all this! Are you and your fellow conference-goers going to do a presentation at work about what you learned? I hope so!

Interesting that those two heterosexuals felt so uncomfortable, etc. I'm taking a student-run seminar on all manifestations of privilege, and as you know the facilitator gave a pretty good definition of what it feels like to be privileged.

Paula said...

Oh! Damn! I forgot to mention Thanksgiving! I know what you mean about being nervous with first time "big do's". Hope all went well! Sounded like a great feast (question mark over tofu turkey tho'!!!)!

Thanksgiving has always intrigued me. Our closest equivalent I spose is Australia Day which is also flawed by the legacy of imperialism and marginalisation (indigenous people call it "Invasion Day").

Bint Alshamsa said...


I kind of thought maybe I liked it because what people assume about me racially is generally incorrect and that maybe if introductions with a bunch of personal information were common I would avoid a lot of anger and resentment at being around in some conversations.

I think I would have liked it for the same reasons. I have lived my whole life with the "passing" issues and can count on one hand the number of times people have figured out my ethnic mix without having to be told. It would certainly prevent me from having to check folks who say stuff in my presence because they looked at me and then figured that it would be cool to say whatever was on their racist or homophobic mind.