We’re* Not An Afterthought

I’m not impressed with some of the big feminist blogs’ handling of Wednesday’s events in the New Hampshire Senate.

In summary, both Feministe and Feministing threw up “Yay NH!” posts after marriage equality passed in the Senate. After commenters quickly called them out on not mentioning that the senate also rejected trans* rights protections, both Jill and Vanessa updated their posts to include that information–although in both posts the update was more along the lines of “Whoops! And also this happened” with little discussion or information. (Jill gets more credit for linking this article and quoting three paragraphs; Vanessa’s update consisted of two lines and two links, one of which was actually another Feministing post.)

So why wasn’t the anti-discrimination law on the radar, and why does it matter that it only got tacked on to these two posts?

Here are two of the reactions I’ve seen in comments there:

1. Look, aren’t you glad they’re even talking about trans* rights?
I don’t know. Are you satisfied that some people mention the wage gap, or would you like to see women getting equal pay? Is it enough that books like Yes Means Yes exist, or would it be better to see better prosecution of rapists? In keeping with the theme of the original posts, people have been “talking about” marriage equality across the country–and the overwhelming majority of US states have constitutional bans or DOMA legislation. Clearly “talking” isn’t enough.

2. Well, this post is about marriage. Maybe the author was going to write a separate post–you have no way of knowing!
Yes, I cannot see into the future. What a very astute observation. Given that both authors admitted they didn’t know about the anti-discrimination legislation dying, though, it seems unlikely that a separate post was forthcoming. (That doesn’t mean Jill or Vanessa or one of their colleagues won’t write a separate post now, of course, and I hope they do. But given that these two Senate events happened on the very same day, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect them both to be addressed at the same time.)

Here’s what I find frustrating: two big bloggers clearly weren’t paying attention when it came to trans* rights. And that’s not okay. In order to learn the news about both decisions in the NH Senate, all I had to do was follow GLAD on Twitter:

NH Senate passes marriage equality http://tinyurl.com/dao4kk, fails trans community http://tinyurl.com/dyof33

See how easy that was?

[If you’re wondering about the asterisk in the post of this title, it’s because I go back and forth on how to identify when it comes to discussions about trans* issues. I identify as a woman, which would make me cis, but I experience transphobia anyway because of my gender expression. I don’t claim a trans* identity and thus don’t want to speak from a position I don’t hold–I’m very aware of the silencing and erasure of oppressed voices when those of us with privilege presume to speak for others–but the focus of my activist energies now is trans* rights, and the trans* community here in Boston has welcomed me with open arms even while our queer communities have been shitty in return to our trans* brothers and sisters.

And, to be honest, I’m still on my own journey, too. When Jack mentioned the trans-masculine spectrum at Gender Non-Conformity and the Media, I realized that’s a label that resonates deeply with me–even though I continue to identify as a woman and think it’s important to embrace my masculinity while still identifying as a woman.

So that’s the asterisk.]

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10 Responses to We’re* Not An Afterthought

  1. wavilyem says:

    Two comments:

    1) Obviously I can’t speak for the entire trans* community, but I for one would have no problems with you identifying as transgender. Even if you don’t actively present as male, it sounds like you get just as much, if not way more, crap than I do with regards to passing in general and especially in public bathrooms. And that IMHO should make you feel right at home in trans* land.

    2) It sounds like you, me, and anyone else who feels the same way about the “mainstream feminist” blogs should go start our own trans-inclusive femist blog … with blackjack .. and hookers! Okay, so the “blackjack and hookers” joke from Futurama isn’t really approrpriate here, but you get my drift.

  2. pandanose says:

    1) Thank you. Also, now I feel like trans* land is an amusement park. I want to go to there.

    2) I mean, I’ve always tried to make this a trans-inclusive feminist blog, but obviously I don’t have mainstream-level readership. But if you were interested in joining forces, that would be super sweet.

    And here’s the other thing I sometimes think about: there are a lot of “mainstream” feminist concerns I actively ignore. Birth control would be a big one. I don’t write about it, and I don’t tend to comment on threads where it’s the topic. Why? Because I’m not straight and never have been, and have never used or wanted birth control.

    But that doesn’t mean I’ve never heard of birth control, or that I would show up at somebody’s blog being all “Buh? There’s such a thing as emergency contraception?” Somehow, even though (at the moment) the topic has nothing to do with my personal life, I manage to pay attention and do my homework.

  3. admin says:

    You’re right — trans* people shouldn’t be an after-thought, and the fact that the post covered marriage equality without covering the failure of basic trans-rights legislation was incredibly egregious.

    I’m hesitant to explain what happened because I know it’s going to sound like an excuse, but I do think it sheds some light on why certain issues aren’t covered as well on the “big” feminist blogs: I get most of the information that goes up on Feministe from a small number of places — the news sites I read daily (the NY Times, the Washington Post, sometimes the LA Times), big news-aggregating feminist-minded blogs that are guaranteed to have a dozen posts in a day (Feministing, Jezebel), and emails from readers and from feminist listserves that I’m on. The NH marriage equality article, and the article on the gender make-up of the NH senate, both came from a feminist listserve. Neither of those articles mentioned the trans* legislation. I hadn’t been following the marriage equality or any other legislation in NH, so my thought process was basically, “Hey, marriage equality, cool, post” — which quite honestly is my thought process 95% of the time I put up posts.

    Which isn’t to say that ignoring the trans issue was ok, or to argue that, “Well, the MSM didn’t cover it, so don’t blame me!” Bloggers, and bloggers who cover gender equality issues in particular, have a responsibility to dig a little deeper and to stay abreast of the issues that impact their communities. I think there’s a reason that it’s the “big” feminist blogs that routinely fail at this — it’s not because we don’t care, but because there’s such pressure to get 10 posts up in a day that we don’t feel as if we have the time to really investigate the backstories before we throw something up. So you get what happened here: The mainstream media coverage of this event ignored the fact that the NH legislature totally fucked over trans people, and I put up a “Yay NH!” post in a total shit-head way that further marginalized trans* people, and further made them invisible.

    You’re right that it isn’t hard to find this information. And you’re right that the problem was just not paying attention. I guess my bigger point is: How can we push the really big media people to cover the issues facing trans* and other marginalized people more effectively, so that this information filters down instead of up? Because what happens now is Big Media covers something and ignores an oft-marginalized group; then Smaller But Still Big in Feminist Circles Media covers the same topic, as filtered by Big Media; and it’s commenters and smaller bloggers who end up, again, jumping up and down and waiving their hands and saying, “But wait you forgot this really important thing!”

    …and it doesn’t seem right to me that the onus should be on the least powerful to direct attention where it needs directing.

    Anyway, this comment has gotten very long, but part of what I just wanted to add to this discussion is that the problem isn’t just not paying attention — although it’s certainly that — but a structural issue. There’s a demand for Big Feminist Blogs that will filter through mainstream media news and offer a steady flow of feminist content; that demand exists despite the fact that feminist bloggers are largely unpaid volunteers who do this blogging thing as a hobby in addition to 9-5 (or 9-midnight, as the case may be) jobs. That demand butts directly up against the need for well-researched and thorough examination of the issues that most impact our communities.

    From my end, though, it’s troubling when quantity trumps quality, and this has certainly been a wake-up call.

  4. admin says:

    The above comment is from Jill at Feministe, by the way. Sorry, logged into WordPress from a different account!

  5. pandanose says:

    You’re absolutely right that this is a structural issue, and one that marginalized communities feel all the time–whether you’re a woman, a person of color, queer, trans*–the list goes on and on.

    And I really appreciate you including this:

    …and it doesn’t seem right to me that the onus should be on the least powerful to direct attention where it needs directing.

    Too often I hear Big Bloggers responding to the jumping up and down and hand waving with something amounting to, “Well, why don’t you go start your own blog?”

    I mean, I’m not an idiot–my numbers for this blog spike every time I participate in Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday or a link roundup on Feministing. If we all just go off and start our own blogs, how much are the Big Blogs going to listen?

    I think the various kerfuffles of late speak to a real desire for more interaction between the Big Blogs and their larger communities. Like, you dropping your comment here? That means a lot to me. I can’t speak for other Small Bloggers, but I definitely notice when I see Big Bloggers engaging with other communities–and not just by inviting guest posts, or giving up some link love.

  6. Connor says:

    re: trans* inclusiveness/news coverage in mainstream media–

    i’ve got mixed feelings on this. and i think many w/in the trans* community might as well. my reasoning breaks down like this:

    a lot of trans* folks do not want visibility as trans*. the increase in mainstream media coverage of trans* issues can lead to, and in some cases create, trans* backlash (like youtube videos such as “how to spot a tranny”). in a way, invisibility = more safety for trans* communities. (the invisibility/visibility issue is a pretty intense and important debate w/in trans* communities.)

    however, invisibility can also lead people to believe that discrimination, violence, and marginalization are a ok. which, it is not.

    so it’s a really tricky position to not marginalize trans* communities while respecting the right to privacy and safety of trans* folks.

    i’m tempted to say that if trans* people were in the mainstream media, speaking for themselves, then it would be all good. but, of course, things are never so simple when it comes to “identity politics,” and some trans* people would not agree with a) any visibility, b) the particular message put forth by other trans* people. the Thomas Beatie story comes to mind.

    and now i think i’ve completely run off track w/ the original intent of this post. oops.

  7. pandanose says:

    Not a derail, and I totally feel where you’re coming from. I think we’re talking about slightly different things, though–this isn’t necessarily about outing anyone, but rather providing more balanced coverage of trans* politics. Which is to say–what if mainstream news covered the various non-discrimination legislation efforts in a way that didn’t eat up the conservative “ZOMG! Men in women’s bathrooms!” memes? What would that look like?

  8. Connor says:

    that would look like….wait, i don’t think i can even imagine such balance. i mean, the media is still tripping that we elected a black man as president. we gott lots to do. all the time. everywhere.

    which is to say, thanks for doing your part.

  9. pandanose says:

    Heh. Yeah, it would be pretty crazy.

    At the same time–when we were in, say, elementary school, could we have imagined gay marriage legal anywhere in America? I certainly couldn’t have.

    And, yes, media representation of trans* lives is mostly all about trans* bodies, and generally of the horrific SVU persuasion. But I also managed to have a pretty reasonable conversation about things with my mom, who was the one to bring up Silverton’s mayor. That alone gives me hope.

  10. Connor says:

    good points.

    Silverton’s Mayor, pregnant trans man in Bend…who woulda thought our little Oregon could come so…far (or be so far out there)?!

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