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World AIDS Day, the color red, and how About.com sucks

December 1, 2010 1 comment

So, today is World AIDS day. Before I get talking about AIDS stuff, I’d like to make a note of something that’s pissing me off about all these event days: the color of your shirt does not actually do anything. Already today I had someone reprimand me for not wearing red. I have one red shirt, and it’s dirty, get over it. This is the third thing like this that’s happened since the beginning of the semester. There was “wearing purple magically ends bullying” day, and “wear every color of the rainbow over the course of the week because that somehow raises awareness for stuff” week (which may have just been my uni, I’m not sure). Unless you have a red shirt that says “World AIDS day”, wearing red does nothing (and frankly, wearing a red shirt with HIV/AIDS statistics on it would be better, or dispense with the color theme entirely and just hand out fliers or someshit). Otherwise, you’re just wearing some shirt and no one knows or cares why.

Now that that rant is over, I can begin the next one.

I really just wanted to look up some general HIV/AIDS statistics for the trans community. I’ve seen a lot of numbers quoted all over the place, but didn’t have any specific articles in mind or saved so I did a quick search. The best I could find was this, which is trans woman-specific. Basically everything else was fail. Most studies focused exclusively on sex workers. A lot of the statistics are horribly broad, giving ranges like 15-68% (of course, 15% is still relatively high). Some of the statistics are African-American specific, yet for some reason claim to represent all trans people (the wording in this article is vague and weird to me, and goes back and forth between talking about just AA trans women and all transgendered people, also note the horrendously wide statistic). There are good studies out there, they have been quoted other places, but they are not very easily found. This is obviously a huge problem for any activist or casual researcher trying to get basic information to share with the public.

In amongst my searching I found a particularly striking example of total fail. About.com’s pages on HIV/AIDS are pretty extensive, but their page on HIV in transgendered people is so craptastic it makes me want to tear my eyes out. What’s worse is that this is the first page I get when searching for HIV rates in trans people. I’m going to spend the rest of this article basically tearing them a new one. Let’s begin shall we?

They begin, as these things always do, by defining transgender. They admit that there are people who identify outside the binary:

Bi-gender
Those who feel their gender identity encompasses both male and female.

Except they suck. This term is technically correct, as I have heard it described by people who identify as bigender. However, according to the definitions given, I don’t exist. There are no terms given for people who identify as neither male or female, who identify as having a gender that moves between (and around) male and female, people with neutral genders, or people with no gender. We can only talk about having gender in terms of having a male and/or female gender, apparently. If you’re going to include nonbinaries in your definition, be a little more inclusive please.

They go on to quote statistics, which in and of themselves are not too bad (take a look at them though, especially note where the highest and lowest rates are drawn from. I think they have a lot to say about how class plays a serious role in HIV infection rates). It’s when they go on to account for the higher-than-average rates that everything breaks down and I get really angry.

Sexual Risks
Those identifying as transgender often experiment with their own sexual orientations and attractions. In addition, many are involved in money for sex in an effort to support substance addictions or to make money for the purchase of necessary hormonal therapy. Some reuse or share needles to inject their hormones because of the insurance industry’s unwillingness to cover hormonal therapy. Like any population, these sexual behaviors and sharing of needles increase HIV transmission risk.

First sentence: huh? What? Seriously, read that first sentence over again. I’ve never heard this anywhere else and it is completely weird to me. Lots of trans people question their sexuality, wonder about it etc., but that doesn’t automatically entail sleeping with a wide variety of people in some sexual “experiment”.

Second sentence: trans people are sex workers to support drug habits. The paragraph itself concentrates more on sex work to pay for transition and hormone-needle sharing, but the very second thing this paragraph says is that lots of trans people have addictions. Now, I’ve heard the sex work thing raised before, but it is typically explained by the poverty resulting from discrimination. And I’ve heard the “sex workers are druggies” stereotype. Never have I seen this particular combination. They seem to be quoting studies like this one*, but at least this actually cites the numbers and admits the wide range of results among studies (“the extent to which IV drug use is a factor in the transmission of HIV in the transgender community is not clear.”)

*this study is problematic in its own way; 90% of those selected are POC, most of the other studies it cites focus on sex workers, and no questions are asked about sex work or economic status in the interview. I really wonder where they went to collect this sample. One plus: they actually had trans people conduct the interviews.

And another thing: why the hell does needle sharing comprise half the paragraph on sexual risks? I feel like these are unrelated topics.

In the paragraph before, which notes the discrepancy between how medical professionals and trans patients view and may speak about trans bodies, we have this sentence: “For example, an anatomical male who identifies as female may refer to his anus as his vagina.” What the crapping hell? I think I know where this is coming from: some people who engage in anal sex refer to the anus as “cunt” (I’ve never heard it as vagina though). I’ve never seen a trans woman do this, though. I guess it happens. But who would do this when talking with a doctor? I feel like people are smarter than that. Also note the pronoun fail. Someone who identifies as female is not a “he”.

The article then goes on to say this:

Sensitivity
Finding a medical provider who is sensitive and aware of transgender issues is difficult. Many transgender people avoid medical care because they have a hard time finding providers sensitive to their needs.

Like this website, for example. The article extols the need for further education of medical professionals at the very end, and is itself a really good example of that need.

By the way, you can contact the about.com medical review board and tell them all about how crap this article is. I plan to.

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Trans in the New York 2010 elections

September 18, 2010 2 comments

Transgender is a dirty word in New York this election season. You won’t hear about us in the debates or see us on the news. Many candidates want to be seen as being pro-“LGBT issues”, but few seem willing to talk about anything other than “gay” marriage and DADT. So, for that particular letter at the end of the acronym, how can you be expected to support a group of people you won’t even talk about? I have spent the last several hours on NY candidate websites finding out who’s talking about trans people and how much they’re willing to say. This information is mostly gleaned from “issues” sections of websites, the ideas that the candidates want to be associated with most. Occasionally I made use of a “search” function when available. This obviously doesn’t include candidates that did not bother to have websites, and I did not feel masochistic enough to dig through hundreds of news articles to get further information. What is presented is what any researcher could find in a few minutes, what most people would associate with particular candidates.

So let’s see what we have.

For the gubernatorial candidates, we have a grand total of two who mention transgendered people at all anywhere on their website. One is Jimmy McMillan of the “Rent is Way too High” party. He dedicates a whole page to the subject, where he asserts the rights of trans people to be treated equally and makes a point of differentiating us from homosexuals (he also, for some reason, differentiates between “gay” and “homosexual”). Unfortunately he makes no mention whatsoever of any actual issues affecting trans people or what he might do about any of it (but he does know how to pronounce transgender…seriously, why is there IPA on a political website?). The other candidate is Howie Hawkins, of the Green party. I actually contacted Hawkins earlier in the year, asking specifically about his position on trans issues. He emailed me back, happily explaining about his pro-trans platform and all the things he was doing personally to forward trans rights. On his website? The only mention of trans people at all is on the NY Pride Agenda Candidate Questionnaire. The only LGBT issue he puts in his “issues” section is the omnipresent “same sex” marriage. So, he’s very eager to tell queers all about how he supports us, but doesn’t seem to make the leap to telling anybody else.

Next we have incumbent state comptroller Tom DiNapoli. DiNapoli does not have a campaign website, but a quick search for “transgender” on the main comptroller site brings up the LGBT section of his “Your Money New York” website. Here we find the following statement: “Since becoming Comptroller, State Comptroller DiNapoli has prohibited discrimination based on gender identity and expression by vendors who contract with the Office of the State Comptroller…” This is nice, but something that will completely vanish once DiNapoli is replaced or retires (it’s the same sort of thing with executive orders, they can easily be reversed by later officeholders, which is why I wasn’t impressed with Obama’s executive order protecting trans federal workers or a similar one for NY state workers; not going to last). In addition to this, some of the links from the page have decent resources for trans people in NY. Then again, this is all stuff you find when looking for it, I can’t tell if he’s actually talking about any of this openly.

Then there’s the Democratic candidate for Attorney General Eric Schneider. He actually doesn’t mention trans people on his website, but the specific way in which he doesn’t do this is worthy of some comment. He writes: “…Eric is fighting to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which ensures that all New Yorkers are free from discrimination.” That’s right, Schneider is flaunting his support for a piece of legislation WITHOUT MENTIONING THE PEOPLE IT’S SUPPOSED TO HELP AT ALL. Needless to say, this pisses me off. GENDA is not for “all New Yorkers”, GENDA is legislation to protect trans people. There are two possible explanations, either Schneider doesn’t give a shit about trans people and is just supporting GENDA for the Liberal Points™, or he does care but is too much of a coward to actually come out and say the word “transgender”. I reiterate what I said in the first paragraph: how can you be expected to support a group of people you won’t even talk about?

That’s it for statewide candidates. Four. Out of 36 running for five positions. Seriously, none of the senate candidates is talking about this. I don’t think anybody after Schumer’s seat (even Schumer himself) mention LGBT issues at all. I went to the trouble of looking at all the house candidates for New York, and another three of them have some mention of trans people (out of I don’t know how many, not going to count them). None of them are from my district, by the way.

Of district 4 we have Democratic candidate Carolyn McCarthy. She flaunts her sponsorship and support of various bills, including H.R. 1913 the “Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act”. Among other things, “It would also amend the Hate Crime Statistics Act to require the collection of data on violent crimes motivated by bias against the victim’s perceived gender or gender identity…” That’s it. McCarthy is in favor of counting trans people victimized by hate crimes, not that they’re actually defined as hate crimes in NY law at the moment.

Of district 5 we have Democratic candidate Gary Ackerman. He says “I was proud to recently cast my vote in favor of an expansion of federal hate-crimes laws to include gender and sexual orientation.” I’m not actually sure if this one counts. What the hell does he mean by “gender” here? Protections for “gender” usually mean pro-woman not pro-trans. Does he mean to say “gender identity and expression” like it’s worded in all the legal documents, and just not bother to proofread? Or is this another case of vying for Liberal Points™ without actually knowing/caring what you’re talking about? I’m leaning towards the second myself, but I’m pretty cynical at this point.

Finally we have district 12 candidate Nydia Velazquez. I’d say she was a democrat, but it hardly matters because she doesn’t seem have an opponent. As such, she doesn’t have much of an election website either. However, by searching for transgender on her regular website, we get four results that don’t distinguish trans people from the LGBT acronym or talk about trans issues at all. They each mention trans people exactly once, to state the long form of the acronym. That’s it. So here we have the opposite problem of the rest of it, most everyone is avoiding the word, Velazquez is saying the word and thinking that’s all she needs to do. Why is it that people lump trans into anything LGB related and think that means they’re helping the trans community? Ugh, different rant.

So there you have it. The answer to who’s looking out for trans interests in NY this coming election is: practically nobody and they’ll probably stop as soon as the election is over anyway. Unless you have a really awesome state senate or assembly candidate, I didn’t look at those (my districts both have unopposed seven-year-incumbent republicans, so not only am I not voting in those elections but looking through everyone else’s candidates would have been as depressing as it would have been tedious).

Edit: reposted to Spectrum Cafe

I am Angry

August 13, 2010 2 comments

Read this, and you’ll be angry too.

I was going to just edit this in to the end of my previous post on hate violence, but this fuckery deserves its own little area. The jist of the article is that Rob Jones, a 17 month (you read that right, month) old boy was brutally beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend for being “too feminine”.

“I was trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl,” Jones explained. “I never struck that kid that hard before. A one-time mistake, and I am going to do 20 years.”

I have a message for Pedro Jones: go to fucking hell. I hope you do way more than 20 years. You killed a toddler, a FUCKING TODDLER, for not being manly enough for you. Later in the article there are quotes that expound upon how much he loved the kid. Fuck you. Your “one time” mistake just took a child’s life, that’s not “one time” for him, it’s forever.

This is a symptom of a sick society that prescribes which behaviors are “masculine” and which are “feminine”, allowing no mixing, who is allowed to perform which set of behaviors, “men” and “women”, again allowing no mixing, modification, or other options. And the penalty for breaking these rules? Death. I’d like to take the opportunity to repost this link that I shared in the last post. We are at war, and our children are the casualties.

The article itself is very well written, and expounds on the signs of our misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic society. It includes a number of other examples of such hatred, such as a “feminine” boy being “cured” through aversion “therapy” and later attempting suicide. I encourage everyone to read it, and I’m just going to share this one quote, which is basically a summary of the central idea of the article:

The attack, and the apparent impulse behind it–that a violent man was made uncomfortable by a even a perceived variation on gender-normative behavior–is exactly what makes transgender and gender-variant Americans among the most vulnerable segment of the population, and children who even appear gender-variant are the most vulnerable of all.

I’m going to go do something soothing for a while now. And I was having a good day until I read this fuckery.