Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Trans is an Adjective: The Cartoon!

I made a little cartoon to share with people who have trouble figuring out what it means when someone says, "Hey--trans is an adjective, not a noun!"

I hope you enjoy my quality stick figures, heh.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Red State is "Detransitioning" State Employees--Like Me

It's been close to a decade since I legally gender transitioned.

While it was a great relief to finally live authentically in the gender I knew myself to be, transitioning was a process both challenging and tedious. I needed to have my name and gender marker changed in so many databases. This meant awkward interpersonal interactions. (For example, when I went to get a driver's license issued with my new name and gender marker, the person staffing the front desk at the DMV, apparently seeing me as insufficiently manly looking after just a few months on testosterone, responded by exclaiming in front of the crowd waiting in line, "What are you, some kind of pre-op?!").  It meant educating and cajoling and placating administrators of multiple bureaucracies who had never personally changed anyone's gender marker in whatever system they administrated, and were disconcerted to be asked to do so. It meant presenting my court order of name change and state ID showing my "M" marker over and over again.

Running the gauntlet of getting my gender transition acknowledged and implemented took months. It was tiresome. But I managed it, and moved on with my life. As my appearance shifted under the influence of hormone therapy and most people got used to addressing me as "he," the levels of stress involved in just living my life as myself slowly dropped. There were ongoing battles that remained, like my fight against the ban on insurance coverage for transition-related care in the policies offered to Wisconsin state employees, but the legal hassles seemed mostly behind me. I could mostly breathe free and just go about my business.

And for a brief moment, things really started to look up. After eight years of fighting with no success for insurance coverage for the trans care my wife and I required, policy directives under Obamacare forced my state to say it would lift the ban on transition care. The exclusion was to be lifted on January 1, 2017. But in November of 2016, Donald Trump won the presidential election, promising to repeal Obamacare and produce a total change in federal regulations. Now, my Republican governor and state legislature felt empowered to enact transpohobic policies. In December, the "Employee Trust Fund" or ETF--the agency administering all benefits programs for Wisconsin state employees--directed all insurers providing coverage to state employees to reinstate the ban on coverage for trans care.

For a family like mine, with two gender transitioners who had been waiting for many years to access additional care and get coverage for our HRT, that was more than depressing. But at least we saw it coming.

What came like a bolt from the blue was the notice I got a week ago.

It was a Friday afternoon. I'd just given a colloquium talk in my department. The week was winding down, and so was I, sitting in my office going through the day's pile of email--the usual questions from students about assignments and discussions about programming with instructors in the LGBT+ studies program I direct. Then I came across an email from my university human resource specialist, opening with a cheerful "Hello!" It informed me that ETF had changed their policy on gender transitioning in their system (which covers not only health insurance but all benefits, like disability, retirement plans, etc.). It stated that in order to "maintain a gender change," I had to provide additional documentation for myself and for my wife.

We were being detransitioned by the state, though I'd legally transitioned nearly a decade ago, and my wife started her transition in the 1990s. And we did not have the additional documentation demanded.

Reading this email caused an immediate feeling of shock at the attack on our identities. But let me note that reverting our gender markers to what they were years ago does more than emotional or psychological damage. And it impacts more than how others view our genders. For example, I have developed a neurological problem with my arm leading to partial loss of the use of one hand. I'll be seeing a neurologist in a few days--and a mismatch in my identification can mean denial of insurance coverage. That could be very costly to my family--but delaying needed medical care is costly in other ways.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Before I get to discussing the additional demands ETF is making, let me point out a very broad problem, and that is the idea that agents of the state can change one's legal status retroactively at any time. Imagine, for example, if the state decided that it wished to make it harder for people to get married, and so it imposed a new requirement--that in order to have a marriage recognized, residents would have to provide DNA evidence proving they and their spouse are not related (an expensive prospect). Then imagine that all married state employees were informed that their status had been reverted to single in employment databases and systems, because they had not complied with the DNA test requirement when documenting their marriages. That's not the way regulatory changes, mundane or shocking, operate--they are applied going forward, but not retroactively.

Now, as for the new procedures for gender transitioning, there are three requirements listed by ETF. The first is that the employee must notify ETF directly, providing their old and new names, old and new gender markers, ETF ID number, and a declaration that they are gender transitioning. Previously, employees notified HR at their place of employment, and employer HR staff changed the gender marker directly in the benefits system. But now ETF will centralize control over implementing transitions, and maintain a database of gender transitioners. In essence, we are being required to register with the state. As a Jewish person who lost extended family in the Holocaust, I find this extremely creepy.

The second thing trans people are required to do is provide "proof of identity," such as a driver's license or military ID showing the new name and gender marker. That's what we had to do in the past, and my wife and I can easily produce our Wisconsin driver's licenses showing our names and most correct binary gender markers. But now ETF is demanding more.

We are now being required to produce a third item, "proof of gender." This is very strange, because a driver's license already provides state-recognized proof of one's gender. Requiring more serves no purpose other than to make it harder for people to get their identified genders recognized. And the new "proof of gender" items are difficult and intrusive items to get.

Let's look at the options. One is a court order of gender change. To get one of these is difficult, expensive, and in many states, like Wisconsin, requires a doctor to testify that one has had surgical sex reassignment. Now, some people cannot have such surgery for medical reasons. Others do not want it--they desire social recognition of their identified genders, not a program of body modifications. And nonbinary gender transitioners often find they are denied access to surgeries. But let me underline that in any case, the very surgeries that ETF is making necessary in order to have one's transition recognized it has also categorically excluded from insurance coverage. My wife and I have been waiting for years to access some surgical interventions that would make our lives easier on many levels, one of which is being able to access things like a court order of gender change. But we can't afford them without insurance coverage. It's a Catch-22, and seems deliberately cruel.

Well. Instead of presenting a court order of name change, another "proof of gender" is a US birth certificate showing the identified gender. Now, in bluer states than mine, amending one's birth certificate sex requires just a letter from a doctor or therapist attesting that a person under their care is gender transitioning. A few states with reactionary policies, like Ohio and Idaho, do not allow birth certificate sex to be changed for gender transitioners at all. But most states, like Wisconsin, will do it for people who have had sex reassignment surgery which is documented in some particular way--in Wisconsin, it's by a court order of gender change. So we're back to square one, for my family and for so many gender transitioners.

What else will ETF accept as proof of gender? Another option is a US passport showing the identified gender. My wife and I have been trying for months to get the documentation we need to get passports issued in our lived genders, but have run into difficulties trying to get certified copies of legal documents. Hopefully these problems will be resolved in time and the rules for gender transition and passports won't shift under us before then. But even if we had them, this option as provided by ETF is highly problematic. Their policy requires that for a passport to "count" as proof of gender, the original passport must be mailed to an ETF P.O. box to be examined. It's crazy to demand that someone hand over their passport, via ordinary mail, with no specified procedure for ensuring its safety, no description of how long it will be held, no contact information given for an employee to inquire about the location of their passport should they not receive it back in a timely fashion, and most of all no explanation as to why the original document has been demanded, rather than just shown to the employee's HR office. So, even if we did have passports, we wouldn't want to mail them off to ETF as required.

Finally, there's the alternative of mailing a letter from a care provider as "proof of gender." At first, this seems the go-to option. Letters from medical practitioners and therapists are employed in many transition contexts. But there are two problems with ETF's letter option. First, ETF will only accept a letter from someone with a doctoral-level credential. The clinic where my wife and I get our medical care is staffed solely by (very competent!) nurse practitioners, with masters-degree-level credentials. So our care provider isn't allowed to write a letter for us.

But there's something more insidious, and that is the content required in the letter. Transition letters are commonplace, and they follow a standard format intended to protect the private medical information of the gender transitioner. The care provider writing the letter makes only a general statement that "appropriate clinical treatment" has been provided. But ETF demands that the letter writer explain what that treatment was. This is none of their business! Moreover, ETF is staffed by bureaucrats and accountants, not medical personnel qualified to review such information.

There's no justification given for the letter to disclose such highly personal information. But given what we've just experienced in terms of retroactive de-recognition of our gender transitions, there's reason to fear. It may be that if certain medical procedures are not listed in the letter, even if the letter is accepted now, at some time in the future employees might find their gender transitions reversed in state records yet again.


So, I've been trying to mobilize my university HR to push back against the detransitioning of me and my wife in the benefits system, and against the imposition of onerous and atypical requirements future gender transitioners. A conference call is planned between ETF and HR administrators. We'll see what the outcome is, but one piece of information I have been given so far by the head HR administrator at my university is that apparently my wife and I are the only people to whom ETF directed a notice be sent that our gender transitions would be reversed unless we produced additional documentation, at least as far as he could determine.

There are two interpretations I can give this disconcerting bit of information. Both turn on the fact that I am quite open about being trans, run an LGBT+ studies program, and as an academic who researches intersex and trans issues, have been interviewed by the media numerous times to provide commentary on related news stories. The first interpretation is that some ETF staffmember has been tasked with identifying trans state employees to receive detransitioning notices, and as I'm simply particularly visible as a trans employee of the state, I and my wife were the first identified. And the other is that because I am a critic of transphobic policy initiatives, my family has been personally targeted in retaliation--which is a pretty unsettling possibility. I suppose there's a third scenario--that every other trans person who is a state employee or receives benefits as family member of a state employee presented their HR office with a court order of gender change or amended birth certificate when they gender transitioned. But given that there are almost 300,000 state employees, how hard it is to get those documents, and the fact that they were not considered necessary until now, this seems extremely unlikely. It's an anxiety-inducing situation to find oneself in under any interpretation.

In any case, the short story is this: around the US and the world, as trans rights have advanced, insurance coverage for transition care has become commonplace, while changing gender markers has shifted to being based upon gender identity, not any particular physical sex characteristic or its modification. States like Wisconsin were lagging behind the curve, but progress was being made. Yes, there were backlashes, like the flurry of so-called "bathroom bills," but under the Obama administration, these were federally identified as discriminatory.

But like so many things, a lot has changed fast. And trans people are among those finding themselves besieged.

And that's how I find myself facing detransition by an agency of the state.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Doors Slamming Shut on Trans Care

A Preamble

So much has happened so quickly since the Trump inauguration, so much of it damaging to marginalized people, that it's difficult for folks to keep up with what is going on. That is clearly the intent of Trump puppeteer Steve Bannon, with his desire to produce shock and awe, stir up society like an anthill, and remake it in his nasty image.

With so much going on, it's important that we make and listen to reports from the many fields of struggle, which is why I'm writing this post. But I do want to preface my report with a call for unity. We've been set up, by this initiation of battles on many fronts via tweets and executive orders. Our opponents in Washington hope to divide us. They hope that we'll splinter into "interest groups," each demanding primacy and seeing calls for help and attention from other embattled groups as acts of betrayal. Remember, the concept of "divide and conquer" is as old as the hills. 

None of us can fight every battle--but we can support one another's efforts. We have to focus our individual efforts on what we can do best to resist in our local communities, with the skillsets we each have. But we also need to have one another's backs.

So: I make this small field report, not to distract people from protesting the ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations, or from pushing their representatives in Washington to oppose the nominations of unqualified ideologues to head federal agencies, or whatever other actions people are engaging in. I make it because we must keep one another informed of all the negative changes that are taking place. That's what we need in order to keep taking positive steps to resist.

A Trans Report from the Midwest

I am an employee of the state of Wisconsin, teaching at a state university. About a decade ago, the University of Wisconsin system added to its nondiscrimination clause protections based on gender identity or expression. Yet the insurance plans offered to people working and learning at University of Wisconsin schools all banned coverage of "procedures, services, and supplies related to surgery and sex hormones associated with gender reassignment." I've been fighting that ban ever since.

Until the summer of 2016, I got nowhere. It was a strange battle, because at every turn, I encountered expressions of surprise and sympathy from colleagues and benefits staff and administrators in the University of Wisconsin system. Colleagues presumed transition care must be covered by our insurance, since our antidiscrimination policy bans discrimination based on gender identity, and that must mean what it says. Human resources staff presumed the denial of coverage in our insurance plans must have originated with the insurance companies, and be their national exclusion policy. Upper university administrators saw that the discriminatory medical exclusion came from on high--proclaimed for all state employees by an entity called the Employee Trust Fund. But they regretfully stated that the university system couldn't tell the state what to do. They promised to bring the exclusion up as an issue to be addressed at the state level should an opportunity arise.

And so, year after year, I'd repeat this process of approaching people at various levels, reporting on the ongoing discrimination and asking for their help. I'd speak to them personally, and tell them how my family was impacted. With two gender transitioners and two disabled people in the little family of three I support, we couldn't afford any uninsured surgical care, and the lack of coverage for our trans endocrinological care was costing us between $1000 and $2000 a year out of pocket. Between our other medical expenses and the big hit my take-home pay received when the state withdrew much of its benefits support, my family's savings disappeared, and we have been sinking further and further into debt. And not being able to access surgical transition care is not "just" some issue of psychological discomfort for my wife and myself. It means relying on antiandrogens for year after year, with side effects that can be cumulative. It means relying on the extended wearing of chest binders for year after year, with their restrictions on breathing, exercise, and risk of rib injuryIt means if we fly, we regularly get stopped by airport security and detained due to our "anomalies."

And year after year, the people I contacted would express sympathy, but do nothing.

Then, in the summer of 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services posted the "Final Rule to Improve Health Equity under the Affordable Care Act." And one of the things this document said was that health insurance could not discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression. Blanket exclusions of transition-related care were stated to be unacceptable discrimination.

And lo! Based on this federal guidance, the Employee Trust Fund, the entity declaring policy for state benefits programs, instructed all the health insurers providing insurance to state of Wisconsin employees to remove the ban on trans care.

In the fall of 2016, my family received a letter from our insurer stating that the ban on coverage for transition-related medical expenses would be lifted on December 1, 2017. We put the letter up on the fridge and celebrated.

And then Trump won the election.

I wrote a social media post a few days after the election saying to watch out, because I bet that trans medical care coverage would disappear for people in red states soon after his inauguration in January. A batch of people replied in comments saying that of course things were uncertain, but that I shouldn't be so alarmist. Once rights are granted, they are very hard to take back, they said. Insurers wouldn't want to look bad. If insurers did try to put back blanket bans, they'd face years of lawsuits. And anyway, Trump said he was ok with Caitlyn Jenner using the women's bathroom in Trump Tower.

Who was right? Well, it seems under the Trump administration there is no such thing as an alarmist progressive worry.

What followed Trump's election in Wisconsin was an immediate flurry of activity in the state health insurance regulatory world. Insurers, who a couple of months ago had sent out sunny letters about how they did not discriminate and offered wonderful health care coverage to all, regardless of gender identity, had private conversations with the ETF. Soon, Governor Scott Walker and our anti-LGBT activist state Attorney General, Brad Schimel, were voicing their opinions that the federal bullies who had forced the state to offer trans medical care had no more influence, and the state should reassert its noble, sovereign right to discriminate. The ETF asked the Group Insurance Board for a ruling on whether a "rescission of coverage" would amount to a "breach of duty" to the employees of the state of Wisconsin. The GIB basically ruled, "No, go for it, once Trump is inaugurated."

The very first executive order Trump signed after his inauguration was one stating that Trump intended that Obamacare be repealed, and that meanwhile, all possible actions should be taken "to minimize the unwarrented economic and regulatory burdens" of Obamacare, and give the states "more flexibility and control."

And so, in the name of freedom, states rights, and economic security, the ETF acted. On February 1st, they issued a statement saying that "the exclusion of services related to gender reassignment is reinstated as of today."

One month. That's how long trans medical care needs were acknowledged to be valid in the state of Wisconsin. I didn't even get to have a single refill of my testosterone covered, because of a backorder at my pharmacy.

Hold the Doors

This is a moment where doors are swinging shut all over America. Due to racial and religious bigotry, they are being slammed shut at the national level in the faces of refugees who are fleeing the horrors of war. We must fight for the refugees and immigrants whose lives and livelihoods are endangered by anti-immigrant sentiments and actions. 

But we should also notice and help resist the other doors slamming shut on the smaller levels of state and local action. And the Wisconsin re-adoption of trans discrimination in health care for state employees is one of those actions.

So, can you do anything to help? Well, if you are actually a University of Wisconsin employee, especially an administrator, now is the time to stand up against transphobic discrimination and speak out. Perhaps you didn't know there was a ban on trans medical care coverage before. Perhaps you knew it existed, but thought that was true across the U.S.. Perhaps you knew it was an ETF policy, but thought of it as a sort of ancient fossil, some passive, unconsidered barrier. But now you know. The ETF has pulled the rug out from under your co-workers who are transgender, or have spouses or children who are trans. Coverage is clearly possible, since for one brief month it was offered. It is being denied in a blatant case of discrimination.

I realize that nobody at the University made this decision to reinstate the discriminatory policy. I know that it comes from the state, and that if you are an employee in the benefits office, you don't want to hand out discriminatory plans. University staff supervising and hiring individuals who are trans or have trans dependents don't want them to face unfair financial burdens and negative health and safety outcomes. You are just part of a large system.

But when you hear yourself saying, "I am a cog in a huge machine. I am just following orders," I hope that this makes you shiver, then shake yourself, and do something to resist. This is a habit that we need to develop or redevelop in these times, when talk of creeping fascism is not hyperbole.

Most readers, of course, aren't Wisconsin state employees. But you can help as well. You can contact state legislators via phone or fax. You can make a donation to a trans advocacy organization or the Wisconsin ACLU or other group. Most of all, what you can do is be aware of what is happening here as an example of what is happening in many states and localities now. Find out what is happening with regard to trans health care discrimination in the localities and states you live in or have connections to. Help raise awareness of the issue. There is so much to fight, now: xenophobia, racism, religious discrimination, misogyny. . . I'm not asking people to put transmisogyny and transphobia at the top of some list of deserving causes. I'm asking people to focus on the work they are best at, but when it comes to the list of issues they are not concentrating their personal work on, to make that an inclusive list. We need to have one another's backs, and help one another out where we can, though none of us can effectively take everything on. This is what I am trying me best to do.

And now you know one way to have my back. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Sample Resolution Against "Bathroom Bills"

We are at a crossroads in the U.S. when it comes to the issue of protecting trans people from discrimination. The federal government has issued guidelines that make it clear that discrimination against trans and gender-nonconforming people is illegal, at least in certain contexts (the person is a student, a medical patient, or a federal employee). Many organizations and localities have enacted further legal protections for trans children and adults.

But the backlash has been potent. We are seeing a rash of so-called "bathroom bills" being introduced in cities and states around the nation, which ban protecting trans people from discrimination based on the false claim that such laws would put women and girls at risk in bathrooms, locker rooms, and the like. If you are reading this, I presume that you already agree that pro-discrimination bills are a great wrong. But what can you do about them?

Well, one thing you can do is to convince an organization you're in that your group should take a stand against the passing of transphobic laws. You can pass a resolution explaining why you oppose discriminatory laws, and send it to stakeholders and decisionmakers in your area.

Drafting an official-sounding resolution can be challenging, though. Therefore, to help folks who want to take this action, I will share here the text of a resolution I recently drafted for an organization of which I am a member. When that organization meets, the members may decide they want to add or subtract something from the language before they vote to pass the resolution. Your group can do that as well. It's always good to tweak sample language to fit your specific situation! But it's a lot easier to tweak already-existing language than come up with a whole resolution from scratch, so I hope this is helpful to people.

Here's the sample resolution:



WHEREAS respect for people of all gender identities and expressions is an important value of [insert organization name]; AND

WHEREAS gender transition as a resolution of the experience of gender dysphoria is affirmed and supported by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and numerous other professional groups who care for transgender people, AND

WHEREAS a vital part of gender transition and the health and safety of trans people is living in their identified, authentic genders, with those genders being affirmed and respected in the various spaces and institutional settings where those individuals live, work, and go to school, AND

WHEREAS the federal government has issued guidances making it clear that discrimination against trans people violates federal law, TO WIT:

a)    Students at schools receiving federal funds must not face discrimination due to their gender identity or expression, which protection extends to freedom from harassment, bullying, or nonrecognition of their identified genders, and the right to access facilities and activities open to those of their identified genders (“Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students,” interpreting Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, issued by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education); and
b)   These same rights extend to federal employees who are transgender or gender-nonconforming (“Guidance Regarding the Employment of Transgender Individuals in the Federal Workplace,” issued by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, interpreting the 5th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the Privacy Act); and
c)    Patients are protected from discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression in health care under the Affordable Care Act (“Final Rule to Improve Health Equity under the Affordable Care Act,” issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services); AND

WHEREAS a transphobic backlash against these civil rights protections is ongoing, taking the form of state and local legal initiatives and a federal lawsuit filed by eleven states and state officials opposing the guidance on the protection of trans and gender-nonconforming students listed as (a) above; AND

WHEREAS these anti-transgender initiatives focus centrally on access to bathrooms and locker rooms, claiming that laws protecting transgender people will enable men and boys to enter bathrooms and locker rooms designated for the use of women and girls, in order to commit voyeuristic harassment or sexual assault; AND

WHEREAS trans people have in fact been using bathrooms that match their identified genders for many decades without any such problem existing; AND

WHEREAS legal protection of gender identity does not in any way render harassment or assault legal, AND

WHEREAS it is in fact trans women who face substantial risk of becoming the victims of violence or persecution in accessing bathrooms; AND

WHEREAS claims of a fantasized risk to “innocents” have a long history in being deployed to justify discrimination and segregation, including claims that racial desegregation would put white women and girls at risk of rape and the transmission of STIs via toilet seats, claims that banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation would put children at risk of molestation, and claims that the Equal Rights Amendment banning sex discrimination would make sex-segregated facilities illegal, putting women and girls in danger in the same way now being claimed for legal protections for gender identity and expression; AND

WHEREAS the end of legal racial segregation and the introduction of protections on the bases of sex and sexual orientation did not lead to the fantasized onslaughts of sexual abuse; and

WHEREAS so-called “bathroom bills” have a vastly greater negative impact on trans people than just limiting their ability to access toilets; TO WIT:

a)    These bills deny the reality of gender identity, often using the nonsense phrase “biological gender,” which conflates physical sex characteristics at birth with gender identity in order to delegitimate gender transition as delusional; and
b)   These bills encourage the general public to treat trans people, particularly trans women, with fear, and to see them as potential child molesters and inclined to sexual assault; and
c)    These bills encourage the general public to engage in gender policing, which is a practice of scrutinizing the appearance and behavior of others, framing trans people as deceptive in their gender presentations, and punishing gender-nonconformity—a practice that impacts cisgender individuals as well as trans people; AND

WHEREAS the goal of a just society should be that all of its members be treated with dignity and respect, rather than mocked, bullied, stigmatized, falsely accused, banned from equal access to facilities, or otherwise marginalized;

1)   [Insert organization name] reaffirms its longstanding support of the protection of people against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression; AND

2)   [Insert organization name] is grateful for the federal guidances which have issued from various agencies, making it clear that discrimination against trans and/or gender-nonconforming people in schooling, federal employment, and health care is against federal law; AND

3)   [Insert organization name] opposes the lawsuit by 11 states and state officials who claim a right to discriminate against transgender students; AND

4)   [Insert organization name] opposes all so-called “bathroom bills,” which institutionalize transphobia , delegitimate gender transition; and encourage public harassment of trans people; AND

5)   [Insert organization name] urges all public bodies considering so-called “bathroom bills” to recognize and acknowledge the reasons for our opposition, as enumerated in the body of this Resolution; AND

6)   [Insert organization name] urges all public entities charged with building and administrating public facilities to make available single-stall, lockable, all-gender restrooms and locker rooms for those who wish greater privacy in using the facilities and/or those who do not identify with a binary gender; AND

7)   [Insert organization name] holds that in any building that has both men’s and women’s multistall facilities and single-stall, any-gender facilities, transgender individuals can never be required to use the non-gendered facilities, as this constitutes segregation, but rather that both trans and cisgender individuals have the choice of using either a multistall facility that matches their gender identity, or a single-stall, all-gender facility; AND

8)   [Insert organization name] urges all whom this Resolution reaches to enact rules and regulations which respect and protect the rights of trans and gender-nonconforming people.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Resolution shall be published on the website of [insert organization name], and that copies of it will be delivered by both email and paper mail to the Governors and Attorneys General of each of the United States and Territories and the Mayor of the District of Columbia. Email copies will also be sent to appropriate administrative agents of the DOJ, HHS, DOE and OPM, and to the heads of major trans/LGBT rights groups, including the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Transgender Law Center, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, the Transgender Law and Policy Institute, the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD (formerly an abbreviation for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, now the full name of the organization as the prior name excluded trans advocacy), and the ACLU. Members of [insert organization name] are invited to distribute copies of this Resolution to local school districts, legislators, administrative agents or other authorities they know to be addressing the issue of protection of trans and gender-nonconforming children and adults.

RESOLVED THIS [insert date] DAY OF [insert month], [insert year].

Monday, April 25, 2016

Pat McCrory, Governor of North Carolina, has been voicing a complaint of late. He is extremely annoyed at the "outside influences" that are protesting his signing of HB2, a law banning trans people from using bathrooms that match the genders in which we are lving, and banning local governments from passing protections for LGBT+ people.

The word he keeps using is "Orwellian." He claims that LGBT+ public interest groups are Big Brother, watching everyone and policing their speech for political correctness. Orwellian! He warns that apparently independent groups protesting the new law are actually being coordinated by a powerful entity, the Human Rights Campaign. Orwellian! The HRC and its minions are intimidating ordinary people and quashing dissent while claiming to be protecting freedom. Orwellian!

You know what's really Orwellian? Presenting trans people's use of bathrooms that match our gender identities--something we've been doing for decades--as something that didn't exist until a couple of weeks ago when Charlotte passed a civil rights bill protecting LGBT people. (As Orwell wrote, those who control the present control the past.) Presenting trans people using bathrooms that match our genders as a new attack on our "basic bathroom norms" that the state was "forced" to reverse is a move right out of the Ministry of Peace. Presenting the real victims of violence--trans women--as predators endangering cis women is a move right out of the Ministry of Truth.

Pat McCrory and the North Carolina legislature have empowered the entire populace of the state to engage in gender policing trans people's bodies. Big Brother is gender policing you--now that's Orwellian.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

On "Male, Female, Transgender" Checkboxes

I've actually been encountering more forms on which I'm asked to identify my sex or gender using checkboxes labeled "male," "female" or "transgender." This is my response in image form:

"Wait. There are more than two religions--what if someone has a different religion, or no religion at all? And 'convert' isn't a religion, it means a person who has gone through a process that welcomes them into one."


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Traveling While Trans: The False Promise of Better Treatment

Back in 2012, I wrote a post about the problems I regularly encountered as a trans person when going through TSA security screening at airports.

Since that time, we've been promised, much has changed. The TSA has formally stated that it will not discriminate on the basis of gender identity. Passengers are to be screened based upon their gender presentation. Any pat-downs are to be conducted by TSA agents whose gender matches the passenger's presented gender, no matter what gender marker is listed on the passenger's government ID. The agents on the floor operating the body scanner now just see a body outline icon marked with any areas of "anomaly" on their screen, instead of an actual image of the details of the passenger's anatomy, so privacy should be protected. The TSA has promised that the bad old days of trans people being harassed and humiliated by its agents are in the past, and we have reached the era of enlightenment.

That would be nice. 

Unfortunately, what now happens in practice is another matter altogether. In my own experience, intrusive, frightening, and humiliating screenings continue unabated. To illustrate, I'll relate what happened to me when I flew from Milwaukee to New York a couple of weeks ago. The short version is this: I was detained for almost an hour and subjected to multiple, increasingly-invasive pat-downs, as a result of the equipment used by the TSA, along with the (lack of) training by agents in the TSA's stated trans policies. Eventually, as things escalated, even my daughter was taken aside for intensive screening, though she had set off no alarms--because an agent came to believe that she too was trans, and thus a suspicious traveler.

Let's look at how this could come to  happen.

Today, body scanners are the normative screening method in U.S. airports. In the past, travelers had the right to request a physical pat-down instead of going through the scanner, but the TSA recently decided complying with such a request is at the discretion of the agent. Since simply requesting not to be scanned can be perceived as suspicious, most trans passengers will be body-scanned. So, let's look at an example of the icon image a TSA agent running a body scanner receives:

As you can see, the way the system operates is that the TSA agent pushes a pink-for-girls or blue-for-boys binary gender button when a passenger enters the body scanner. The scanner then looks for "anomalies" under the passenger's clothing--and in the process, engages in technological sex/gender policing. The image above shows what a TSA agent will see when many trans women go through a scanner: an "anomaly" in the groin area. When I go through the scanner, the red and yellow areas of "anomaly" are in my chest area, as I wear a binder. Every time I am scanned, when I look back at the display, I see my chest area outlined in colors of alarm:

The TSA says it does not discriminate on the basis of gender identity, and that travelers will be treated with respect as members of whatever gender they present themselves as. But in fact, the "Automated Target Recognition" software used by body scanners is set up to police both binary sex and cisgender bodily expectations. Bodies that vary from these expectations set off alarms and are treated as potential terrorist threats.

Once a TSA agent sees ares of red and yellow on the screen before them, the passenger must receive additional screening until the possible threat is deemed "cleared." The first step is that a public pat-down is performed right outside the scanner by a TSA agent. (That agent is supposed to be of the same gender as the traveler, but one should note that binary gender is presumed by the TSA, and there is no official TSA policy about how to handle passengers with nonbinary gender identities.) 

If the initial pat-down doesn't "clear" the issue, the passenger is taken to a screening room for a more invasive investigation. This makes the initial pat-down pivotal in determining how unpleasant the process of passing through security will be for a trans traveler.

The factor that determines what will happen to trans travelers after we are marked as "anomalous" by body scanners is largely a matter of the training and attitude of the TSA agent called over for the public pat-down that follows. If that agent understands that the alarm has been set off by our trans anatomy, and that the TSA is supposed to treat trans bodies with respect, we get a quick pat-down and are cleared to move on. The trans passenger will experience a brief flash of adrenaline when their body sets off an alarm, and anxiety as their body is publicly palpated in an area likely to be one they do not wish scrutinized, but the interval of apprehension is brief, and travel is not disrupted.

The problem is, many TSA agents have little understanding of trans people or our bodies, although they supposedly should have received appropriate training. They view our "anomalous" body scan results as suspicious, as weird, and as marking a potentially serious threat. So when their physical inspection confirms there is indeed Something There where the scanner image shows glaring red and yellow, they send us off for further, more intrusive screening.

In my personal experience, my chances of being detained for additional screening after the brief public pat-down are about 2 in 3 when flying out of my home airport in Milwaukee, but significantly lower when flying out of airports in large coastal American cities. My body and my binding practices are the same when flying away and flying home, so it's clear that local culture plays a substantial role in trans experiences with TSA screening. Levels of trans awareness and transphobia vary. And this impacts not only whether we will face additional screening, but what that screening will be like.

(This is not to say that TSA agents in large coastal cities are trans-aware paragons. When my wife was flying out of San Francisco in 2014, the TSA agents did grant that since her response to the question "are you presenting as male or female" was that she a trans woman, the TSA agent who patted her down should also be a woman. But that agent spent an inordinate amount of time patting and feeling over her chest with an expression of confused suspicion. Finally, she asked my spouse what she had in there. My wife responded, "Erm, those are my breasts." The response of the agent? "How can you have breasts if you aren't wearing a bra?" My spouse stared at the agent for a bit, openmouthed, before replying, "You're a woman--you tell me." The TSA agents conferred for a while, before deciding that while they were uncomfortable my wife's clearly trans body, the mounds on her chest were indeed breasts, and going braless does not constitute a terrorist threat. So they allowed her to proceed. But it was hardly a smooth encounter that left my wife feeling respected or validated.)

In December 2015, while flying from Milwaukee to New York with my daughter, my body scan results showed my "anomalous" chest highlighted in red and yellow as usual, and the operator of the scanner called a TSA agent over to give me a pat-down. When patting me down, the agent palpated my binder, and asked me what I was wearing under my shirt, following standard TSA procedure. I stated that it was a chest binder. This is the critical juncture--perhaps a third of the time, in Milwaukee, the agent will ask no more questions, simply complete patting down my body, and send me on my way. But more often, I'll be interrogated as to why I wear the binder, as was the case this time. My initial reply is always the simple statement that I wear it to compress my chest, but the agent usually finds this reply incomprehensible, and asks why I would need to do that. Once I explain that I do so because I am a trans man, I'm inevitably separated from my belongings and my travel companion and taken to a small room with two TSA agents for additional screening.

In 2012 I wrote about the highly uncomfortable experiences I have when I am locked in a screening room with two or more TSA agents for inspection at the Milwaukee airport. Since then, I have been assured that the agents have received additional training. They are supposed to be aware that the TSA considers a chest binder to be a prosthetic device, and that trans passengers should not be asked to display or remove prostheses such as binders, breast forms, or packers. I have been told that agents would no longer make me open or remove my shirt when being subjected to the additional screening procedure.

But that's just not true. Every time I am taken into the screening room for additional scrutiny, in every city where this has happened, I am asked to open, lift, or remove my shirt so that my binder can be inspected and swabbed for explosives. And every single time this happens, I get to watch the agents' faces go from puzzled confusion to uncomfortable or disgusted recognition that I have breasts under there, and that they are covered with chest hair. This never changes.

How the screening proceeds from there, however, does vary. Sometimes it is very tense. Last year, a TSA agent at a New York airport ordered me to remove my binder so it could be sent through the x-ray machine. I had to insist that a supervisor be called to confirm that I could not be required to remove my binder, and at one point during this confrontation there were four big men in the tiny room with me, which is an intimidating situation. 

At least during my most recent screening, nobody asked me to take the binder off--I was only directed to untuck and lift my shirt so that the agent could reach under the shirt and swab the binder for hazardous substances. Still, things went far from smoothly, because for some reason, when tested, the swab that the agent used to swipe over my binder and clothing set off an alarm as positive for some unspecified "substance".

That's when the atmosphere got a lot more serious. Another agent was called. All my carry-on belongings had to be removed from my backpack and medical equipment bag and swabbed for "substances". I had to have a more intensive triple pat-down of my entire body, including my "sensitive areas" (TSA-speak for groin, buttocks and chest). Multiple parts of my body were swabbed, including all of the outside surfaces of my binder, which I had to reveal in its entirety by lifting my shirt. And when this round of swabs was analyzed, two of them again tested as positive for suspicious substances (apparently two different substances, though the agents wouldn't tell me what they might be). 

At this point, supervisors were called, as well as an agency office in Madison. My ID was confiscated, and my name, address, license number and phone number taken for entry into some database. There were now three men in the room with me, and a supervising woman standing outside the door. I was given a very intensive pat-down. When conversation turned once again to my binder and how to "clear" it, I had to remind the agents that as a prosthetic device, I could not be asked to remove it. So an agent proceeded to wedge his hands under the binder and grope my chest--to disprove, I suppose, his hypothesis that my bound breasts might somehow be bombs--a deeply uncomfortable experience, physically and psychologically.

At this point I was worried that I wouldn't be allowed to board my plane at all. I really, really wanted to know what the agents thought my binder was contaminated with.

Here's the thing I didn't know at the time, that my daughter, waiting nearby, told me afterwards: it was obvious that something was wrong with the equipment that analyzes the screening swabs. It was oversensitive or faulty. The device was setting off an alarm to report detecting suspicious substances every time a swab was inserted for every person being tested, including a little old lady in a wheelchair. The agents outside the screening room in which I were detained were complaining to one another about the equipment, and asking that it be recalibrated or replaced, as the next day was a busy one for holiday travel, and they were worried that the machine was going to cause a disaster in delays as it gave off false alarm after false alarm.

This situation in which I found myself reveals transphobia in action, because the alarms that were being taken very seriously in my case were not being taken seriously at all in the case of the other travelers my daughter observed setting off swab alarms. The agents must have felt that a bunch of middle-aged or older white cisgender travelers posed no real risk, and those travelers were quickly sent on their way. But I and my binder were treated as a credible threat. This is how privilege and marginalization work, along so many dimensions of identity: by determining what is deemed innocuous and what is considered suspicious.  When I first entered the screening area, I was treated with friendly professional camaraderie, enjoying white male privilege--not pulled aside, for example, for the "random" additional screening that so often amounts to the screening of brown people at the Milwaukee airport. But once my trans status was revealed, the friendly TSA treatment I was experiencing quickly switched to intensive surveillance. Thus, alarms that were not taken seriously in the case of other passengers were treated with stony suspicion in my case.

Now, when I am detained for additional security screening, I always try to keep things light. I stay calm and make friendly conversation, in an attempt to present myself as nonthreatening, and as a human being making human connections. This time, two of the four agents who wound up inspecting and questioning me maintained an unsmiling stare despite my efforts to be friendly, but two responded by adopting a casual, chatting tone. Unfortunately, that proved as hurtful as it was helpful.

I think it was helpful, in that although I was detained for over three quarters of an hour, eventually I was released and allowed to board my plane, despite setting off TSA alarms several times. But it was hurtful in that it led to a further delay and additional screening--of my daughter.

So here's how that transpired. During the screening, I had chatted with one of the agents about my travel plans--visiting relatives with my daughter--so the agents in the room with me knew that my travel companion was my college-aged child. But after my 45-minute screening was finished and I was just waiting for paperwork to be completed so I could be released, the door was opened, and the woman who was the supervisor, who was standing outside it, began chatting with me. She wanted me to know it would be a few more minutes until the paperwork was finished, and inquired about when my flight departed. I replied that I still had sufficient time to make my plane, as my wife and I had learned, both being transgender, that we needed to budget extra time for frequent additional screening. 

The supervisor told me that that was very wise, and complained how so many people who ought to know better don't budget the full two hours one is supposed to set aside to go through ticketing and security, and then get upset when they miss their planes. She then asked me a few questions about what I meant exactly when I stated that my spouse and I were transgender. I explained that I was assigned female at birth, while my wife was assigned male, but we had both legally gender transitioned. She responded in a manner both friendly and uncomfortable, saying,"I get you, even if lots of people are against that. You have to be yourself, even if people don't understand it. You're very lucky that you found a wife who understands." (She also asked me, "How did they give you that beard?," so I explained testosterone therapy.) 

The supervisor then walked off, saying that they should have me released soon, but that now they would need to "screen my travel companion and her carry on items." And she got another woman TSA agent, and took my daughter off to the "female" screening room.

I was puzzled by this, as was my kid, since she had been sitting nearby ever since I was detained after being scanned while she was not. She had been waiting for most of an hour without anyone implying she needed additional screening. But she complied, went off to be isolated in the screening room, watched while all her things were taken out of her backpack and examined, and submitted to a full-body pat-down. The supervisor chatted with her while doing this in a friendly manner, but was very thorough and intensive in the screening she was conducting. Then, at some point, the agent said something to my daughter about what "your husband explained." My kid cut in to yelp, "Ack, that's not my husband, that's my DAD!" And suddenly the whole atmosphere changed, and the agent told my daughter she was free to go after three quick seconds of additional halfhearted patting.

It was immediately obvious that my daughter, who had set off no alarms and been considered no threat for 45 minutes, had suddenly transformed into a security risk in the mind of the TSA when an agent came to believe she was my transgender wife rather than my cisgender daughter. When this was revealed as a misunderstanding, the perception of my daughter as posing some sort of threat immediately evaporated. The TSA's formal policy that passengers will be treated equally, regardless of gender identity, is belied by actions like this.

A few months ago, Shadi Petosky, a trans woman and television comedy producer, had an experience similar to mine with the TSA. A body scanner registered an "anomaly" in the area of her groin, she was patted down and questioned about what that anomaly was, and when she responded that she was a trans woman and that it was part of her anatomy, she was taken aside for additional screening. A swab of her clothing for some reason set off an alarm for some potentially explosive substance. She was interrogated, treated with trans ignorance, subjected to stares and sniggers, and detained for a substantial period of time. Since she didn't set aside the recommended two hours white cis people almost never set aside for screening, she missed her plane. She found the experience of her trans body being treated as a dangerous "anomaly" humiliating--and she live-tweeted what was happening to her until her phone was taken away.

Petosky's case got a fair bit of media attention due to her experience being live-tweeted and shared. Afterwards, the TSA declared that they had listened carefully to Petosky's complaints, and all would now be well, as the TSA was releasing a new policy. That policy was that the TSA would replace the word "anomaly" with "alarm".

In fact, I know that this promised change in terminology has not actually been implemented at the level of practice. During my last TSA encounter, I referred to the body scanner's response to my bound chest as "an alarm," and was told by the supervisor that I was using terminology incorrectly: the swab setting off the analyzer was "an alarm," while the body scanner had reacted to "an anomaly."

But I really don't care about whether the TSA calls my body "anomalous" or "alarming." Under either term, trans bodies are treated as security threats. The supposed new TSA policy of saying "alarm" instead of "anomaly" does nothing more than put a gloss of sensitivity over an actual practice that frames trans bodies as strange, wrong, and dangerous. 

Binary sex and gender policing are foundational to how body scanners are currently set up to function. Each passenger must be designated blue-for-boy or pink-for-girl in order to start the scan, and men are not "allowed" to have breasts, nor women to have a penis, according to the scanner's software. As long as that is how body scans are conducted, trans bodies will inevitably be policed as security threats.

The TSA may claim that trans people will be treated just like cis people by its agents, but its nondiscrimination policy conflicts with the actual practices of its agents and the functioning of the body scanners they deploy.

For these reasons, things have not gotten better for those of us who are traveling while trans. The only thing that has really changed, in my experience, is that the TSA now presents itself as enlightened, and is congratulated for that--including by some LGBTorganizations.

In a way, it's this that is for me the most frustrating and hurtful part of the whole situation. Trans people continue to be treated as wrongly and dangerously embodied. We continue to be pulled aside, isolated, groped, and our bodies stared at by TSA agents whose expressions often flash to that of a person smelling garbage. But we're told that everything's come up roses for us and we should dance for joy because we now live in the promised land of equality.

Better to just tell it like it is. The TSA's actual policy is that people with bodies that do not conform to binary, cisgender expectations can be treated as freakish security threats. If you have a body like that, budget an hour more of time at the airport than your friends with conforming bodies set aside, or you may miss your plane.

That's the real policy under which I operate whenever I fly.