every time mary uses her #FRIENDSHIP KISS tag I can’t stop myself from laughing because it’s just so perfect and straight people are so weird
my favourite ‘straight people are so weird’ thing is still that one tumblr post about when straight people draw cartoon deer kissing one of the deer has to have eyelashes so you know it’s a girl deer and that the kissing animals aren’t gay.
I keep thinking about this. They’re so anxious, all the time!
PartyBottom will tell you about two experiences she had with HIV health providers today: Last night, PB was sent this highly filtered Facebook post:———- ——- feeling drained 11 mins · Unbelievable that my program, which serves transwomen and men who have sex with men, is being threatened with boycott because one if my referral sources found out I go to fest. Deeply hurt and disappointed. Not sure how to process this. Tired of being in the closet about going to fest just to protect my damn job.
To clarify, PartyBottom is on professional & casual conversational terms with this guy. His deal is that he very much “passes” as male, “performs” male in his daily life and work, and (I would venture to say) generally is perceived as male probably 98.8% of the time. He works at a center which, in their branding, and on their website, serves many HIV+ clients, including “trans women and men who have sex with men,” in one breath, a population that has historically been blurred together, often to the detriment of trans women’s ability to access services.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE: the deal with this guy is that for two weeks a year, he goes by “she,” in order to go to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. And works with trans women and gay dudes the rest of the year.
Now, PartyBottom has gone on record as Officially Done With Caring About Michfest, but when it starts FUXXING WITH MY AIDS SERVICES, THAT’S WHEN I GET MAD, OK?
AND, TO CONTINUE: just the other day, I was in a meeting at the New York City Department of Health with this guy, a “community outreach session” designed to develop a public health campaign in New York around PrEP, the HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, which has had much media coverage as of late (Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)
There are a million reasons why this “community outreach session” was not in fact a “community outreach session,” but instead just a dog-and-pony show so the DoH could say it did its due diligence by being in touch with the people or whatever, but those reasons are boring and typical: it was at 9am on a Monday morning, in some faceless office building in the financial district, with high security where you had to show ID (hello excluding many trans and undocumented people) and THERE WAS NO DAMN COFFEE — but that brings us to the meat of the thing: it really kind of went downhill from there, if you can believe it.
PS: PartyBottom, always the intrepid journalist, was one of two people in the room who were not affiliated with some kind of heavyweight professionalized organization, or historicized activist group.
(This is wrapping back around, trust me, stay with me here.)
The first panel of the morning was on “Populations That Have Traditionally Received HIV Outreach: Men Who Have Sex With Men, Men of Color, and Trans Women.
See above, insert frowny face. Even one cisgender women in the room who admitted she only knew everything she knew about the transgender community from RuPaul’s Drag Race was like, Wait. I don’t get it. Why are we talking about trans women on this panel? They’re women. Moreover, PB would contest the claim that it is easy for trans women to find trans-specific information about HIV, especially around PrEP. In the initial research presented at the meeting, we learned that of all the PrEP campaigns designed so far in North America (about 50, if PB is not mistaken), two — TWO — are aimed at trans women.
As far as the discussion on men who have sex with men went, it was an extremely sophisticated and nuanced conversation. Many concrete suggestions were made: why not, for example, instead of translating pre-designed campaigns for English-speakers into Spanish, hire people whose primary language is Spanish to design campaigns? Why not start thinking of HIV less as a binary (positive-versus-negative) and more of a continuum? (HIV undiagnosed, HIV diagnosed, HIV on meds, HIV undetectable, HIV negative, HIV negative and on PrEP, HIV status unknown, etc etc etc) which absolutely reflects more the reality HIV/AIDS in the US today? Why not, instead of talking about “safe” sex only in terms of condoms and seropositivity, we start talking about harm reduction sex, including the myriad ways people find mindful and careful ways to explore their sexuality in a world where HIV still exists, both with and without condoms and PrEP? What are the intersections of social justice and HIV — you know what really causes HIV? Not lack of condoms, not lack of access to PrEP: racism, sexism, poverty and homophobia, that’s what.
These are some serious thinkers, here in this room. People who are extremely careful with language.
And then, (sad trombone), it was tokenization time. “Well, we were going to invite this awesome trans woman to talk about PrEP, but she couldn’t make it, and then we tried to invite this other awesome trans woman to talk about HIV, but she couldn’t make it.” Since PB had been the only person to identify herself as both transgender and HIV+ in the room (THE MICHFEST DUDE HAD NOT IDENTIFIED HIMSELF AS TRANSGENDER IN THE INITIAL GO-AROUND) she was called upon to, were she so inclined, speak on behalf of ALL TRANS WOMEN’S CONCERNS RE: PrEP.
Fortunately, PB had been taking notes the whole time and is pretty good at public speaking ex tempore. I went up to the mic and gave a little speech on the fly, which, to be honest, could make up an entire other post (and probably will.) Unfortunately, THIS WHOLE DEBAUCLE WAS UNFORTUNATE, AND WENT ON TO BECOME MORE UNFORTUNATE.
Because the next panel, “Under-Represented Populations: Women and Undocumented People” started out with a big ole slap in the face. As the panel was introduced, it was made clear by the moderator that in this case we were talking about cisgender women. Then, a brief discussion ensued on the meaning of cisgender, since about half the people in this highly educated room had not heard of it. (Like, you know the guys from that Academy Award nominated documentary, How To Survive a Plague? One of those guys was there. It was that kind of crowd.
Then, the panel starts with a (white) woman, who started out her speech: “Yeah, well I guess I’m here to represent ALL WOMEN on this panel. I don’t know about all this cisgender stuff. I will tell you right now, I think that word is stupid. I don’t work with cisgender women, I just work with women. Period.”
Now, look. It is the opinion of PartyBottom, Inc., that the intergenerational language wars around contemporary trans discourse in the last six months have probably done more to alienate intergenerational communities and individual people from each other than to unite them, which is probably a bad thing; moreover, go ahead, call PartyBottom a tranny, a shemale, a he-she, a shim — whatever slur you can think of: it will probably hurt my feelings and I will be annoyed with you, but at the end of the day I know who and what I am and no one can take that away from me. Who I allow to call me what depends largely on context.
BUT (and this is a big but, since we’re talking about context) we were in a room full of people who were there to design communication, and thus had up until that point been extremely careful and nuanced about language. And I mean, in that atmosphere, where everyone is going as far out of their way as possible to not step on each others’ toes, it felt like a slap in the face to be told that naming a hegemonic group that has historically oppressed trans people is just “stupid.”
I raised my hand. I politely objected. I asked for the mic. She kept talking, and steamrolled over me. So I left.
I got up, and walked out of the room.
A couple of nice people came chasing after me, including a nice gay dude who said, (verbatim quote) “Don’t let her get you down, please come back in, girl, you just got hit with the stigma stick!” and another woman who was there on behalf of an organization of people of color with HIV and was equally annoyed with this woman’s tone, said to me, “Look, for one thing, that woman up there does not represent all women, and for another, you need to be in that room. Your voice needs to be in that room.”
You know who did not come out in a gesture of solidarity? MICHFEST TRANS DUDE, THAT’S WHO.But I just couldn’t take it. I was hungry, I was tired, I was emotionally and intellectually exhausted. I went to the bathroom. I cried.
Then, I snuck out of the building, via the service elevator.
I guess this is why PartyBottom makes a better writer than an activist, huh?
I felt terrible afterward. Just another hysterical trans woman, storming out of the meeting in tears after one off-hand remark. Like I had not just let down myself, but all trans women with HIV.
As I understand it, later in the meeting there was some resolution around this stuff, and I was contacted later by the DoH and someone from TAG (the Treatment Action Group, historically a very very big deal in HIV research and treatment) so this story is still ongoing. More as it develops.
But the reason I tell it is to illustrate how trans women are systematically shut out of the process of decision-making around HIV prevention and education, and how, sometimes, trans men are complicit in this. ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY GO TO MICHFEST.
I don’t want this guy to lose his job. I don’t want his organization to suffer — they do good work. I want him to take some accountability, and to clean up his act, and to maybe stop supporting an ancient bastion of transmisogyny on his summer vacation. I mean, whatever.
BUT, REMEMBER: I told you this was the story of two HIV social worker stories. Remember, PartyBottom is about BYOPMA: Bring Your Own Positive Mental Attitude.
Today I went for some benefits counseling at the granddaddy of ‘em all, the most stately and centurion and (perhaps ill-managed, if you read the papers) HIV service org in New York. And, I waited two hours to see a counselor there. But it was SO WORTH IT.
First off, when the receptionist told me who I was going to be seeing, I was shocked. She’s still here??, I asked incredulously. After dealing with constant, unending turnover in HIV service nonprofits, it was so refreshing to walk into an org that has changed locations, and, five years later, retained the same awesome staff member.
And she was just so awesome. She has always been so awesome. Organizations can sometimes be fucked, but at the end of the day, organizations are just made up of people, and this particular worker is very, very good people.
I have a feeling — I don’t know this for sure, but I get the sense that she has been working there for well over 20 years. She knows her shit. I was asking about some health insurance questions (specifically, some creative ways to perhaps get around the Medicaid exclusion for trans surgery in New York — she didn’t blink an eye or skip a beat about this), and she had all the information I needed, (and then some) and was funny, charming, witty and humorous, all at exactly the right times and maintaining the exact right tone throughout the entire interaction.
I noticed she happened to have a copy of Trans Bodies, Trans Selves on her desk. As we left, I mentioned I needed to use the bathroom and she was like, Okay, the women’s room is kind of schlep — it’s way down the hall past the stairs to the right. We really are working on getting gender neutral facilities. I was like, oh, don’t worry, it’s no big deal — like, I don’t mind finding the bathroom on my own — but she was like, look, to some people it is a very big deal, with this tone in her voice that to me indicated 1) it sucks that women who come to GMHC, who often have mobility or breathing difficulties due to illnesses associated with HIV, have to make such a long walk to find the bathroom and 2) that she realizes that gender neutral restrooms are essential to serve a variety of transgender clients, not to mention families and all the other people that single-stall restrooms serve.
By-the-by, it came up very naturally in the conversation that she had been married to a man for a very long time, so, I’m guessing — and of course I could be off the mark here — she identifies as a straight, cisgender woman. POINT: solidarity is an act, a series of acts, a lifetime of choices and self-education, a deeply felt human compassion, NOT a button on your goddamn denim vest. Or, even really a matter of identity, when it comes right down to it.
The point is, She knows not only the theory of how the VAST, ENORMOUS HIV bureaucracy operates in New York, but how it plays out in practice. She knows all the ins and outs of everything, because this is work she has dedicated her life to. She was, frankly, the picture of competence.
When I am her age, she is who I want to be. God bless her.
WAAAAAAY TL;DR — When it comes to trans women and HIV, there are lots of young trans dudes out there who Totally Don’t Get It, and there are lots of people (straight people!) who have been around since this virus caught fire who do, and I am grateful to them every single day.
(Remember how mad everyone on Facebook was when I blew up about trans men sucking up HIV service jobs and $$$$? In the future, I can just link to this article, as Party Bottom is way more eloquent about it than I am.)
PartyBottom is a hell of a lot more charitable than I am. I DEFINITELY want that jackass to lose his job.
Also, special message to The People Who Follow Someone Who’s Been Harmed Out to Say, After the Fact, Privately, Wow, That Was Uncool: maybe, just maybe, just try it a little, one time, a no-thank-you-helping, try speaking up to defend her at the time, in public, by standing up to someone who has power over her and making it clear that kind of behavior isn’t okay.
Okay, everybody, I have an idea. If you’re into it, please do it and promote it to others. If you’re not into, that’s cool. You don’t have to participate and no one will judge you for it.
I’ve decided that today, August 18th, is "International Say Something Nice to Another Trans Woman Day" (Snappier title to come, maybe)
Here’s what you do and it’s really simple: if you’re a trans woman, pick at least one other trans woman (you can do this for as many ladies as you like) and say at least one sincerely nice thing to her (you can say as many nice things as you like, though it will probably get really awkward at some point.) It’s that easy!
Try to avoid the obvious recipients, ie. trans “celebrities” and “icons.” Hero worship has its place and those folks generally deserve some praise, but they also tend to get it. A lot. So try to keep it to people in your community or folks you might know online and stuff. This isn’t about looking for scene points, so try to be conscious about sucking up to the “cool kids.”
Avoid compliments that focus on physical appearance!
1. That sort of thing just reinforces the idea that a woman’s only redeeming qualities can be found in her flesh. 2. Some trans women have a really hard time with that kind of attention being paid to their bodies. A lot of us immediately take those compliments as insincere, patronizing, or even sarcastic, regardless of whether or not they actually are. We can get our feelings hurt or our defenses raised even when that’s not what you’re trying to do. So stick to praise that describes a trans woman as a person, not just as a physical being. Avoid tropes and cliches like “you’re so kind!” or “you’re a great baker!” Dig deep, be creative. Try to think of something real and meaningful, something specific to them that couldn’t just come out of a Hallmark card.
You don’t just have to do this once or to one person or even just today. There’s always time and space for trans women to say nice things to each other! Maybe, if you’re feeling really into it, go beyond your own click or community. Think of a trans woman that runs with a different crowd or operates in a different circle, reach out to her and say “hey, I know we don’t know each other, but I’ve noticed all the great stuff you do and I wanted to tell you I admire you!” If you really wanna take it to the next level, maybe think of a trans woman you don’t particularly like, try to come up with something she is or does that you think is positive and let her know you appreciate that part of who she is.
Why just trans women? You know that episode from pretty much every television show set in school where it’s Valentine’s Day and everyone gets a bunch of paper hearts, except for that one kid that doesn’t get any and just sits at their desk feeling sorry for themself? I can’t help but feel like that would be trans women if we were to make it a “just say something nice to whoever you want” day. I see a need among trans women for some kindness, so, while I’m pro-kindness in general, I wanted a day that focused specifically on trans women hearing something nice about themselves. What’s more, I chose to make it specifically trans woman-on-trans woman niceness because I think there’s a specific need for more of that among us. The last few years have seen an incredible upswing in pro-trans woman attitudes among trans women. It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have We Happy Trans or Janet Mock or Laverne Cox. It wasn’t that long ago that Whipping Girl hadn’t been written and transmisogyny was something we could all kinda see going on, but hadn’t yet named. We’ve come a long way, but we can keep going.
The bare minimum for participating is just turning to another trans woman and saying, “hey. I like you. You’re my friend and I’m glad you’re around.” But you can also be more creative! Write songs for each other or paint pictures. Put together care packages, make clothes, help clean someone’s house, take someone out to dinner. Write elaborate sci/fi that stars the two of you kicking ass across the galaxy. Whatever! The point is trans woman on trans woman kindness, so take that and go wild with it.
If you’re like, no, seriously, what about everyone else? Listen. There is no governing body that’s going to stop you from saying something nice to someone you think needs to hear it. If you’re not a trans woman and you still wanna take today to say something nice to one, fine. I promise, you won’t get caught. Just don’t do it with an attitude like you’re participating in the holiday. If you know a cis straight woman or a gay trans dude or a bi genderqueer or anyone else that you think deserves to hear something nice, fine! Lay it on ‘em! Just don’t think it means you get a “I participated in International Say Something Nice to Another Trans Woman Day!” button.
So that’s it. This idea is brought to you by no organization or overseeing body whatsoever. It is not meant to distract from, usurp, or overshadow any concurrent or ongoing efforts among trans women. It has no financial support and is, essentially, as powerful as we choose to make it. I know it can be awkward and I don’t think it’ll be perfect, but I think it’s cool, so I’m going to do it and I’m encouraging you to do it to.
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It makes me really sad the way that older trans folks are treated as disposable and backwards by the up-and-comers. Older trans folks have often spent our whole lives working on building and sustaining the communities up-and-comers enter into, only to be told that we have no place in it.
This isn’t to say that older trans folks (people older in years of transition, just to clarify) are infallible or beyond criticism, but there is a huge trend of tearing down anyone who came before. It’s a large part of why our community is so fractured. It’s why we’re always trying to invent the wheel, even though we’ve already got half an airplane built.
It also accounts for why older trans folks are so at risk of isolation and suicide. One older trans woman, who basically built all of Canada’s trans community, now never really leaves her house. She was expelled from the community she built, and as a result is completely isolated and dealing with isolation-related mental health issues.
This is why I’m so committed to intergenerational relationships. I treasure the time I get to have with trans elders, even when they say shit that makes me uncomfortable. And I also really value the time I get to spend with younger trans folks — running a trans youth group for four and a half years was one of the best parts of my whole life so far. I just wish we could bridge this gap without the younger folks going all call-out culture on the older folks, and without the older folks dismissing everything the younger folks say.
And these days, “older” seems to start at, like, thirty. Thanks for this, Morgan.
I will remember the curve of your hips,
The taste of your tongue,
The shape of your name,
Until I am dust, and ash, and horror,
From graves once thought deep
By men who lack the ability to measure my ambitions.