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So, in thinking about what I ought to do as a project for my wearable media course, I’ve been thinking a lot about how what we wear deeply influences the way people read our gender identities. Also, the committee for the DSM-V has been publishing proposed changes to the DSM-IV’s gender identity disorder (GID) section on the web. There are a lot of issues surrounding the creation of these diagnoses and identifying GID as a mental illness at all. There’s also the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, which requires the patient to “live cross-gender” for a certain amount of time before hormone therapy or surgery can be prescribed.

Ultimately these diagnoses and requirements and standards are gatekeeper tools which are, more often than not, tyrannical and harmful to the patients they’re supposed to be designed to help. They force folks into boxes, discredit them when they don’t conform (especially with regard to who they date and how they behave in society), and generally make it difficult — cost-wise, time-wise, and physical-safety-wise — to get the care that they need. They’re historically a source of pain for many trans people, and present major roadblocks to a variety of cross-sections of the trans population.

Another source of inspiration for this project is Constraint City, which is a vest that constricts when the wearer is near more closed wireless networks. It can be worn while walking through urban environments, allowing a new kind of consciousness of things you cannot see. (And it hurts.)

My thought is that I should create a user interface that “assists” the wearer in “living cross-gender.” The garment itself will be a kind of corset — already a kind of torture device — that you can set up to be male-to-female or female-to-male. (There are only two kinds of transsexuals, don’t you know.) Depending on a number of feedback sources that determine how “well” you are living in the “opposite gender,” the vest will constrict you (if you need “help”) or loosen. Depending on your gender setting, it will either constrict the waist (to “feminize”) or chest (to “masculinize”).

Possible metrics for “success” include: feedback from others, posture, voice pitch, mannerisms, way of moving, talkativeness, and perhaps others. The vest will also track the amount of time you spend successfully living “cross-gender,” and perhaps report out to a website that will allow you to keep track of the time you spend. This information will, of course, be public, and kind of embarrassing.

So the SOCVest is public, humiliating, painful, and essentializing. Sound familiar? I thought so. I plan to use it for a performance about my own medical care and medical history. The document will remain on the SOCVest website for all to see.

Feedback would very much be appreciated, maybe I will post some sketches of the vest design.


By now I imagine most people who are interested in what I write about have seen Clay Shirky’s recent blog post, A Rant About Women. While the title of the blog entry itself is a bit of a misnomer (I don’t think Shirky is really ranting about women so much as he is ranting about femininity) it’s also a bit of a hot-button topic for a lot of people. I’ve read several smart critiques of the general thesis, but I haven’t seen a critique from the specific angle I would like to tackle. The assumptions that Shirky makes about the way society should be are a little bit frightening, but I’ve been thinking more and more about where these ideas come from, and some of them are more well-formulated than others, but I’m going to give it a go.

The one thing I’ve not been seeing explicitly is the idea that Shirky is taking issue with femininity. In her book Whipping Girl, Julia Serano discusses how our entire society — many feminists included — treat femininity as something to avoid. This is manifested in many ways. Consider how it’s generally okay for little girls to play with action figures, but when a little boy wants to play with a baby doll, suddenly red lights go off in his parents’ heads and the boy is punished. Or consider that when women were first allowed to enter the working world they were expected to assimilate with men. Or consider that because I’m a trans man I get certain privileges over trans women, like acceptance in more cis queer circles or the freedom to not worry about violence constantly.

What Shirky completely misses in his post is that he’s becoming part of this problem — the oppression women (all women) face in our society is not just income ceilings (or being locked out of employment altogether) or socialization into subservient roles, but that anybody who conforms in any way to that notion of femininity is viewed as weak, inferior, and, often, problematic. By saying that it doesn’t matter that his blog post asks women to be more like men, Shirky is essentially cosigning the erasure of feminine identities, which is completely and utterly unacceptable.

I think danah boyd raises a great point, too, when she points out that diversity isn’t just about arranging “diverse-looking” people in a room and calling it a job well done. (Also if we were all self-aggrandizing jerks nothing would ever get done! Too much infighting!)

Yesterday I re-read Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” [PDF hosted by AAAARG.ORG]. The first time I read it was when I was starting to think about what it means to be post-gender, but I have to say that this re-reading was so much richer and full of interesting stuff than that first reading could ever have been. My context has been strengthened and my own thinking has become more sophisticated, as well.

One of the things that means a lot more to me now is Haraway’s concept of the cyborg as a being who does not strive toward totality of theory, or ultimate all-encompassing explanation. Something I have struggled with has been this demand placed on me, especially as a public face of trans advocacy, to come up with some nugget or essence of what it is to be a transgender person. I guess there isn’t a kernel that some fundamental “trans-ness” can be boiled down to.

And maybe that is part of what resonates so strongly with me about this anti-imperialist critique of feminism. Unlike other critiques of feminism I have read, Haraway identifies a very particular characteristic of most feminisms (and most -isms, really), especially of the radical variety. Haraway writes

The feminist dream of a common language, like all dreams for a perfectly true language, of perfectly faithful naming of experience, is a totalizing and imperialist one. In that sense, dialectics too is a dream language, longing to resolve contradiction.

And I think this gets at something very important about what it means to me to be a transgender person — many cis people tend to read into my self-identification an attempt to resolve the apparently irreconcilable contradiction between man/woman, whereas I think putting the weight of such a reconciliation on an individual is basically harmful and sort of, well, imperialistic. It is the use of a differently (and intentionally) gendered body to negotiate a certain gendered social reality that has come to be thought of as oppressive.

I suppose ultimately what excites me the most is the idea of an ideological system that is content with its incompleteness, that being a cyborg or being post-gender (post-human) is about a kind of becoming as opposed to a being. It seems to me that this is about shifting lines of definition, not just of oneself but also of one’s society and social categories, regulations, and expectations.

In attempting to formulate a cyborg politics, Haraway asks, “what kind of politics could embrace partial, contradictory, permanently unclosed constructions of personal and collective selves and still be faithful, effective — and, ironically, socialist-feminist?” The rhetoric of both socialism and feminism don’t give room for incomplete, in-process identities. An in-process identity requires an affordance for what Haraway calls “polyvocality.” I think Haraway’s critique of Marxism and feminism is on point in ths way — and why feminist theorizing about transgender bodies and identities has a historical tendency to be screwed up. I don’t think that transgender selves or any semblance of totality.

On the contrary, I tend to think if there is anything at the core of trans-ness, it is a joyful expression of “permanently unclosed” identity if I’ve ever seen it. What feminist theorists get wrong about transgender selves and transgender bodies, then, is trying to squeeze a process (i.e., a temporal metaphor) into a spatial metaphor of categorization. I think this idea needs a little working out, especially since our understanding of time is spatially mediated, but the point is you cannot make a process or even a series of relations into a category because it is ongoing, open-ended, destabilized, and generative.

Trans people are the ultimate cyborgs. “Our” postmodern identities are predicated on an acceptance of the partiality of our perspectives and selves, even as a collective. I also think that in “our” constant contemplation and manipulation of language, “we” live Haraway’s “struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication.” She even goes so far as to say that this struggle is a subversion of “the structure of desire, the force imagined to generate language and gender, and so [subverts] the structure and modes of production of Western identity.” (emphasis mine)

What I’ve learned in the past year or so is that the struggle for postcolonial identity, transgender identity, and a complex conception of multiple overlapping identities is a matter of struggling against exactly that structure. Complex multiple identities — at play in both the theorization of the postcolonial self and the transgender self — make it impossible to theorize about a totality of people. Who, after all, are the “transgender people” of this world? Who are really the “subaltern”? Who do we intentionally or accidentally exclude by naming these things?

Haraway’s critique of feminism translates directly in this way to (my) transgender critique of feminism. Re-reading this in light of everything that I have learned in the past two or three years was a total joy. I am sure I will be revisiting many of these ideas soon, hopefully a bit more rigorously. Thanks for playing!

One of the weirdest things about having moved somewhere completely brand-new at this point in my life is that I am nearly universally read as male. It’s funny because everywhere I went before I’d be unintentionally outed — whether because I already knew people there (I knew about 5 people in Buffalo when I moved here), I was asked upfront because I seemed more androgynous, or I had to correct someone’s pronoun usage. This move has been different because I have been on testosterone for over a year. My voice is low, I can grow a little facial hair, I’ve bulked up. There’s a lot less ambiguity.

So I’ve had to come out to people. At first it was just the handful of people in my cohort who I drove home on Thursday nights, but now I’ve kind of thrown caution to the wind and begun outing myself to people everywhere. It’s funny because the reaction that I’ve been getting most often is, “Oh my goodness, I never would have guessed!” Occasionally somebody just looks at me in confusion until I tell them that I’m FTM, because they assume that it’s the other way around. So far it really hasn’t changed the relationships I have with people here, at least not in a negative way. Last night at the Essex I had a friend tell me that he respected me more because of it.

I’ve always thought a lot about the dynamics of being able to be “stealth,” because when I was younger I fantasized about being able to be so universally read as male that I didn’t have to worry about it. But now that I think of my gender as something more fluid and difficult to pin down, and now that I realize that my gender is much more complex than “I wish I were a man,” it seems like a betrayal of a lot of progress in the area of trans rights to just take it in stride and let people speculate if they are suspicious that something is different about the new games TA. I think it’s better to be open about the situation because there are so few out trans folk floating around UB. It’s also better because there are no surprises for anybody — either for my new friends or for me, when they find out.

Nevertheless, it’s strange having to out myself. For so long I’ve been universally read as queer, and assumptions have been made about me. For the first time in my life I am assumed to be a straight man, and that’s probably the weirdest thing in the world. It’s much weirder than I expected it to be, at least.

One of the major reasons that we’re starting AARB Club is that largely, there’s a lot of resistance in our postcolonial theory class to the really hard topics — ones that make us as people in the Western academy come face-to-face with issues of privilege and violence our predecessors have historically tried to sweep under the rug. The act of denying, ignoring, or decrying liberation violence is a common reaction by (predominantly) white Western academe to de-fang liberation: because to recognize the kinds of violence in works of writers like Frantz Fanon is to recognize the history of violence visited on formerly colonized people, past and present.

I suppose it goes without saying that it’s frustrating to see that go on. On the other hand, I think it’s also something kind of fun to navigate. I’ve resolved to start calling people out on their willful ignorance of violence as a central aspect of liberation theory, and of postcolonial theory as a whole. And hopefully AARB Club will equip us a little better to address these things.

I kind of want to invite Jennifer Wenzel, our professor, to AARB Club. Mostly because I think she’d be relieved to see us dealing with these issues she’s trying to push in class, without the same level of resistance she gets there. Also, The Wretched of the Earth is a hard book and it might be nice to have her around to share her thoughts with us.

I have been enormously impressed at her ability to handle the conversations we’ve been having in class, diffusing potential explosive situations and all-around steering us, without our explicit knowledge, where she wants us to go. She is great at mediating conflict and she knows how to frame things in ways that are challenging, but don’t provoke severe reactions from people. I appreciate that she is trying to get the class to come to terms with violence — and the violence of colonialism — and it’s too bad she’s getting so much resistance.

The more I read of Fanon the more I find common threads with the way I think about gender liberation. I think that The Wretched of the Earth is going to be a great stylistic and thematic model for my book. In fact, much of what we’ve been reading lately has resonated with me in this way. Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism is similar, too. This makes me extra-excited about working on my book: I’ve discovered a rhetorical tradition that I fit into pretty squarely. This class was such a good choice.

Vaguely (at least nominally) related to The Language of Equality, Part I: What Makes an Agent?

I had a great beginning of a conversation last night with Danny, who has also been thinking a lot about the English language as a metaphorical device.  I mean that in the sense that English is the linguistic currency of the world, in many ways: in business it is one of the languages one must speak; technology is Anglophone-centric (consider programming languages); and at the very least, those institutions of higher learning most deeply venerated by most of the people I’ve come into contact with around the world are in the United States or Britain.  In many ways, I feel ambivalent about the English language — it’s an agglomeration of so many different parts, and has fragmented into so many different dialects and local flavors, but it remains an instrument of domination.

Danny talked about how he finds the limits of language so infuriating in his music and poetry.  I can’t speak for him, but I definitely feel the same way — English, as we use it, is a reflection of Anglo-American values, cultural practices, and norms.  The fact that we continue to have arguments about what “postcolonialism” is and means speaks to that, I think — postcolonialism is making an attempt to describe and wrestle with the conditions of the colonized in a traditionally Eurocentric intellectual paradigm.  So, necessarily, it attempts to wrestle with the conditions of the colonized, while negotiating the difficult territory between re-appropriation (of the master’s tools) and inauthenticity (due to its location in the Western academy).

I understand many people’s frustrations with this kind of linguistic juggling.  It often ends up confusing the essence of the arguments, and has the tendency to be pedantic.  Yet it’s very important, especially when confined to a single language, and that language in some ways being emblematic of a history of conquest and oppression, to unravel these issues.  An outright refusal to acknowledge the issues is irresponsible, and a cursory glance will never do it justice.  I am frustrated with my need to examine and problematize English, but maybe what’s worse is that by neglecting to do so, I am at a total loss for words to describe myself, define myself, and defend myself.

(I mean by problematize here the act of twisting, contorting, or disfiguring that which is familiar in order to call attention to something that is integral to the marginalization of an oppressed group, groups, or member(s) of oppressed groups.  To problematize something is to create cognitive dissonance in the interest of affecting change — it is more intentional than merely fucking shit up.)

Since my expertise is in matters of gender identity and expression, I want to explain this in terms of the language we use to describe and define ourselves as gendered members of American society.  To be fair, at the very least English doesn’t codify all nouns into a gendered system the way that Romance languages like French and Spanish do, but the absence of gender-neutral pronouns that are acceptable to use in reference to humans, for instance, is evidence of the limitations of the formalized English language.

(As an ironic aside, I used to consider the gender-neutral pronouns like ze and hir to be acts of pretension rather than audacity.  I am certain what changed my view of this was a better understanding of myself and the study of philosophy of language.)

It is rather controversial to demand that others use gender-neutral pronouns in reference to people.  Generally speaking, this won’t take the form of calling a person it since it is considered offensive and dehumanizing.  I would even contest using they in the singular, because of awkward formations (themself just sounds clunky) and the implication of otherness (as in, “that’s what they do).  I don’t think it’s merely that historically transgender people have not been visible in Anglophone society, it’s also that Anglophone society hasn’t made living outside the gender binary acceptable.

The use of gender-neutral pronouns problematizes English and demands that casual users take note.  They sound awkward at first, but that’s because they’re essentially invented words.  Their awkwardness comes only from their unfamiliarity.  Though the same might be said of the clunky construction themself I mentioned above, themself just gets you editorial red ink, where as ze and hir get the fun questions and raised eyebrows.  In a way, using gender-neutral pronouns is about reclaiming a language that wasn’t designed with binary-flouters in mind.  It’s about carving out a niche in a system that attempts to force invisibility on those who don’t conform.

I’d like to hear more examples of how you (or someone you know) problematizes language.  You’ll get credit when I use your stories in the future, I promise.  But I want to know more.

I said no more after that. On the way home from hanging out at the bar with my friends, a group of black students were leaving the Fifth Quarter, a pretty mainstream club that is no more than two blocks from my apartment. One of the women in the group looked me in the eye and told me, “you have to go, you’re gonna get your ass beat.” I said no more after that.

To me, what happened before that spoke so loudly to the problems I have with the liminality of my own identity. I am not white. In communities of color, I pass as white. The reason I opened my damn mouth in the first place is because the person in question said aloud (and loudly), “look at that girl! She is trying to look like a guy, but she is a girl.” Which was preceded and followed by declarations of hate for white people (oddly enough, I had been talking about how annoyed I’ve been with white people on campus not an hour earlier over beers with my friends — who are white…).

I couldn’t really help myself — maybe a function of my drunkenness, also certainly a function of my self-righteousness, and undoubtedly a function of the spirit of my evening. “You don’t know shit about me,” I said. “I’m not white. And you don’t know shit about my gender.”

One of the women in the group stopped me and pushed me, saying, “you don’t talk to my brother like that.”

You don’t talk to — and about — me like that, I wanted to say. Which was when the other woman intervened. I wasn’t looking for a fight. I am just so sick and tired of being sick and tired; so annoyed with the community of white cisgender academics I am surrounded with; so desperate for a community of allies I search for in the faces of virtually everyone I pass. Maybe I was looking for a fight — I wanted to fight the guy. I won’t lie.

But I kept walking. I kept walking as he laughed about my gender identity.

A few days ago I was part of a community panel of queer people of color. It was odd, being the only transgender and one of only a handful of multiracial people at the table. I had all kinds of things to say about passing, belonging and safety, but for some reason I wasn’t ready to talk about them there. Even with people who supposedly understand me. Who supposedly share my struggle. I said something about access to trans-friendly healthcare. That was it.

Passing is the most important — and least important — thing. Passing is not just about gender. It’s also about race. It’s about the privilege I get because I pass as white. The oppression I experience because white people know I’m not one of them. The oppression I experience because I’m “not” a person of color. Because even in communities which experience oppression I’m still not allowed to claim the identities that I know are mine.

Such are the difficulties of liminal identities: I’m not one or the other, but I’m certainly both. I’m neither white nor a person of color, but I slip from one identity to another depending on who I’m with. I’m neither a man or a woman, but I slip from one identity to another depending on who I’m with. I am still denied, regardless of community, the right to claim my own identities. And that is frightening. The fact I was about to get in a four-on-one fight over it is even more frightening. And more frightening than that? I wouldn’t have backed down.

After last semester’s (second annual) Transgender Day of Remembrance debacle, I was hoping I could ride out the rest of my senior year without being incensed by something the Michigan Daily printed. I guess it helps that I don’t read it much anyway, and that this semester I will be on campus only seven or eight hours a week, but the first friend I ran into today at the Union showed me the first issue of The Statement for the new year. The Statement is the Daily‘s magazine insert, published every Wednesday. I have in the past at least found the contents of The Statement interesting. Today’s cover took me by surprise.

Statement Cover

The cut-off text on my hasty scan reads “HIS APPLE. HER APPLE. ? APPLE.” The byline for the article is “Why singular pronouns aren’t as simple as a rule in the grammar book.” Already I could feel redness filling my face when my friend showed me this. The implications of the symbolism here are clear. People who don’t conform to the gender binary (and quite rigidly too — note the “man” apple’s huge stache and the “woman” apple’s pouty red lips) are incomplete people: monsterous and frightening.

What makes this image even worse is the rigidity of the binary gender system the cover expresses. The “man” apple is burly and hairy. The “woman” apple is made-up with mascara and lipstick. If this is what “men” are supposed to be and what “women” are supposed to be, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many “men” and “women” on this campus.

A greater affront is, after this negative protrayal of gender non-conforming people, the article goes on to only mention transgender issues curtly, in a single sentence. That sentence paints with a broad brush a stereotypical transperson.

In a more recent movement, “hir” and “ze” (pronounced “here” and “zee”) are sometimes used to describe transgender people — a contemporary challenge that confronts the idea of epicene English like never before.

This isn’t even an accurate representation of how many transpeople feel about gender neutral pronouns. The wording is all wrong. For an article about grammar and semantics, it sure is off the mark. A better construction would point out that some transgender-identified people prefer the gender neutral pronouns. Not all do. Nor do all gender-neutral pronoun preferers choose “ze” and “hir.” A little additional research here would have probably been helpful. I think that the lack of information here also bothers me because there is an implication that people who opt into gender neutral pronouns are “just” playing a language-game. It is kind of belittling, really.

And that’s all that the article says about transgender people. I’m not going to pretend like transpeople matter an awful lot to the vast majority of the Daily’s readership, but the issue to me is not that there isn’t any discussion, but the fact there are glaring missed opportunities and where the opportunity is taken, there is misinformation. We’re talking about confronting the gender binary, here, people. I live this. Give me a little credit where credit is due.

I’m pretty tired of raging against the Michigan Daily, but they really don’t give me any choice. Some of my LGBT Commission friends say the Daily wants to talk more about these issues, but it seems to me like the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Which happens. But that doesn’t make it permissible to portray my folk as incomplete monstrosities of people.

When I used to work at a far lower-paying and less-dignified job, there used to be this regular with whom I’d talk about the mysteries of time with while I made him his latte in the morning.  “Time just goes so fast,” I’d say, and he’d laugh.  “Just wait until you’re my age.  Screw having fun, it’s living longer that makes time really fly.”

I’m not sixty yet, but why does every year get faster and faster?  I feel like I just got off the plane from China, and really just got off the plane to China, I feel a little like there was snow on the ground last week and I had a neck brace on.  It just occurred to me that my car accident took place five months ago.  I still feel it in my bones and my subconscious like it happened five weeks ago.

So it’s nearly fall again, and probably — hopefully — this will be my last fall in Michigan.  There’s something uniquely magical to fall in southern Michigan, the way the air smells reminds me of the least happy but most beautiful times in my life, when I would sit in the backyard after school filled with the mortal fear of something.  It seems like an odd thing to romance, but it’s not hard.  I realize now that the things I worried the most about then were just my brain’s way of feinting around the real problems.  The smell’s always there though, and was there last year, when I would ride my bike to my first class from the farmer’s market on Wednesday mornings with a pint of apple cider in my messenger bag.  Or two years ago, when Brendan and I stayed up all night painting our room and cleaning our house.  Or three years ago, when I moved, terrified, into South Quad.

I don’t know how exactly to explain what’s happened to me in the first half of my twenty-first year.  Going backward to January, these are the earth-shattering things that happened to me: I started testosterone; I started seeing a real physician; I fell madly, deeply, irrevocably in love; I took a long, trying trip to China; I flipped over a car and nearly died; I became a full-fledged adult.  The bits of my life that didn’t make any sense before are starting to fall into place.

This year is so different.  There is a sense that it is the beginning of the end.  (My predictions for November: McCain.  Unfortunately.)  There is a sense that it is the end of the beginning.  (I need to take the GRE in October.)  For me there’ll be more than a chill in the wind.  The leaves are already turning and I don’t know if I’m really ready for all of this.

This fall I’m sure I’ll be updating more.  I really want to leave a log of my transition, and a log of the progress toward a scholarship for transgender students at U-M.  I want to leave a little mark on the internet about what it means to be gender non-conforming in academia.  More about my testosterone therapy tomorrow.

I don’t think I’ve discussed it much on this blog, but we are currently in the process of launching a scholarship fund for gender non-conforming and allied students.  Our goal is to gather an endowment of $1 million in order to offer a full ride to one student per graduating class.  I’m spearheading the effort and we’re hoping to get it off the ground by the end of the 08-09 school year so we may offer a scholarship to an incoming freshman in the Class of 2013.

I recently received some criticism, and I’d like to address it publicly since this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, and I believe my critics are grossly misunderstanding the issues at hand.

My critics have claimed that the scholarship doesn’t improve the campus climate, but in fact might cause an uptick in discrimination on campus as other students might see the scholarship as “unfair.”  They claim that doing something like petitioning the administration to increase the number of unisex bathrooms on campus, for example, would be a better project.  First of all, not every gender variant individual chooses to use unisex bathrooms, and an increase will only serve a certain segment of the population.  The focus on bathroom use is a very narrow view idea of what the campus community can do to make gender variant students feel welcome.  Second of all, I believe that, first and foremost, this project’s goal is to show incoming freshmen that there is a supportive community here at U-M.  In spite of any acts of discrimination or outright bigotry that gender non-conforming students might face in Ann Arbor, we want to send the clear message that there is a community, however small, that is dedicated in a big way and will stand up for them if they need us.  Not everybody coming to this campus is going to be as ready to ignore or constructively deal with taunts and threats, but it’s certainly more likely that they’ll be willing to put up a brave face if they know not only that support is at their back but others have come before and have succeeded with flying colors.

As an aside, much of this desire came from my own experience arriving in Ann Arbor as a transgender freshman.  I didn’t feel as though there was a community at all here.  I was unsure who to reach out to.  I didn’t know if I’d be in danger living in a female dorm floor in South Quad.  I wasn’t clear on how to deal with all the people on campus who would question me, criticize me, and even threaten me.  Were there even other students like me?  I wasn’t sure.  There are other efforts underway like R.A. training through the CommonGround program that are new or improved since I was a freshman.  However, these are administration-sponsored programs.  Our scholarship is intended to be a meaningful show of support that is student-directed — evidence for incoming students that there’s a supportive group of people on this campus not just on staff, but also part of the student body.

Other criticism that has been leveled at the project is that by choosing a gender non-conforming student we are being “discriminatory.”  There are two reasons that this is a false, if not fallacious, argument.  First, the scholarship is aimed at both gender non-conforming students and their allies who are already serving the LGBT community through activism, community service, outreach, or just generally being a good human being.  I’m unclear about how this scholarship is discriminatory if it is based upon shared values.  I’ve also been told about scholarships for very short people.  Discriminatory?  Depends on how you look at it, I suppose.

Second, this argument smacks to me of the same kinds of arguments used against affirmative action.  Some people would say it’s discriminatory to give an extra leg up to anybody, but the reality of the situation is, transgender students suffer from tangible and real disadvantages compared to the rest of the student body.  How can we expect to offer students a “level playing field” if the playing field was never level from the beginning?  Is it fair to ignore the discrimination that our peers face merely for the sake of “equality?”  And is that really equality?  That this might be some kind of equality to me seems dubious at best.

There’s another affirmative action parallel in here.  Opponents of affirmative action say that people who are looking for reasons to be prejudiced against students of color will use it as a reason to do so; so, goes the criticism, will recipients of this scholarship be singled out and targeted.  As much as this may be the case, I don’t think that the young people who are eligible to receive the scholarship will be very “low-profile” in terms of their gender presentation.  I’m not saying they’ll be ostentatious, because many of us aren’t.  But I don’t seem very “out there” as far as my gender presentation goes, but I’m still singled out.  Even in places I consider “safe.”  I’m comfortable being an out transman, and that carries with it risks.  The reality of the situation that these critics fail to grasp is that we are already singled out in a very real, very immediate, and very constant way.  There is no “stealth” mode for many of us, especially at this age, especially living in dormitories segregated by sex.  Those inclined to apply for the scholarship will be identifying themselves in other ways.

I want to emphasize that this scholarship is designed to serve a severely underserved community, one which is often simply ignored by mainstream society.  At worst, we are singled out by acts of physical or emotional violence.  Even on U-M’s so-called liberal campus, I have been the target of taunts, threats, and discrimination.  This is a reality.  I don’t pretend that this problem will be eradicated or even improved by offering this money.  But as I stated previously, I hope that the scholarship will be a gesture from a segment of the student body that does care deeply, sincerely and honestly about diversity in Ann Arbor.

Finally, I believe my critics have a poor understanding of what it means for many gender variant individuals to be gender variant and to live in the skins they’ve been given.  I don’t pretend that by bankrolling an education I will be buying off the psychological pain of being non-binary in a binary world.  Many students will look for professional psychological help.  Some students, during their time at U-M, will inevitably opt for hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery.  These are astronomically expensive procedures, which, when supervised by qualified professionals, improve the quality of life for transgender people by orders of magnitude.  Therapy ain’t cheap either: the people I’ve seen who have specialties in the fields of sex and gender tend to be much more expensive than their general practitioner counterparts.  The unfortunate fact of the matter, though, is that not only does not everybody benefit from health insurance, not everybody who has health insurance benefit from insurance that will cover the procedures or therapy.  I’m one of the lucky ones — if my SRS is pre-approved by my insurance company, it’s 100% covered.  I get 52 visits with a psychiatrist or psychologist per year.

The financial burden created by trying to build the life a gender variant student might dream of is immense.  Coupled with the cost of education, and the student may be faced with a seemingly insurmountable debt.  Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it can buy steps toward being more comfortable in your own skin, measures toward better understanding yourself and your place in a society, and the higher education necessary to achieve.  Just as scholarship funds for other minority groups aim to empower individuals to achieve and hopefully give back to the community in the future, I hope that the recipients of the U-M Transgender Student Scholarship will feel empowered to achieve at the U and beyond.

Worrying about paying for college is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of my goals for this project.  I hope to bring together a community of caring people to direct the scholarship, for example.  I plan to involve members of staff, students, faculty and community leaders.  I want to offer an opportunity I never would have dreamed of coming to U-M.  Sure, it’s not “justice,” per se, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.  But having a contingent of empowered gender non-conforming and allied alumni?  That sounds like more than one step in the right direction.


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