I find this video pretty funny & I was excited to post it up here to keep the Planned Parenthood conversation going… but then, it made me sad.
“You can tell [I am a woman] because of the whole vagina-having thing.”
Except… not all women have vaginas, and not all vagina-having people are women because sex (your anatomy) and gender (your identity ie. “woman”) are two totally different things!
This line is problematic, because it conflates sex and gender and ignores the existence of the trans community. Yet, at the same time, I still think this is a fairly effective video… and I have no idea how I’d want them to rewrite that line (“You can tell by the whole… shit, there is no universal marker of a woman now is there?“)
So what the heck am I even trying to say here?
I guess, what I am trying to say, is that being inclusive of all people is important.
I want to take a moment to make it clear that I am not saying that this video or the people who made it are somehow wrong or bad. How could I be saying that when if you comb through this very blog long enough I guarentee you would find posts that engage in erasure because there was a time where I honestly wasn’t aware that making statements like “all women have vaginas” left many trans women out of the picture.
Its somewhat ironic that this post was sparked by a video in support of Planned Parenthood, because Planned Parenthood as an organization has a reputation for being inclusive (as far as I’ve been informed)!
No one is perfect, but I think that the important take away, for me and for you, is that we should be trying to minimize if not totally do away with the amount of erasure that we engage in.
That’s not always easy though. I have several blog posts that honestly may never see the light of day because the writing in them has gotten so clunky and weighed down with qualifying statements intended to make sure I am not leaving anyone out (or including anyone in a statement that doesn’t really apply to them.) It’s not always pretty and its not always eloquent but at this point in my blogging career I’d rather sit on a fully written article until the right words fall into place than publish something that has the potential to make someone feel unwelcome here.
Inclusion isn’t always natural and easy and eloquent because society has not trained us from birth to be aware of the existence of people who fall outside the gender binary. We haven’t been given a language or a frame of understanding for many things… which is why we have to seek them out from the communities in question, and start using the words that they claim.
It isn’t always easy, but it is important to be mindfully inclusive because this is honestly the only way we can change the tides and make it so that future generations are just naturally inclusive. This means a lot of things: it means not leaving trans women/men out when you are talking about all women/men but it also means not including trans people when you are only talking about issues as they effect cis people. (For instance: when talking about DADT I would not call it a victory for the LGBT community so much as the LGB community… because trans people still aren’t protected, so it would be inaccurate for me to claim this as a victory for that group.)
Learning to use inclusive language is a small but important part of being an ally. I like how Renee, of Womanist Musings, puts it best…
Part of being an ally is making a conscious decision to learn about the issues of the community that you are trying to advocate on behalf of. This takes a conscious effort, as society will continue to affirm various isms thus ensuring that those of us that have undeserved privilege seldom consider the true cost of the social hierarchy that we have naturalized.
Being an Ally to the Trans Community 101
To help that mindful inclusion along I’ve done my best job to compile some of the most common trans* related foot-in-mouth situations here as sort of an etiquette guide for the uninformed. A small disclaimer: I am a cisgender woman (meaning my gender identity is congruent with what society would expect, based on my sex.) I am coming at this as an ally to the trans community; a person who has trans friends and acquaintances, but (obviously) no experience living as a trans person. This means I am not immune to fucking up and if I have done so I would ask my more knowledgeable readers to please drop a comment or an e-mail correcting me so I can amend the post. That said, I see this as one small way that I can help as an ally… by educating other allies to the movement, and making a small dent in the frustrating erasure and ignorance that trans* people have to deal with. So, here we go!