"Janet Mock is not playing the game of respectability politics. She could, if she wanted, be a kind of trans woman Bill Cosby, at pains to make an example of her normalcy, eager to give an image makeover to trans people at large. “I have been held up consistently as a token,” she says in her new memoir Redefining Realness, “as the ‘right’ kind of trans woman (educated, able-bodied, attractive, articulate, heteronormative).” But having grown up low-income, multiracial, and trans, Mock knows too much about being the wrong kind of woman to glory in exceptionalism. Since the 2011 profile in Marie Claire in which she announced herself as a trans woman, she’s started the #GirlsLikeUs Twitter campaign and become a spokesperson and activist for trans issues. The profile more or less maintained the rhetoric of respectability, leading with her “supportive man” and “enviable career” as editor of People.com. But now Mock is telling her own story, and she does not omit the dark, the delicate, and the potentially disreputable."
I rarely read reviews of my book but this one moved me.
We couldn’t agree more!
"What’s the deal with trans women at Smith?"
TRANS WOMEN AT SMITH FAQ
Feel free to ask us a new question, anonymously or otherwise, here.
1. Can trans women be admitted to Smith? What is the current policy?
Yes, if they have the time, resources (financial and otherwise), and know-how to meet Smith’s demanding requirements. Trans women have gone to Smith in the past and are currently enrolled at Smith.
2. Won’t trans women be a threat to survivors space?
Of course the safety needs of survivors are paramount, but the short answer is no. People of all genders and people with all different kinds of bodies can do sexual violence. It should also be noted that there are many folks in the Smith community, on the campus, and in the houses on a daily basis who are assigned male at birth, such as 5 college students, professors and other staff members, and visitors.
From Tobi Hill-Meyer, badass trans academic, filmmaker, and activist who has been so very helpful in lending her commentary on these questions:
The key to remember is that trans women are survivors, at disproportionately high levels. The real threat to survivors is denying them access to resources and education because they are trans women. But when folks ask this question, they are usually talking about how some survivors mightbe triggered by penises and some trans women might have similar appearing genitals and there mightbe some convoluted way in which someone might see a trans woman’s genitals and become triggered. This scenario is incredibly objectifying of trans women and reduces us to being nothing more than walking genitals. It ignores the feelings and responses of trans women - and indeed that such a scenario is at least as likely to be triggering to the trans woman involved as the person who is looking at her genitals for some reason. Especially if she is a survivor. Imagine, for a moment, being a survivor, having someone scope out your genitals without your permission, then they freak out and start yelling at you. Maybe they grope you to “be sure.” Maybe they look like they might assault you. You probably fear for your safety. Maybe they call security or some kind of officials to come and physically remove you. Then maybe you face possible punishment, expulsion, or arrest because you are considered a threat to survivors. The irony is painful, but that’s a real scenario that some trans women have experienced and that many trans women have to consider as a risk as long as anti-trans policies like these are in place. This is not how you support survivors.
For more, Tobi directed us to this helpful “account from a survivor discussing discrimination against trans women in a women’s play party environment. It applies to anywhere that discrimination is being argued for as a way to protect survivors, and for anyone who wants to discriminate against trans women in order to “protect” survivors, consider it required reading” (Tobi Hill-Meyer):
I know some people say that this policy is to protect survivors from being triggered by the sight of a “bio penis.” The truth is, anything can trigger me. I can walk down the street and get triggered. I can stay at home and get triggered. I can get triggered by something someone says, by how I feel, by what’s going on in my body. There are lots of things at a play party that could trigger me, and they are not trans women’s bodies. My triggers are just that. Mine. It would not be fair or practical to ask you to try to protect me from my own triggers. They are my responsibility. I was robbed of my choices when I was abused. In owning responsibility for my triggers, I take that back. I own my experience. I get to decide what I do about it. I get to ask for help if I want, or go resolve it myself if I want. Nobody has the right to protect me from my choices. I know what it’s like to be isolated from the community support I need. I know what it’s like to be shamed about my body. I know what it’s like to not be seen as a whole person, to be reduced to the gender box someone put me in. All of that is what perpetrators did to me. That is what LSM [the group discriminating against trans women] is doing to trans women, and it does not protect me, it hurts me. In fact, it triggers me. Thinking about how people justify this policy as a way to protect me turns my stomach into a twisting ball of knots. I don’t want your protection. It comes at too high a cost. And I’m not just talking about the cost of trans hatred and fear in my community, which is a high enough cost for me. I’m talking about the cost to my dignity and right to choose for myself. By thinking you need to protect me, you are sending me a message. You are saying that you have no faith in my ability to care for myself. That you see me as helpless and as a victim, forever. That you would rather protect me than listen to what I really need. That you would rather decide to hide “penises” away than to set up policies to effectively deal with harassment and violence in our community. Is that the message you want to send to survivors? (Source)
3. How would Smith be able to preserve its mission as a women’s college and still accept trans women?
If “trans women are women and this is a women’s college” is not enough for you, here are a smattering of thoughts:
Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. A college of and for the world, Smith links the power of the liberal arts to excellence in research and scholarship, developing leaders for society’s challenges. — Smith College Mission
Well, the wake up call has happened, and now it’s time for the Smith community to decide what they want their school to be. Do they want it to be a women’s college that’s open to all women? There’s a lot of potential here for Smith to take a major step forward in fulfilling its mission by opening its doors for some of the most marginalized women — "Skewed priorities mean Smith is not currently fulfilling its mission as a women’s college" by Jos on Feministing.com, who came and performed as part of the Q&A Girl Talk event
How can Smith be able to preserve its mission as a women’s college and *not*accept trans women? Seriously, is it even accurate to call it a women’s college when some women and kept from attending while their male counterparts are welcomed? Accepting *all* women is the best way to fulfill this mission. The reality is that many people, especially those involved in social justice, LGBTQ activism, or simply are a part of the younger generations that increasingly oppose anti-trans bias, see women’s colleges that exclude trans women as being hypocritical. I know some young women who choose not to apply to such colleges because they don’t want to be associated with this discrimination. I know others who hide the fact that their degree is from Smith because when they tell others they have been assumed to support discrimination and prejudice. Smith is quickly garnering a reputation as a school that actively harms women’s populations rather than a school that supports women. Is that a legacy you want to be remembered by? — Tobi Hill-Meyer
We feel that the question(s) should not be, “Why are transgender students at Smith, and do they belong here?” but rather, “What can we do to make Smith College a safer and more supportive place for currently enrolled, future, and prospective transgender students? As well as ‘How can we begin to find room in our community for our sisters who are continually excluded? — Tangent, chartered Smith Organization for trans issues, circa 2005-2006
4. But what about the men at Smith?
Q&A does not organize around issues of trans men. Q&A has no official stance on trans male Smithies. Our resources are best spent discussing and organizing around issues regarding the visibility, safety, and admission of trans women at Smith. Q&A members may have varying opinions regarding trans men at Smith, and some are trans men themselves, but we all agree trans women belong here.
5. Will admitting trans women affect my financial aid?
6. Will admitting trans women cause Smith to lose its Title IX status?
Over the course of Calliope’s struggle, a number of readers of Calliope’s Tumblr suggested that Smith’s hands were tied: that Smith could not accept applicants who were still legally male (or create an official written policy on doing so) because this would violate Title IX and therefore jeopardize its government funding, status as a single-sex school, or both. Luckily for Calliope, Katherine Kraschel, graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Harvard Law School, thinks otherwise. In a 24-page note to the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, Kraschel debunks the assertions that Title IX can be used to defend the exclusion of transgender applicants from single-sex institutions, and that the admission of a transgender individual would force the school to become co-educational. Kraschel begins by noting that although the original 1970s language of Title IX relies heavily on a strict gender binary, contemporary interpretations of Title IX and the related Title VII, also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, have expanded them to include gender as well as sex, and to protect gender nonconforming individuals (as seen in Smith v. City of Salem and Schwenk v. Hartford).She goes on to explain, the Supreme Court has declared that single-sex schools must directly serve an “important governmental objective,” in this case ending gender discrimination, in order to justify discrimination/sex-based affirmative action. Kraschel puts forth Darwinder Sidhu’s argument that based upon previous cases such as United States v. Virginia and Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, in order for a private single-sex women’s college to justify single-sex discrimination it must adhere to five conditions: “(1) they must not perpetuate archaic gender stereotypes; (2) they must intentionally and directly assist a disadvantaged gender in a manner related to that disadvantage; (3) enrollment in the single-sex affirmative action program must be completely voluntary; (4) the single-sex affirmative action program must not include members of the non-disadvantaged gender; and (5) the single-sex affirmative action program must last no longer than the discriminatory conditions.” Because Title IX’s “based on sex” clause includes gender and protects gender-nonconforming individuals, transgender individuals fall under the umbrella of “disadvantaged gender,” and therefore their presence at a women’s college would not and does not cause the college to fail to adhere to the fourth condition. Indeed, Kraschel asserts, the inclusion of transgender individuals would not result in failure to adhere to any of the five conditions presented. — “’Just Check ‘Female’: Trans Women and Smith College Admissions" by Sarah Giovannielo in Broad Recognition, Yale’s feminist magazine
This assumes that trans women are legally considered male. That’s just not the case. Even trans women with “male” on their documentation are increasingly being recognized by the courts as legal females with logistical difficulties leading to incorrect documentation. Massachusetts non-discrimination law includes discrimination on trans status and sees discrimination against trans women as illegal. Furthermore, case law around Title IX has specifically recognized discrimination against someone on the basis of being trans to be a part of the discrimination based on sexual characteristics that Title IX was created to address. While there isn’t direct precedent, there is a significant concern that discriminating against trans women is a greater liability risk than admitting trans women would be. — Tobi Hill-Meyer
7. What’s wrong with calling trans women “male bodied”?
Because it’s inaccurate, imprecise, there’s no consensus about what that term means, and terribly unclear what you are talking about. — Tobi Hill-Meyer, who wrote a very helpful piece on this topic here
While many act as if ‘biologically male’ is an objective, impartial scientific reality, this insistence in practice serves as a means for larger society to negate the identity of transgender individuals. As a trans woman, I’m expected to simply accept that I’m inescapably male, even if others deign to acknowledge me as a ‘male woman’, and act as if there are no gendered connotations in this designation. What I hear when people insist that I acknowledge that I am male is that I can only ever aspire to be a woman to a point. No matter what lengths I go to to legitimize my identity, there will always be an external check in place to make sure that I know that the best I can hope for is being a woman with an asterisk. In other words, I can pretend to be a woman all I want, but “objective reality” will always say otherwise. … If we decided to acknowledge the self-identification of transgender individuals as a valid reality, rather than a superficial, subjective, and flimsy role, and if we didn’t insist on the primacy of a sexual designation that is anything but objective (chromosomes are not readily visible indicators of gender, rarely tested, and operate in ways far more complex than most people acknowledge, making designation by medical professionals in effect an educated guess) then perhaps transgender individuals could be more easily accepted as who they are.”— Kate Hache
The two sex binary is a flawed social construct that literally has no basis in reality whatsoever. Some form of intersex characteristics happen in approximately 2% of all live births in humans. That’s 2 out of every 100 which in a world with billions of people is a lot of people that don’t fit into either “male” or “female” and that obviously doesn’t include trans* people which makes the statistics higher. And that also doesn’t include the people who aren’t technically intersex but also don’t fully fit the biological construct of what a male or female “should” be which is far far more people that you realize or most medical doctors willing to admit. In our society sexing is based on 5 criteria:
genes - XX or XY chromosomes with variations happening for XO, XXY, and XXX
gonads - ovaries or testes except that people with vaginas can have testes, people with penises can have ovaries, and people can be born with both ovaries and testes
genitalia - a penis or a vagina except that people can be born with both and men can have vaginas and women can have penises
secondary sex characteristics - in theory men are supposed to have large amounts of thick, coarse body hair, a low waist/hip ratio, broad shoulders, undeveloped breasts, and deep voices while women are supposed to have small amounts of fine, light colored, soft body hair, a high waist/hip ratio, petite shoulders, developed breasts, and high voices except that in real life it’s entirely possible for people to have combination of those characteristics or for men to have “feminine” secondary sex characteristics and women to have “masculine” secondary sex characteristics
hormone patterns - in theory men are supposed to be high testosterone and low estrogen and women are supposed to have high estrogen and low testosterone but in reality there is far far more variation within “each” sex than between “each” sex including women having “masculine” hormone patterns and men having “feminine” hormone patterns all without those people having any sort of “disease” or “disorder” or anything being wrong with them at all.
Once we take into account all 5 of those criteria an actual majority of people don’t line up with either male or female in all 5 areas which means it’s not possible to classify most people along the strict binary the way people like you would like to. So, sure, there are things in this world that qualify as technically male or technically female but the idea that there’s some sort of scientific basis for a strict binary where there are only ever two options and people are only ever male or female is laughable. It’s utter bullshit and trying to force people into those boxes when they don’t fit does a hell of a lot more harm than good. Nothing positive comes from that kind of bigotry while actually being willing to accept people as they are or as they choose to identify has legitimately positive outcomes in the world.
— Tumblr user RapeCultureRealities’s accessible explanation of many of the concepts in Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body
new faq page!
A huge impediment to creating policy and cultural change for trans women at Smith is the spread of misinformation. So, we’ve created a nifty FAQ page!
Hopefully this can be a good reference page for engaging people in dialogue as well. Please let us know if you have comments or suggestions regarding the questions or answers. Be sure to send us any additional questions so that we can add them. Cheers!
weekly update 02/27
- We talked about organizing education events on campus, what those would look like, what kind of stuff we’d want to talk about, and what we’d like to get out of them.
- Movie screenings
- Faculty panel
- Tabling in the CC
- Poster campaign
- House teas
- Why Smith should admit trans women, what the current policies are, and what needs to change
- What it means to be a good ally to trans women
- What it means to create safe spaces for trans women
- How can we take allyship out of the org meeting and into the bathroom?
- Microaggressions against trans women (possibly a workshop?)
- Collaborations and/or event during Open Campus
- Community and education: (Maggie, Raven, Alexis, Nell, Sarah, Brontë)
- Posters: (Elli et al.)
- Policy and admissions: (Jason, Julia, (Elli), Nell, Beverly)
- Maggie will send information to high school counselors about trans ladies at Smith.
- We’re going to participate in a student documentary, as members of Q&A (not representatives, in order to make sure we’re not speaking for each other). If you wanna be a part of that, email Sarah (email@example.com)
- If you want to send an email to the listserve, and you are a listserve member, just address it to firstname.lastname@example.org
- if you’re a Q&A member and need to join the listserv, email Elli (email@example.com)
- Tuesday, March 6 @ 7:00— House Presidents Association meeting; Nell is going to discuss doing Q&A teas in the Smith houses anybody else is welcome to join her!
- Wednesday, March 7 @ 8:00— regular Q&A meeting in the RCSG
weekly update 02/20
- Education & Events
- Community Building
- Policy Reform
- SSJIC’s general interest meeting, tomorrow (Thursday, February 20) at 7:00 p.m., in Seelye 202!
- Drag Ball is this Friday in the CC at 10:00. Also, there’s a fun exhibit in the art museum at 7:00, for people who wanna come to that!
- Next week’s meeting: Same time (Wednesday at 8:00 p.m.), same place (RCSG).
meeting tonight at 8!
Happy Rally Day! Here’s hoping next year’s commencement speaker announcement will be in person and in line with feminist values!
We are meeting TONIGHT in the RCSG at 8pm.
Tonight we will be brainstorming ideas for educational community events. How does a documentary screening followed by a panel sound? We’d love to hear your brilliant ideas: message us or comment!
Have a great day Q&Aers!