Monday, July 19, 2010

Queer/Trans 101

The following is a handout I prepared for a workshop at Broadway United Methodist Church. The workshop was an introduction to Queer and Trans issues. Other workshops in the series specifically addressed sexism and racism. Because we weren't able to have a workshop specially dedicated to disability and body image, I also included a brief disability keywords section at the end. The handout is not comprehensive, and definitions may be simplified and un-nuanced, but for a very general audience, this information may be very useful.

Education Hour, Broadway UMC, June 20, 2010

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Col 3:28

Introduction to Trans and Queer Identities

Gender: In common usage, “gender” is typically used interchangeably with “sex” and is used to refer to the condition of being either a man or a woman. In more specific conversations, the term refers to a wide range of behaviors, social roles, and identities. For example, gender can be used to describe large categories like “men” and “women” as well as gendered roles among men or women (such as “femme,” “butch,” “top,” and “bottom”). Gender is also used to describe cultural or personal practices that are perceived as “masculine” or “feminine” (such as wearing makeup or sitting with your legs far apart).

Most scholars emphasize that gender roles are socially constructed: For instance, in the US men typically do not wear dresses while women are encouraged to. It’s not that wearing a dress is more natural or right for women; rather American boys are taught by their families and schools that dresses are inappropriate attire for boys, and the rest of American media and culture support and enforce that view.

Sex: The condition of being male or female. These categories have traditionally been determined by the presence or absence of a combination of factors including: penis, vagina, testes, ovaries, uterus, levels of testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, and X and Y chromosomes.

Many scholars argue that sex is also socially constructed. They ask if the definitions of male vs. female stable are over time, and whether these definitions are adequate. For example: If a “man” has a penis and testes but is unable to produce sperm, is he male? If a “woman” goes through menopause and takes estrogen and progesterone therapy, is she still female? If a child is born with neither a recognizable penis nor vagina, what sex is the child? If a “woman” with breasts, functioning ovaries and uterus takes a gender test and is found to have chromosomes other than XX, is she female?

Intersex: A person born with genitals that medical professionals consider ambiguous or a person with genetic information that results in uneasy or impossible classification within the XX or XY binary is an intersex person or person with intersex. Because our culture so highly values sex/gender, in most countries intersex is medically classified as a disease whose treatment is surgery typically performed on babies followed by hormone treatments at puberty. Parents are typically uninformed about any other options. Very often, babies with intersex are categorized as female because doctors find it simpler to shape a clitoris than a penis. The medical community typically believes that it’s better to cut an intersex baby’s genitals to the size of a “normal” clitoris than to allow the child to grow up as a female with a large “clitoris” or as male with a small “penis.” These procedures often result in the inability of the adult to experience sexual climax.

An intersex movement has been gaining more attention in recent years. Many adults who were medically diagnosed as intersex are coming out as intersex. Others argue that “intersex” should not be recognized as a category because it was entirely invented by the medical community to enforce sexual difference and gender roles. Many prefer that intersex or disorders of sexual development (DSD) remain strictly within the confines of the medical establishment; they say that people with intersex belong as much to the LGBTQA community as persons with any other medical condition. Most people with intersex would not classify themselves as trans or queer, but all three groups experience oppression from the medical and social establishments for not adhering to strict gender norms. In addition, Cheryl Chase and the Intersex Society of North America has worked together with trans people and organizations to develop theoretical ground that would benefit both groups.

Queer: Many people use “queer” as an umbrella term for lesbian, gay, and related sexual orientations, but a definition that is more congruent with the Queer in LGBTQAI is an identity that acknowledges the constructedness of the categories of sexual orientation (gay or straight), sexual difference (male or female), and gender roles (being a “real” man or woman). Those who claim a specifically queer identity emphasize the choices they make to create their own identity apart from societies that value adherence to specific kinds of gender and sexual norms.

In a world where we’re constantly given directions to “check the box that describes your identity,” a queer identity chooses a mode of expression that purposefully disrupts the assumptions behind such directions.

Cisgendered: A person with one of two gender identities that is recognized by society as matching the sex one is assigned at birth. For example, a person who adopts male pronouns, a male social role, and who has had a medically recognized penis and testes since birth. Most people are cisgendered. Using the term cisgendered recognizes the fact that traditional gender/sex combinations are not natural but have been culturally constructed.

Transsexual: Someone who adopts a gender role that society recognizes as opposite the sex they were assigned at birth. Transsexuals use surgery or hormones to modify their bodies. Examples are FTM (Female to Male) transsexuals and MTF (Male to Female) transsexuals.

Transgendered (Trans): A person with one or more gender identities that do not conform to traditional definitions of gender. Transgender is often considered an umbrella term that includes transsexuals, cross dressers, drag queens, drag kings, genderqueer folks and androgynous persons (among many others). All trans identities can contain folks of any sexual orientation or preference.

Transgender is often used more specifically to describe those who adopt a gender role considered opposite their assigned sex and who do not use surgery or hormones to modify their bodies. Examples are FTMs and MTFs.

Genderqueer: Similar to the definition for “queer,” “genderqueer” refers to expressing one’s gender identity outside of the binary of male or female. There are many possibilities within the genderqueer category; examples are those who alternate gender roles and pronoun use and those who prefer gender neutral pronouns, but there are many others.

Gender Neutral Pronouns: Many gender variant/ gender nonconforming people prefer gender neutral categories. Instead of He/She, use Zie. Instead of Him/Her, use Hir. Some may also prefer to use They and Them as gender neutral pronouns; some may use other forms or words.

Want to Learn More? Be honest with yourself and others about your limited experience in defining gender and sexual difference. It’s important to educate yourself. Utilize Google, Wikipedia, Ask people you think may know for book and article recommendations (feel free to email or A good, useful, and fun book to start with is Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein (1994).

Discussion Questions:
· How do you think a trans/queer person would feel coming to our church for the first time?
· What can we do to help a trans/queer person feel welcomed (we want you here), affirmed (you are beloved by God and us), and a necessary part of this community (part of “us”)?
· Have you felt that you’ve always been free to make choices about your dress, hair, body, behavior, and pronoun choice? Have you felt forced into certain kinds of gender expression? Have you always felt comfortable with the choices you’ve made or been forced to make?
· What can we do to help all sizes and shapes feel welcomed (we want you here), affirmed (you are beloved by God and us), and like a necessary part of this community (part of “us”)?
· How do you think a person with a disability would feel entering our church?
· What can we do to help a person with a disability feel welcomed (we want you here), affirmed (you are beloved by God and us), and like a necessary part of this community (part of “us”)?
Key Terms for Disability Studies

Medicalization: the process by which human conditions and problems come to be defined and treated as medical conditions and problems, and thus come under the authority of doctors and other health professionals to study, diagnose, prevent or treat. The process of medicalization can be driven by new evidence or theories about conditions, or by developments in social attitudes or economic considerations, or by the development of new purported treatments. Medicalization is often claimed to bring benefits, but also costs, which may not always be clear. Medicalization is studied in terms of the role and power of professions, patients and corporations, and also for its implications for ordinary people whose self-identity and life-decisions may depend on the prevailing concepts of health and illness. Once a condition is classed as medical, a medical model of disability tends to be used rather than a social model. Medicalization may also be termed pathologization (from pathology), or in some cases disease mongering. (From Wikipedia entry “Medicalization”)

Disability Studies: Following the lead of critical race, gender, and queer theory, the study of disability is growing worldwide. Disability studies often takes as its starting premise that the disadvantage typically experienced by those who are disabled reflects primarily the way society defines and responds to certain types of 'difference'. (From Wikipedia entry “Disability Studies”)

The Medical Model of Disability: This model is presented as viewing disability as a problem of the person, directly caused by disease, trauma, or other health condition which therefore requires sustained medical care provided in the form of individual treatment by professionals. In the medical model, management of the disability is aimed at a "cure," or the individual’s adjustment and behavioral change that would lead to an "almost-cure" or effective cure. In the medical model, medical care is viewed as the main issue, and at the political level, the principal response is that of modifying or reforming healthcare policy. (From Wikipedia entry “Disability”)

The Social Model of Disability: This model sees the issue of "disability" as a socially created problem and a matter of the full integration of individuals into society. In this model, disability is not an attribute of an individual, but rather a complex collection of conditions, many of which are created by the social environment. Hence, the management of the problem requires social action and is the collective responsibility of society at large to make the environmental modifications necessary for the full participation of people with disabilities in all areas of social life. The issue is both cultural and ideological, requiring individual, community, and large-scale social change. From this perspective, equal access for someone with an impairment/disability is a human rights issue of major concern. (From Wikipedia entry “Disability”)

Accessibility: a general term used to describe the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is accessible by as many people as possible. Accessibility can be viewed as the "ability to access" and possible benefit of some system or entity. Accessibility is often used to focus on people with disabilities and their right of access to entities, often through use of assistive technology. (From Wikipedia entry “Accessibility”)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dear Sandy

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

Dear Sandy

I didn’t know you. I don’t know you—my careful internet searches have yielded only scattered accounts of your death. I know little to nothing of your life though I’ve heard you left behind a mother, a sister, other family and many friends. Fear of intruding kept me from your funeral and from catching a glimpse of what you were like, who you were, what you loved, and who loved you. Perhaps it’s better I didn’t break the intimacy of those gathered in your memory. Yet I’m left wondering how I can speak of you in humble tones, acknowledging my own ignorance of your life while at the same time speaking of what I know is true.

You were a black woman. You were a transwoman. And on a Sunday night just a few weeks ago, you were murdered at the corner of S. Halsted and W. 75th.

I want to ask why this happened, but I already know. You were killed because the world is unsafe for sex workers. The world is unsafe for transgendered people.

The mainstream media hasn’t pressured law enforcement to make your case a priority and there just isn’t much public outcry because the sad truth is that racism and classism are principle organizers of American society. The Sun-Times said you were a man dressed in women’s clothing. Other media outlets didn’t even give more than the name and address on your ID. Had you been a pretty little blond thing from a rich family, your picture would be on the front page, and the person who took your life would be in jail.

I’m angry, disheartened, and disappointed in myself as well. Crimes like this have happened to others before you, and shamefully, I’ve taken little notice. I don’t remember why I wasn’t stirred to action by stories of other instances of anti-trans violence, but hearing about your death has changed me.

Some activists and organizers have spoken up about the economic systems and cultural ignorance that caused your death; I am thankful for their words and actions. During the past few weeks I’ve been stunned first that a crime like this could happen in the city where I live, and secondly that violent crimes targeting trans people are so incredibly common. I’m sorry I was so presumptuous to think that just because I feel safe that you would too.

I can’t stop thinking about you. Pride week came and went, and I couldn’t help thinking, “What’s the point of all this partying and celebration when the threat of violence against transfolk is so present right here in this city?” Without an answer, I walk a bit more somberly.

I don’t know how to adequately honor your memory—it’s made all the more difficult by the fact I don’t know you. I’m sorry I didn’t know you and that I let the geographic, racial, and economic distance between us render you invisible in my life.

Though its grossly inadequate, I do promise to try to honor your memory. I’ll educate myself. I’ll work for justice. I’ll voice my disapproval when someone makes negative comments about anyone on the basis of race, economic options, gender identity, body type, or anything else. I’ll try, no matter how messy it gets.

Sandy, you were a person worthy of safety and respect, and though I have little power in this very big world, I promise to take every opportunity I can to learn what it means to be an ally to every kind of person. I hope I’m not alone in that promise.

In memory of Sandy Woulard, 1982-2010

Erica Chu is a student at Loyola University Chicago and is seeking a PhD in English with a concentration in Women Studies and Gender Studies. She manages the blog and can be reached at