No-one should have to fight for the right to exist in public

Why does society seem so intent on forcing minority groups to have to fight for the right merely to exist in public? And why, when said minorities ask for the same rights as everyone else, are they shouted at and told that they are asking for special rights?

People with disabilities ask for accessible buildings, and are told that it is too expensive, too difficult, and there aren’t that many PWD anyway and why are they asking for “special treatment”?

Trans people ask that they be able to walk down the street without fear of harassment, and that they can use a public toilet without fear of being assaulted, banned from a casino for life (good news is that that has been overturned – scroll right to the bottom) or  denied access at a Gay Pride Rally. Despite every new story I have heard of involving trans people (usually trans women, although I am sure there are many incidents involving trans men) as the victim of prejudice or assault, the toilet issue is still framed as “protecting” cis women and children from trans women, with one of three reasons given: 1.) The cis women would feel uncomfortable 2.) The trans women would assault the cis women 3.) Cis men would pretend to be trans women in order to assault women and/or children.

I’m going to attempt to unpack these.

The cis women would feel uncomfortable. Well there are people who would be uncomfortable with anyone of a non-White ethnicity using the toilets. Or people who look and dress differently to them. There is a clever website which shows the amount of prejudice against the traveling/Roma/gypsy community by taking every headline with the word “Gypsy” in and replacing it with “Jew”. The results are startling. If all the websites taking this stance were to have “trans women” replaced with “black women” this would be shown as the unacceptable prejudice that it is. Just because some theoretical person may be offended by the existence of a person belonging to a minority in a public space, we should not automatically ban the minority from that public space.

The trans women would assault the cis women. A quick Google search yields 5 pages of stories about trans women being assaulted. I can’t find even one story about the reverse. Nobody else can either. This is a complete fallacy. Why are people even continuing to bring this one up with no evidence?

Cis men would pretend to be trans women in order to assault women and/or children. There are no special locks, magical detectors, or scientific thingummybobs currently in use, nor are there ever likely to be, to stop anyone going into any toilet. Hypothetical Male Rapist can just walk into a toilet; Dressing up and pretending to be a trans woman is just too over-complicated, not to mention that said person would feel much of the same shaming that trans women face, except more so for not actually being trans, and would be highly unlikely to consider it. Rape is generally about power, and it’s hard to think of much that might be more dis-empowering to Mr H. M. Rapist.

In my opinion, the first reason is sheer prejudice and the second two are absurd logical fallacies built on what-ifs that are so unlikely to happen that we can safely say that the probability approaches zero.

Everyone should have the right to be in public spaces without any fears of what might happen, without exception.

Stop telling minorities what is best for them

Nothing about me without meI was struck recently by a parallel between the “burqa ban” in France and the ongoing debate around prescribing hormone blockers to transsexual children and teenagers.

The ban in France is against the niqab, a full-face veil, and the burqa, a full-body covering that leaves only a mesh to see through. Other forms of Islamic head and body coverings are not affected.

France has passed this law on the basis that the women who wear the niqab or burqa are oppressed and have been forced into it by their husbands or the local mosque. (See here and here, these links also include a slide show of what the different forms of veil and head covering look like) This is arrogant and small-minded, and one journalist who took the time to speak to a Muslim woman who chooses to wear the niqab got a fantastic interview, which I urge you to read. My favourite quote has to be “If women want to walk around half-naked I don’t object to them doing so. If they want to wear tight jeans where you can see their underwear or walk around with their breasts hanging out, I don’t give a damn. But if they are allowed to do that, why should I not be allowed to cover up?”)

Similarly, those who oppose giving hormone blockers to transsexual youth insist that they know what is best. That people so young can’t possibly know that they are transsexual, that X% (where X is anywhere from 50 to 98) turn out to be cissexual, that delaying puberty is harmful, and even that prescribing these drugs is child abuse. (I am with the camp that argue that not prescribing them is a form of child abuse). Janefae has written an excellent post on the subject on one of her blogs, Sex Matters.

The similarities in both these cases is that the majority is insisting, loudly and vocally, that they know what is best for the minority, ignoring the opinions and lived experience of that minority. I am left feeling jaw-dropping shock that anyone could be so arrogant, so condescending and so patronising.

For the heartbreaking story of what happens when these drugs are not prescribed, read one mother’s story: “I would rather have a live daughter than a dead son”.

On the other, much happier, hand we have German singer Kim Petras, who has been erroneously described as “the world’s youngest transsexual” (Gender Identity Disorder has been diagnosed in six-year-olds. Kim is the youngest person to undergo surgery, which she received when she was 16.)

I will spell out what I mean clearly and plainly: Do not tell minorities that you know what is best for them. Ever.

Thoughts on privilege

This post was inspired by the fantastic video from Warren. Which is kind of meta in a strange way, as I believe his video was inspired by the story about Bioware which ran here.

I’ve been thinking about privilege, what it is, and some of the reasons why it exists.

One definition, although I haven’t managed to encapsulate it neatly in a cool quote or soundbite, is that privilege is when the world just works for you, and you don’t have to think about it.

If I want to get up and go for a shower, I don’t have to worry about how I will get there, how I will get in, if I am in danger of slipping, or if I will have enough energy to complete the task. This is currently able bodied privilege. Also, if I look at myself naked in a mirror, I don’t experience a jarring disconnect between what my brain says my gender is and what my eyes say my physical sex is. This is cis privilege.

Once I have had the shower (I have the privilege of having enough money that I don’t have to ration the shower due to worries about the gas/electric running out) I can get dressed. I don’t have to worry about struggling to put clothes on, and I have a nice selection of clean, good-quality items to choose from.

So much privilege, so many things that I don’t have to think about. If I want to go to the shops I can just grab my handbag and go. So many things I don’t need to think about. I don’t need to plan my route around obstacles, or worry that my energy or pain levels will stop me before I get to the shops and back, or check that I have the required medication or assistive aids with me.

I don’t need to worry that random police officers will stop and search me based on my skin colour or how I look. I don’t have to worry that people will stare, or point, or make comments due to my gender presentation, or my assistive device, or my visible scars, or any other physical aspect of my appearance.

When I get to the shops I am able to read and understand the signs, and add up prices in my head to check that it falls within my budget. I do not have to worry about struggling with basic literacy and numeracy due to an overworked school system. Nor do I have to worry about struggling to understand the language of a foreign country that I have been forced to flee to due to violence and persecution in my own country. If the person at the checkout chats to me as he or she scans my shopping I can chat back, without hearing problems, language barriers, social anxiety or struggling to understand how this works getting in the way.

The point I’m trying to make is that privilege is about all the things you don’t have to think about, unless you choose to. I’ve probably missed out many types of privilege in the example above, for which I can only apologise.

But what causes privilege to occur? And how can we change the world to lessen and eventually remove the gaps between privileged and oppressed, to topple the kyriarchy?