Body Ownership

Carmen Cordis is a rad CHATpdx Sexpert, Activist and Leader in Portland, OR. 

I’ve recently encountered a lot of people, whether they identify inside, outside, or on the fringe of the alphabet soup community (LGBTQQAAPIT-S and any I missed, in no particular order), who have given me an ultimatum, namely that I must make some kind of physical or surgical alteration (of other people’s choosing) to my body or appearance in order to “earn” their acceptance, approval, respect, charity, or support.

I am taking a stand against our culture of non-binary-gender-phobia, body-shaming, photographic alteration, unrealistic body image fixation, cissexism, transphobia, and discrimination based on gender identity, gender presentation, sexual orientation, or bodily appearance.

Carmen Graphic

I am a living, breathing, feeling human being with a heart, a brain, a plethora of dreams, a past, a future, and a story.

I am not someone else’s narrow vision of a quickly-labeled “other” identity that ceases to exist outside of those narrowly imposed boundaries.

I was born with human dignity.  My gender is my own; it does not belong to anyone else.  It cannot be ripped away from me and reshaped by someone else, because no one else owns it.

Likewise, My body is my own. No one the right to make serious, irreversible, potentially harmful or deadly decisions regarding MY BODY but me – and those I designate as my agents in the event that I desire assistance.

Because of the culture of fear, my body has been made into my worst enemy for as long as I can remember.  I also tend to avoid conflict and prefer mediation or compromise in order to diffuse conflict.

Unfortunately, at times I have lost the control of my own body because someone other than myself decided to own my body or change it to suit their desires.

Willingly, or unwillingly, I surrendered my body to someone else, sometimes to avoid external conflict, and found myself waiting for the hell to be over when I began to drown in the internal conflict I created by capitulating.

Carmen Own Post

Too many times, I have tried to destroy my body, in order to satisfy the demands of a fear-hatred culture, and to escape from the hell of conflict by giving up and throwing in the towel, saying, “Okay.  You win.  Are you happy now?”

I no longer wish to propitiate those people who would delight in my destruction.

I deserve to be happy, and one step toward my happiness is to own my own body.

Please consider my words the next time you notice someone (perhaps yourself, even) making serious entitlement claims to someone else’s body, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Please consider my words the next time you notice someone else making serious entitlement claims to your own body, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Do not surrender to anyone who would delight in the destruction or invalidation of your essential self, the self of your definition and determination, the self of your life experience.

No one is infallible, but maybe by educating each other we can make a better world, one step at a time.

Carmen Dignity Post

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Being An Ally

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, being an ally is defined as “one that is associated with another as a helper”. The same goes for the New Oxford version “a person or organization that cooperates with or helps another in a particular activity:” Any way you put it, an ally is there to help another person, community and in some instances a country when they need that support. Historically, there were allies assisting to free Africans being enslaved in the United States, America served as an ally to European countries during World War II. And civil right activists were allies to the thousands of African-Americans fighting for civil rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States of America. Most recently, there has been a movement across the country of young people, educators, and parents supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth as allies.

Allies play a vital role in making schools safer for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. In fact, the first Gay-Straight Alliance was the idea of a straight ally. Although this isn’t a “new” movement, recent headlines about anti-LGBTQ bullying have brought to light the importance of allies to the LGBTQ community.

Being an ally means being there for people when the world marginalizes and discriminates against any one. Even today when we see more media representation of LGBTQ individuals, by in large, we still live in a society where to be anything other than heterosexual is not accepted. This is where allies come in! An ally for the LGBTQ community can be anyone, whether they are black, white, old, young, gay, or straight. Allies can be a support for LGBTQ people when they decide to come out to family, friends, community, church, or to anyone else. LGBTQ allies can stand up for LGBTQ youth and pledge: “I believe all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression deserve to feel safe, and supported. I will not use anti-LGBT language or slurs. I will intervene, if I safely can, in situations where students are being harassed, and support efforts to end bullying and harassment.”

Personally, as an ally I have had very rewarding experiences that made me really proud of what I stand for. Those experiences made me realize that the work I do isn’t in vain. In early October, a good friend of mine asked me, “What would you think of me if I told you I was attracted to men?” I told him, “I would think of you the same – who am I to tell you who you care about is wrong?” From then on he told me about his feelings and how he has been holding them in because he doesn’t want to be a part of the stereotype that society has created for gay men. He doesn’t want anyone to look at him differently because of his sexual orientation. We attend a university that is the most diverse in the North Carolina school system, and yet there is stigma around being a gay African-American male.

Being there for him was the best feeling I could have ever felt. After talking to me, he has since made strides in coming out to his peers and wants to tell his mother soon. I remember he told me once “I respect, support, and appreciate straight allies because they are the ones in society that are ‘normal’ in strong support of something that society sees as ‘abnormal.’ You all take the slack for all of that.” Although I let him know that he is in no way abnormal or wrong for his sexual orientation, I appreciated his words. I felt like I had a purpose.

You, too, can be an ally. High school students can join their gay/straight alliance at their schools, or if there isn’t one make an effort to be the founding member. College students can also join an organization that advocates for the issues relevant to LGBTQ youth. Within in that organization, plan a project, pass out flyers, ask questions, and most importantly, BE AVAILABLE! Go out into your communities and tackle the issues that relevant to the people around you. Take notice of abusive language, support your friends and their events. The Gay Lesbian Education Network, Advocates for Youth, and YouthResource are all great resources on how to plan events on campuses and in communities and ways to speak to your peers to ask questions to be a better ally.

I hope that the information that I have provided to you will make you more aware of the people around you and I hope that I have influenced you to stand up for the youth in your communities. Be the change.

As an ally, there will be instances where you will have to direct your peers to resources to deal with their specific situations. To start you off on your journey here are a few resources:

Share your own stories of being an ally. What does it mean to you? How important is it?

-Amara

Why Gender Neutral Bathrooms Should Matter To You.

 

“…when they willfully ignore the concerns of LGBT people,

they not only limit opportunities for these individuals, but

also stifle our community as a whole. In the end, it is the

community that loses, as dynamic, intelligent, and highly

skilled people move on to places that value and respect them.”

–National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Recently I have been thinking quite a bit about the value of gender neutral bathrooms. As a cis-gender gay man (who on occasion may like to dress a little more feminine) I have never had to think about the bathroom I needed to use. In all honesty If you had asked me a year ago if I thought gender neutral bathrooms were an important issue for the queer community I would have said “no.” I understood that this was an issue that trans* folks and gender non-conforming folks were dealing with, but I would not have put this issue above the dozens of other issues the queer community was working on.

Some public places (such as facilities targeted to the transgender or LGBT communities, and a few universities and offices) provide individual bathrooms that are not gender-specified, specifically in order to respond to the concerns of gender-variant people; but this remains very rare and often controversial. Various courts have ruled on whether transgender people have the right to use the bathroom of their gender of identity, but again these rulings are not identical.

Transgender advocacy groups in the United States and elsewhere have taken up the cause of gender neutral toilets. They see de-gendered toilets as a solution to eliminate harassment and other inconveniences for trans* people in using conventional toilets. In 2005 there were 5 American cities, including San Francisco and New York, with regulations for public restroom access based on person’s perceived gender identity rather than their birth sex, but again this does not take into account a person’s identity and not just perceived identity. Various TV shows like Ally McBeal  depict gender neutral bathrooms, but this did not come without controversy.

It wasn’t until I got into a pretty heated discussion with a friend that I realized that this is actually a really big issue that actually seems pretty easy to fix. The discussion came up when I walked into the “women’s” restroom at a conference and once inside didn’t want to make an issue of things so I just used the bathroom like I normally would. When I came out my friend asked if I felt safe using the bathroom or if I was afraid anyone would call security on me. I replied that I didn’t actually think about it and just wanted to use the bathroom. Out of convenience I used the bathroom I had already entered.

My friend (Trans* identified f2m) told me that they had to think about those two things (among others) every single time they use a public bathroom. That using the restroom was more difficult than just finding where they are located and choosing one, unlike how it might be for me. My friend would in most cases plan their bathroom usage based on where they were. For example, they would use their home bathroom before traveling somewhere or find a single occupancy bathroom and always be aware of where the nearest handicapped bathroom is (these bathrooms tend to be gender neutral so that anyone in a wheelchair etc can use the bathroom).

I can’t imagine always having to plan my next bathroom usage, there are plenty of other things I have to worry about in a day to add something like this to the list. It’s really kind of ignorant of me to have never thought about this while being part of the Queer community, especially with how engaged I am in this work. Over the past year I have thought a lot more critically about gender neutral bathrooms and have come to this conclusion. I believe every human being (regardless of gender identity, or sexual orientation) should have access to bathrooms that are safe, clean and meet their needs or privacy.

“Bathrooms segregated by sex are potentially unsafe and

intimidating places for a variety of people.”-University of Chicago

I understand the valid concerns of a female bodied person saying “I don’t feel safe using the bathroom with a man in the same room” or “I need privacy and need a closed bathroom.” I think having single occupancy bathrooms that are open to anyone is a simple solution to this problem. I don’t think it is imperative that all bathrooms are gender neutral, but that any place that has public bathrooms should also have a gender neutral option. At the risk of making a few people uncomfortable, we have a simple solution to make many trans* and gender non-conforming folks comfortable using bathrooms, wherever they may be.

A great resource, safe2pee.org, helps you find accessible bathrooms for you to use by entering your address. If you know of any bathrooms that aren’t added to this list, please add them so that others who need access to these bathrooms can find them. Interesting anecdote: I also found an iPhone app that uses geo-location software to find the nearest public restroom to your location. It doesn’t however tell you where gender neutral bathrooms are which I think would make the app even more fantastic. (Any iPhone app developers want to make some quick cash and develop it?)

I am interested to know what you think. Why should bathrooms be gendered or gender neutral? What are the implications that you see? Would you feel comfortable with having only gender neutral bathrooms?

National A&PI HIV/AIDS Awareness Day May 19th 2011

Asian Pacific Islander Pride and Cascade AIDS Project will be commemorating National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Thursday May 19th.  We invite everyone in our communities to join us!  We will be discussing HIV/AIDS related issues during our Monthly Happy Hour (Element Restaurant & Lounge, 1135 SW Morrison Street, Portland, 5-9pm). This event is part of a larger effort organized by The Banyan Tree Project, a national social marketing campaign to stop HIV/AIDS-related stigma in Asian & Pacific Islander (A&PI) communities.  
There are similar events being held in many cities across the country (visit www.banyantreeproject.org for more information).
  
The theme of the 2011 Campaign is HIV/AIDS and API Women.  While HIV is still seen as a men’s issue, the disease continues to rise unchecked among A&PIs and A&PI women in particular. Recent analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that A&PIs have the highest rate of increase in new HIV infections in the nation, the only statistically significant growth among any racial or ethnic group, and yet two-thirds of A&PIs have never been tested for HIV. The rate of increase for A&PI women is actually higher than that of A&PI men, but the misconception that A&PIs are not at risk for HIV persists–even among healthcare providers who discourage A&PIs from getting tested. In fact, a recent study by Dr. Hyeouk Chris Hahm (a leading researcher on A&PI women’s sexual health from Boston University) indicates that A&PI women are less likely than other ethnic groups to be offered an HIV test in OB/GYN settings. A number of factors contribute to the HIV risk for A&PI women, including a lack of targeted HIV prevention information for women, unequal power dynamics in sexual relationships, biological differences and the fact that a woman’s HIV risk is often indirect. A woman’s HIV risk is her partner’s HIV risk and many women in monogamous relationships are shocked when they test positive. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of A&PI women living with HIV got it through heterosexual contact (86%).
 

“By 2050, A&PIs will represent about 11% of the US population,” says Lance Toma, executive director of A&PI Wellness Center in San Francisco. “We could be facing a public health disaster if we
fail to address the rise in HIV and STD infections in our communities now.” Another significant issues related to HIV/AIDS that is relevant to the API community is HIV-related stigma, which refers to the severe individual, family and community shame or disgrace associated with HIV. API’s living with HIV are blamed for their condition and are punished—by exclusion, isolation, prejudice and discrimination—for contracting the disease. They are often vilified and reduced to stereotypes—drug users, gay men, sex workers—with little regard for their individual experience or situation. In the A&PI community, HIV-related stigma is so powerful that people avoid talking about sex or HIV entirely. This silence feeds the fear and misconceptions about HIV transmission. For A&PIs, an HIV-positive test result can shame and disgrace the individual, as well as the family and community.  By raising awareness and openly talking about HIV/AIDS, sexuality and sexual health issue, we can help to erase this stigma and reduce HIV transmission and its impact in API communities.

API Pride is an organization led by and for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent in Oregon. We provide safe and supportive environments and opportunities to celebrate, educate and bring our communities together. For questions or concerns, please contact us by email at api.pride@gmail.com or visit our blog:  http://api-pride.blogspot.com

It’s My Body, Not Yours!

If a trans friend or family member ever tells you that they have decided to start hormones or have surgery and it’s something you would never choose to do yourself, please remember that it has absolutely nothing to do with your appearance or body or gender identity, regardless of what your gender identity or expression is, regardless of whether you are cis or trans. [Note: in my usage, cis means identifying as the gender assigned at birth and trans means identifying as a gender or genders other than the one assigned at birth, although others may define these terms differently].

The day I told my family I had started making plans for having top surgery (bilateral mastectomy), there were a lot of concerned faces around.  People wanted to make sure I was making the right decision, that I wouldn’t regret it.  My sister had a particularly strong reaction.  She spent hours asking questions about whether I was sure, telling me stories about how she feels about her breasts (she very much likes having breasts), and giving me these long, sad, defeated looks.  I finally got tired of it and called her out on it, suggesting that she be happy for me instead – I have access to a surgery that will help me feel more comfortable in my body and in the world, and honestly could save my life, as committing suicide was occasionally on the table as a way to end my discomfort – it was that extreme.

I don’t remember the exact words she responded with; but it’s a sentiment I’ve come across a lot. My sister once stated, “You have to accept that people are going to get upset when you tell them that you’re cutting your breasts off because most people are really attached to their breasts and thinking about having their breasts removed is upsetting to them.”

It was a mind-blowing moment.  I wasn’t talking about removing my sister’s breasts, so why was she!?  Arguing about how it had nothing to do with her or anybody else’s breasts ensued, and we actually (I think) came to a good place of understanding by the end of that day.  Others have voiced this kind of thought as “I could never do that” coupled with looks and comments of concern.

As somebody who needed to do hormones and have top surgery to achieve psychological and emotional well being (and, yes, where indicated, these treatments are considered medically necessary by the AMA), I was terrified of having surgery and continue to be very unenthusiastic about giving myself shots.  I certainly wished I didn’t have to have surgery to be comfortable in my body, I certainly tried to talk myself out of it, and I certainly had a rough road of accepting my need for surgery.  It was made even harder by these kinds of reactions – people telling me they could never do this thing that I was terrified of doing but had to do anyway; people who enjoy having breasts assuming that I relate to my body in the same way that they do, not considering that the reason this procedure was necessary was exactly because I do not relate to my body in the same way that they do.

I think people have a natural tendency to hear about what somebody else is doing and imagine themselves in that person’s shoes.  I also think there are appropriate times and ways to talk about those thoughts.  A friend is skydiving and you would be terrified to do that; a friend is traveling for a month and you hate traveling – by all means, tell them.  You can talk about your different interests and fears, but make sure you’re not trying to talk them out of something that’s important to them or talking judgmentally about an activity that might be core to their identity.

When it comes to health care, particularly with procedures that are frightening no matter what it’s for, like surgery, not making those kinds of comparisons is the polite thing to do.  We do this all the time, quite easily.  If somebody told you they are having surgery to remove a tumor that is greatly impacting their quality of life, it’s highly unlikely you would say, “I could never do that” because if you had that tumor and you needed that surgery in order to have a basic level of comfort, then you would probably do it.  You might ask if they’re scared, and talk about how you would be scared.  You might tell them that you’re happy this procedure is available.  You might ask them how they feel about the surgeon who will be doing it.  You might talk about what they’re looking forward to and the relief of having this condition taken care of.  There are a lot compassionate ways we all respond to things like this.

Why not extend the same compassion to those who are having surgery or taking medications for gender and/or transition related reasons?  It’s often just as life saving, often just as scary or difficult (if not more because of social ramifications and usually no insurance coverage for the cost), and often just as much of a relief to have treatment.

Please remember if somebody is having a procedure or taking medication that you would never need or want or would hate – it’s not about you, and it’s not happening to you.  Set aside those thoughts and listen to your friend or family member’s experience with compassion and an open mind.

-LeKyS

*I have chosen not to attach my actual name to this article because, unfortunately, in some states (to which I might move some day) gender identity/expression is not protected from job and housing discrimination.  Although I am mostly out in my life, I choose to remain anonymous on the internet when I am not in direct control over changing or deleting that information.

*For more information about top surgery, other trans-related surgeries, and surgeons who serve trans clients, visit http://www.transbucket.com.

Film Friday- It gets better OBAMA

Yesterday as part of the It Gets Better Project, President Obama shared his message of hope and support for LGBT youth who are struggling with being bullied. This heartfelt video is amazing to see just years after our last president was calling for less LGBT rights. Check out what Obama had to say then come down to Pivot (209 SW 4th Ave) from 3-7pm next Wednesday October 27th  and record your own video about why LGBT youth should not take their own lives. Our voices have the power to save lives, use yours to help. What’s even better is we will take snip its from each video and make a larger it gets better video for you to share with your friends.

RSVP by texting  “LIFE” to 503-466-5056. We will send you a reminder, because we always forget. OR call us at 503.278.3871 to let us know you’re coming.

 

What is the It Gets Better Project?

“Noted writer and media pundit Dan Savage founded the It Gets Better Project in September 2010 as a unique way for supporters everywhere to tell LGBT Youth that — it gets better.

Closed-minded school administrators and parents may not let LGBT adults talk directly to their children about their futures, but we don’t have to get permission to tell kids that life gets better. That’s why we’re compiling a video archive to share the stories of people overcoming bullying and finding happiness.

ItGetsBetterProject.com is a place where young people who are gay, lesbian, bi, or trans can see with their own eyes how love and happiness can be a reality in their future. It’s a place where LGBT adults can share the stories of their lives, and straight allies can add their names in solidarity and help spread our message of hope.” -From http://www.itgetsbetterproject.com/pages/about-it-gets-better-project/

 

 

Film Friday- Questions (not) to ask a Trans person

Greetings CHATmosphere! This week I am in Washington DC with a group of about 120 activists talking about sexual and reproductive rights. While here we had a great conversation about some of the questions LGBT folks are asked and how inappropriate they can be. At the extreme level of these horrible questions are the ones that sometimes get asked of Transgender folks. Language is a great way of communicating and asking questions is a great way to learn things you do not know, but when the questions are inappropriate it can also be a really easy way to be pretty offensive. Even if that is not the way you are asking, it is important to know how your questions can be taken. Below is a video of some of the questions Trans people are asked. It is pretty humorous and points to some great points about being aware of how we ask questions. Make sure that any question you are asking about someone’s identity is a question that you would feel comfortable answering yourself. Have you heard any of these questions? Have you ever been asked them or ever asked anyone questions like this? Let me know! -Ernesto