In reading about trans* issues, and reading the works of trans* author Dean Spade, I thought about one question that really stood out in my mind: What is normal?
This video is of the updated NuvaRing advertisement. If you look closely, one of the older ads is playing in the background. This relates closely to the Angela Davis reading “Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights.” The NuvaRing is a form of birth control that is advertised as being more convenient than the pill. However, it is quite expensive. While in the long term, as compared to the pill, it might save money, the thing about being poor is that you may have some money at a given time but maybe not enough to actually afford the one-time NuvaRing. This already puts up a class barrier as to who can actually get this form of birth control. Next, there is the definite race component. These ads, both the current and old ones have all white women except for the “token black woman.” There is little diversity, which also ties back in to the Davis reading. Their target audience is primarily white middle to upper class people. That is where they perceive the money to be. This ad is also noticeably full of cis women. As brought up in both of the Spade readings, bodies are not inherently gendered. There are people who are not cis women who also could benefit from this product (but are most likely going to be denied it or misgendered in order to get it). The gendering of certain bodies definitely influences the availability of medical care available and presented to them.
As a result of the discussions we had regarding the controversy surrounding pregnancies, unionization for strippers, and the struggles transgendered individuals face when seeking medical treatment, the question, “What is fair” appeared to be extremely relevant. As our society moves towards the future with increasingly progressive minds, how do we establish an environment that affords rights to every single person? How do we ensure that even the marginalized, the judged, and the unusual are protected? Although it seems a sisyphean task, the most important step that must be taken towards achieving fairness is to use education as a means of dispelling the stigmas associated with under-represented minorities.
For example, education plays an integral part in the fight towards creating safe and fair environments for transgendered people. Recently in the state of Mississippi, a group of high school students protested when a transgendered student wore women’s clothing to class. The students, “…felt that their classmate was being given preferential treatment given the school’s gender specific dress code.” Situations such as these occur repeatedly in schools due to the lack of education and the absence of laws that would secure protection for transgendered students. This particular students was mercilessly teased for her decision to be open about her gender. Yet, her classmates, who were never taught about the variability of sex/gender, behaved cruelly towards her. Perhaps in a situation like this educating both students and teachers would allow for a safe and fair environment for transgendered children to learn. Ideally, this would result in a concrete law that bands discrimination in the classroom.
To put a gender onto a set of organs is inaccurate at best and incredibly harmful at worst. In Dean Spade’s reading “About Purportedly Gendered Body Parts,” he talks about how reinforcement of certain organs being attributed to certain genders is inaccurate and enables the perpetuation of stereotyping and enforcing certain gender norms. It additionally presents unfortunate consequences to the people that don’t align with the gender that people typically associate with that set of genitals. This can also pose problems, as brought up in Spade’s other reading “Resisting Medicine Re/Modeling Gender” with regards to there being such a heavy influence on organs and gender that people who identify as non-cisgender who would like top/bottom/”facial feminization”surgeries (I recognize the also heavily gendered connotation of the phrase “facial feminization” however that is the only current term for what that surgery does) need a special diagnosis of GID to even get it because of how heavily gendered the body parts are. Another way that gendering body parts is dangerous is very explicitly outlined in “The Sexual Politics of Sickness” where it is discussed that not too long ago, all ailments of cis women were blamed entirely on the uterus and ovaries. There was an assumption that cis women (which was really the category of “all women that anyone cared about”) and the gendering of that specific body part led to thousands of women being forced to lead a life that caused them nothing but depression because of some “mysterious” illness that was the “female condition” relating heavily to the uterus and ovaries.
In the United States, the supposed public creed is fairness. Through the legal system, it is evident that America purports justice, fairness and equity as central ideals. However, legal interpretations and verdicts have not always yielded a ‘fair’ outcome; what exactly is fairness? Does fairness mean giving everyone the same expectations and opportunities? If so, how can America accommodate diversity? What happens when different types of people want different opportunities and have different expectations for their own lives? Clearly, the uniformity of the law is compelling because it deters prejudicial law, however this uniformity can also be conversely crippling because it does not always allow for necessary complexities that people have.
The transgender population suffers under the law’s uniformity and its’ ‘fairness’ because this group does not fit neatly into the law and there is additional diversity within the transgender population. Specifically, healthcare law largely does not protect self-identified transgender people fairly. As with women’s health, healthcare policies are primarily reserved powers that states have. The law’s disunity on transgender healthcare policies, which diverges on state lines, directly contradicts ethos of fairness and inhibits one’s freedom.
Dean Spade, “Resisting Medicine, Re/modelling Gender” (2003)
The vast majority of people understand gender discrimination through the narrow lens of women’s issues. Though they are indisputably important components of the fight against sexist oppression, our understanding should be more inclusive to those who do not necessarily fall into this traditional definition of gender discrimination, but still suffer for defying society’s expectations of a gender binary. Dean Spade offers a more holistic and inclusive definition in Resisting Medicine, Re/Modeling Gender, saying that “sexist oppression requires that all people adhere to two narrowly defined gender categories; that all people work, dress, reproduce, and generally behave according to the standards set out as appropriate.” With this new definition, we can acknowledge that more than cisgendered women suffer from gendered expectations. As Dean Spade writes, transgendered people suffer gender discrimination as they receive mistreatment and prejudice for failing to adhere to “expectations of the gendered category they have been assigned,” in appearance, demeanor, and behavior. Intersexuals likewise suffer; as activist and intersex person Eden Atwood describes in a youtube video, “out of a great deal of fear and prejudice, a scalpel is raised in order to normalize the genitals and force a gender identity onto the child.” Thus, intersexuals are denied of their autonomy and self-determination, and surgically altered as birth. Even cisgendered men can suffer gender discrimination if they deviate from their masculine expectations, like the father Belkin described the New York Times that struggled to succeed professionally because he prioritized parenting- a task usually designated for women. Though the plights of these people have often been ignored in the larger understanding of gender discrimination, we as progressive thinkers in the modern era should include them in our goals of ending sexist oppression.
video, “inter thoughts” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJ-GNZ5QA4Q
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” New York Times Magazine. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web.
Spade, Dean. “Resisting Medicine, Re/modeling Gender.” Berkeley Women’s Law Journal (2003): 32. Web. 14 July 2003.
When we talk about the battle against discrimination, we’re usually referring to a particular legal framework that protects the rights of the oppressed. In tackling discrimination—prejudicial treatment of an individual based on his actual or perceived membership in a particular category or group—we rarely think about the actual foundations of discrimination. We think about punishment, not about solutions.
The constricting nature of how we socialize our youth is the strongest contributor to discrimination—to racism, homophobia, and misogyny. Many contemporary childcare books, even those written by self-proclaimed progressives, view behavioral nonconformity during childhood as problematic because it is linked to homosexuality. When we force our archaic and destructive heteronormative way of life onto our children, we propagate a system that excludes those who are different and that prevents our youth from achieving its full potential. Amongst the outcasts are generally homosexuals, transgender individuals, fat people, and racial minorities.
But it is not our parents alone that reify stereotypes and that buckle us down to a world in which discrimination flourishes. Our institutions, even those that we hold in esteem, are part of the machine that reinforces the binarized gender system. In “Resisting Medicine, Re/Modeling Gender,” Dean Spade makes the case that the medicalization of transgenderism has contributed to the ostracizing of the trans community. Reassessing socialization and institutional positions is imperative if we hope to effectively address discrimination.
Martin, Karin A. “William Wants a Doll. Can He Have One? Feminists, Child Care Advisors, and Gender-Neutral Child Rearing.” Gender and Society 19.4 (2005): 456-79. Print.
Spade, Dean. “Resisting Medicine, Re/modeling Gender.” Berkeley Women’s Law Journal (2003): 15-37. Print.