Why Our Government Can't Take The Heat

The New Issue: Trans Politics

“Meltdown”. That’s one word a friend used when describing the trans-centric squabbling over the ENDA. Politicians, lobbyists and journalists have been debating over whether or not transgendered people should be included under ENDA, which could forbid discrimination based on perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity. A test vote showed that the majority of politicians objected to the trans-inclusion. Under such pressure, openly gay Representative Barney Frank, who co-sponsored the inclusive ENDA draft, slipped into acquiescence. To keep the bill above water, Frank effectively split ENDA in two: one version protecting gays and another for trans folk. They’re now floating alone in an ocean of inequality.

Our government – and much of our culture – deny transgenders their rights because, quite frankly, they can’t understand the trans’s existence. Our culture does not have mechanisms to deal with “gender deviants.” Trannies are a threat to our nation’s very foundations. The Alliance Defense Fund’s Doug Napier said the law will “strike at the very heart of our American liberties.” He must be using the word “liberties” liberally. Napier’s not alone, of course. Millions of people – gay and straight – simply cannot muster the imagination to consider trans folk equal. What’s more, we have no use for trans people. And, as contributor Dan Avery and editor Andrew Belonsky assert, the American stonewall against trans rights goes much further than 1974 – and even our borders. “Trans” populations exist all over the world and crop up in seemingly unlikely locales, like Iran.

While President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contends Iran’s gay-free, even he can’t deny the visible presence of transgender people in Iran. Mukhannathun, or “effeminate ones,” have been a part of Islamic culture since the days of Muhammad. And, unlike the gays – who are allegedly mentioned in the story of Job – there’s no religious law restricting Mukhannathun. Though not integrated into Iranian culture, Mukhannathun definitely lived a parallel existence in Iran.

When Khomeini and his revolutionaries took power in 1979, however, that all changed. Still accepted in Iranian culture – unlike “gays” – Mukhannathun became subjects of governmental intervention. One’s no longer given the choice of whether or not you undergo a sex-change. If the government deems it necessary, it’s done. A 26-year named Sayeh tells Bimarz that most of the surgeries are applied to men and not under the most sympathetic circumstances:

They would not give us (transsexuals) jobs in Iran. They would tell me to get a sex change and get a new identification card…only after I get the new ID I can go and get a job.

Left and right, on a daily bases, they perform sex change operations on people without even paying proper attention to each case and yet they are so proud that they are a country which allows people to have sex changes. They perform all these operations improperly and incomplete. Out of all the people they operate on, only a few remain healthy. How many of these patients do not become psychotic? How many do not commit suicide? How many can live a normal life after the operation? Most of them don’t even get the chance of finding a companion. They are transsexuals and their past will always haunt them.

Once the operation’s complete, the women aren’t only taunted for their “trans” status, but also must adopt the legal limitations placed on women. Their movement’s restricted and they’re ordered to wear the hijab. Muslim clerics have been known to encourage gay men and lesbians to have sex-change operations in order to assimilate into “normal” society. When examined against the broader patriarchy of Iranian society, plitical encouragement of Mukhannathun simply perpetuates preexisted gender norms. Yes, Mukhannathun are continually oppressed, but they are given a role in society. As one can imagine, female-to-male post-operatives enjoy more freedom than when they were women.

In a 2005 piece for the UK’s The Independent, Caroline Mangez interviewed a then-30 year old FTM, Milad, who told her:

I know because I’ve experienced both worlds: as a man in Iran I have more freedom and choice than as a woman. I never used to go to the mosque, either. I did not want to have to wear a chador. Now I can pray in boxer shorts if I feel like it, and I never miss prayers.

Newly minted women suffer under an oppressive regime. Men, meanwhile, thrive. The ancient Mukhannathun social group adjusted – or was assimilated – into a broader political culture. They were given meaning, albeit archaic. And sex-changes become the torturous “cure all” for same-sex desire.

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  • MusicGal

    I love this image of Perez Hilton.

  • eagledancer4444

    Not a bad overview, Andrew—
    One of the difficulties in reporting this topic to western oriented readers is a problem of paradigm—a Standard Euro-American Worldview (SEAW) that operates from a binary level—on/off, male/female, right/wrong, “Christian”/non-Christian, scientific/non-scientific, homosexuality/heterosexuality.

    Homosexuality, btw, was a medically tinged term that starts in 1869 in German. Heterosexuality comes into existence as a term a few years later, but both are considered a type of sexual perversion. They enter English, at least as we spell the words, a bit later, but the common usage of heterosexuality until around 1930 in the states was a closer match to a “nympho—someone fixated on sexual interaction with the “opposite” sex. Just so, a number of early sexologists and folks concerned with sexual liberation, tried to move in the direction reflected in the above article/post, with the conceptualization of a “third gender” or “third sex,” which some called the “Sexual Invert,” or “Uranians.”

    This is, of course, pretty much just rearranging the semantic furniture, keeping the same binary structure as the default setting. In the same way, with an analog clock you never get the option of “Thirteen O’Clock.” Your options are preset by the system.

    In some Native American communities, there are as many as 8 classifications of gender.

    Now we get into something more interesting, huh?

    But we also end up with having to open up a dialog in a language and culture that has no easy way of expressing concepts outside of the Paradigm. This becomes extremely problematic when outsiders (like anthropologists, historians, reporters and tourists) observe another cultural group and reductionistically conclude—“Oh, so that’s why that they call “their” homosexuals/gays/transgenders.

    As Szasz once wrote, “In the animal kingdom, it’s eat or be eaten. In the human kingdom, it’s label or be labeled.” If you’re not familiar with him, he’s an interesting read. “Szasz is a critic of the influence of modern medicine on society, which he considers to be the secularisation of religion’s hold on human kind.”

    I remember a report of a linguist who was conversing with a Native elder, who mentioned, “you know—what you people call a lesbian.” The white linguist, stopped the elder and said, “Oh, you mean…” and used the word in the elder’s Native language for someone who is “different,” as if the poor elder didn’t know the word in his own language—the one he had been teaching to the linguist. I would be curious if the elder was using the word “lesbian” because it seemed to him to have a different meaning than his Native term for someone who is “different,” which included a spiritual component as well as a sense of gender role.

    One of the inherent problems of the SAEW is the philosophical construct automatically classifies “gay” as being a “faulty” male, or a “lesbian” as a “faulty” female. This is suggested by a number of feminist thinkers and by queer scholars, where gender bias gets laid over issues of sexual orientation. A gay male is “like” a woman; a lesbian is “like” a man. Just so, a gay man is “less than” a “real” man, and a lesbian is “less than” a “real” woman. From a gender biased view, the gay male has deliberately “chosen” to deny his rights and privileges as a “real” man. He’s a traitor.

    What fascinates me is the ultimate “fragility” of the heterosexual construct. For further information on this, you might try Mark Simpson’s Male Impersonators : Men Performing Masculinity When you understand more of the fragility, the more you can understand how much SAEW heterosexuals are willing to invest in “Keeping up the Performance of Masculinity.” It’s what maintains the Power Structure.
    Pearson, in her exploration of the “Warrior” archetype, (Bush was channeling the “warrior” in his statements of “You’re with us or against us.”) suggests there are at least 3 levels of the Warrior, depending upon sophistication and experience:
    1) I need to kill you before you kill me.
    2) Ok, I can’t kill you, so I will convert you to think the way that I think, which is, of course the “right way.”
    3) Ok, I can’t convert you, so I will legislate you out of existence. I will make it illegal to think, act, or feel differently than the way I think, act, or feel, which is, of course, the “right way.”
    It may be more useful, in terms of the SAEW, to stop being distracted by the much more noticeable people who are “different,” and to look instead at who “partners” them, those people you otherwise wouldn’t really notice at all.

  • eagledancer4444

    whoops–spellcheck missed this,and I can’t go back and re-edit my comment. –“Oh, so that’s why that they call “their” homosexuals/gays/transgenders.
    This should have read: “Oh, so that’s what they call “their” homosexuals/gays/transgenders.”

  • MusicGal

    Eagledancer – you need to be a writer in a magazine. Don’t take your personal time for these pathetic blogs – you need to go BIGGER!! I enjoyed what you wrote!

  • eagledancer4444

    Hey thanks MusicGal. Just trying to keep my mind nimble now that I’m not teaching this stuff at the university any more :) And it’s not as if I’m posting on Perez Hilton lol.

  • Alexa

    Fascinating article, and your response, too, eagledancer. Lots to think about. Thanks.

  • eagledancer4444

    A few years ago, I was presenting at a university in Montana near the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and the university’s museum was about to open up an exhibition on Blackfeet culture. I was treated to a preview, and came to one display case containing a large beaded buckskin dress. The assistant curator, who was Blackfeet, mentioned that the person for whom the dress had been made, would have been over 6’3.” The case bore the label “Medicine Woman Dress.”

    I turned to her and asked, “Even today (the dress was made in the 1800s) do you have any Blackfeet women over 6’3”? Do you think this might have been for a Two-Spirit?”

    She told me that there were no Blackfeet women over 6’3”, and that the elders who advised them on the exhibit believed it was for a Two-Spirit.

    However…the curator of the museum was a Caucasian, who felt it would be “too controversial” to call it a “Two-Spirit Dress,” and so had decided to label it a “Medicine Woman Dress.”

    In the “literature,” this is called “erasure.” Erasure is the two pronged weapon that tells members of a society A) Such people do not exist; B) If you think such people exist, you’re wrong because what you really saw was “this,” instead. (In other words—for many years, there was the idea of erasing the fact Native people who were “different” exist, and if evidence like the dress proved differently—the solution was simple. Just label it a woman’s dress.) Erasure ends up with well meaning statements like the one in the Queety article of “Trans” populations exist all over the world and crop up in seemingly unlikely locales, like Iran.” Why would a culture as ancient as the Iranian NOT have a “Trans” population? A statement like that comes from folks who were raised with “erasure,”— Erasure means you are not only denied the facts, but the facts are denied.

    This is one of the reasons that for people who fall under the “Trans” umbrella have such a difficult time. Even people who are “closest” to Transfolks in certain ways, such as gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, often hold attitudes and misunderstandings that are no different than those in the “straight” community.

    It becomes a sloppy mess in terms of trying to even begin a dialog in addressing things like Enda and Genda…I was teaching at a seminar for Japanese Sex Educators and a friend of mine who had co-authored the book The Male Couple, introduced himself as a “Gay Psychiatrist.” The Japanese Sex Educators stopped the presentation to confront the interpreter, who had used the word “homosexual” (with a Japanese accent) for “Gay.” There was an argument between the educators and their interpreter because the psychiatrist was not wearing a dress, and therefore could not be Gay/”homosexual.” This is part of the problem when you are working across cultures.

    A “broken bone” is pretty much the same in any language. “Depression,” among many other medical terms, is not. I’m a Family Therapist, and in our professional jargon, we distinguish between “anxiety” and “depression.” Lay people use terms like “sad,” “blue,” “bad,” to talk about their experience.

    Japanese culture has a history of “clubs” where citizens can go and “cross-dress.” There’s a whole cultural overlay of what words mean, but it’s further complicated if you’re working with an audience that isn’t part of a particular “sub-group.” I suspect most of the Japanese educators who were there had never been inside such a club, or had not interacted with members of such clubs on a social or professional level, any more than a lot of high school teachers who run a sex ed presentation are out this weekend at the Folsom Street Fair.

    I have an ex who was born in Greece and his family came to the states when he was around 4. At 24, his father called him and asked, “Are you a homosexual?” He asked in Greek and used a pejorative form of “homosexual.” Stunned, the son answered, “Yes, I am.” The second question was, “Do you wear a dress?” Surprised at the direction the conversation was taking, the son responded, “Last Halloween I wore a dress.” The next question was if he did certain specific sexual acts. The son became angry and told his father those were inappropriate questions and he wouldn’t answer them.

    If you read a blog like this one, it’s pretty likely if you’re not on the same page as other readers, you’re at least on the same broadband. You probably know in this context, Bears aren’t just found in zoos, and in same-sex couples, partners aren’t always in a “man/woman” set of roles. But for a lot of people who will vote on Enda and Genda, or who will call their politicians or sign petitions—they’ll have the same attitude of the Greek father or the Japanese sex educators. Erasure has worked effectively to make the reality of GBLTQ—and Two-Spirits people—something far enough away to lose sight of their humanity. For many who don’t have direct contact with the GLBTQ communities, their understanding is based on media exposure and what their society has taught them. Gender and Sexuality gets smashed together like a nasty gay-bashing.

    And here’s what fascinates me…the “man” in the “dress” defines for a lot of people the “gayness,” (someone at this stage of development isn’t ready yet for the idea of “Trans.”). Is this because if the “guy” isn’t wearing a dress, he couldn’t be picked out of a crowd as being “different?” “He” could potentially be anybody—even your brother…your son…and gasp—even you.

    When I started lecturing on Two-Spirits years ago (before the term was coined in the 1990s) I was doing a presentation for the International Academy of Sex Research, the “cream of the cream” for sex researchers…you have to be nominated and voted on to join. These were the top sex researchers across the world. I felt awkward showing them pictures of historical Two-Spirit people who were dressed differently than most Native Americans/American Indians dress in everyday contemporary life. I went home to the reservation for a big powwow, and took photographs of contemporary Natives who were dressed traditionally for the event. I felt this would help balance out the “exotic” nature of the historical photos. I showed the powwow pictures and asked, “Is this person male or female?
    Imagine my shock when over 60 percent of the world’s top sex researchers couldn’t identify the gender in the photo. If contemporary sex researchers are so bad at recognizing the gender of contemporary Native Americans, why assume priests, fur trappers, and historians were any better with it over the last 500 years?

    The eye picks out that which is “different” enough to be noticed. I’ve always been curious about the ones who weren’t “different “enough” to draw attention to themselves.

    There’s a “secret” history of Native people who have made it in professional European modeling who are really tall, slim biological males whose natural hairlessness has helped them to “pass” as female.

    One of the best “documented” of Two-Spirits was the Zuni, We’wha. When the biological male We’wha was sent by the Zuni nation to set up the Pueblo cultural exhibit at the Smithsonian, she was a “social hit,” referred to as an “Indian Princess” in the newspapers, and was introduced to Grover Cleveland, then President of the U.S.

    And this is the sad issue of Genda…the necessity of such legislation for those who can’t “pass” as successfully, and for those who are able to “pass,” but live in fear that their “secret” will be discovered. This is how “erasure” infects a culture, and virus-like, continues to pass itself along into future generations.

    And in a larger context, this isn’t about “passing,” and it isn’t about the simplicity of what clothes you put on. There was a Two-Spirit who had entered into a relationship with a Zuni male. A White woman who employed the Two-Spirit’s cousin, Daisy, asked why “he”dressed as a “woman.” (See how English is so frustrating? Many Native languages don’t have gender based pronouns, which “force” the mind to think of “male/female” as a given…We-wha and Kwiwishdi didn’t necessarily dress as “a woman.” They dressed appropriately for who and what they were…but it’s difficult to get that across in English. Let me step aside and share what Kwiwishdi was reported to have answered:

    Dissette found Kwiwishdi’s behavior incomprehensible. When she asked him (through Daisy as interpreter) the reason he had adopted women’s clothing, he replied that it was because he did women’s work. “But I often do a man’s work, Quewishty,” she responded, “and I do not put on a man’s clothes to do it.” Daisy spoke to Kwiwishdi for several minutes and then told the teacher, “He say[s] you do not love all peoples in the world as much as he do[es], and that’s why he do[es] that.” Still confused, Dissette concluded, “This accounts for a kind of spiritual arrogance that is peculiar to those creatures.”

    Yours in Spiritual Arrogance,

  • Charley

    Good for you Eagledancer. What you say is very true. Chief Crazy Horse’s momument has one major flaw. The museum at it’s base, which gives no education about “two spirit” people. It has been “Jesus-ized”, pictures of the Pope hanging on the wall, and a documentation of a Catholic priest carrying out hocus pocus with a pot of incense to “sanctify” the burial place of Chief Crazy Horse. All religious fascism is appaling and criminal. Abrahamic religions are all about getting power and control over the population through instilling sexual guilt. Yes, I burned the Koran and Bible. Those who don’t like it, can go fuck themselves (without guilt of course)

  • MusicGal

    Eagle: Do you ever write for fag-azines?

  • Charley

    I forgot to add, but Eagledancer knows already, that Chief Crazy Horse was married to a man, among his several wives.

  • eagledancer4444

    Lol, well, Chief Crazy Horse isn’t the only well-known Native leader who married a Two-Spirit person. A number of Native groups had a tradition of multiple spouses (and I feel somewhat guilty because I’ve been focused on “male” stuff when there are certainly bio-female Two-Spirit people such as the well-known Chief Pretty Eagle who had a female wife—and in some communities the female had multiple male spouses.). I try to make a distinction between Native traditions of multiple spouses and the “harem” mentality of how western culture thinks about such things. When I bring this up, the first thing my students go for is how much sex you can have if you have a “stable” of partners. From a Native perspective, “Chiefs” (a non-Native term, btw, which automatically causes problems in translation) or Native leaders had a responsibility to provide for their community. Native Nations gave the concept of “servants of the people” to western politics…which, frankly, by the 21st century, seems to have lost the concept. Just so, a leader had to provide for the sick, the poor, the elderly—the orphaned children. While I’m not denying the fact having 3 or 4 spouses might result in more sexual activity, the reality was, having multiple spouses means you were better able to provide resources to other members of your community who were in need. For most male Leaders, you didn’t choose a biological male as a primary spouse because you couldn’t have children, and in most traditional (not just American Indian cultures) it was important to have children (among other reasons, children are the “social security” for traditional cultures—they provide for you in your old age). As a result, Two-Spirit biological males were usually chosen as the second (or third) spouse, rather than the primary one. This was the case with Crazy Horse.

    And MusicGal—as a college professor, I had to publish all sorts of crap. Lol. The majority of what I’ve published is in the academic area. The closest thing I can recall I published in a “fag-azine” would be a book review I did for the Journal of Homosexuality. Does that count?  :)

  • Charley

    Thanks Professor Eagledancer,
    The pre Christian natural-ness of indigenous people needs to be taught for the health of humanity. There is no such thing as a perverted “two-spirit” individual. They are just being themselves and the Native American community responded to who they are.

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