Saturday, January 19, 2008

Susan Stanton in the Whirlwind of Separatist Controversy

Susan Stanton, the transitioning transsexual woman who first became the subject of the news media when she was fired from her job as City Manager by government officials in Largo, Florida, was quoted in an article I found on Google, in The Ledger (a newspaper published in Polk County, Florida) on January 4, 2008 in an article - you can find it at:

However, the article first appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on December 31, 2007 - here is the URL for that (it did not come up in my Google search, while The Ledger article did):

Here is the section with the quote:

Susan has met hundreds of other people like her. She was among the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people lobbying for a law that would make it illegal for others to discriminate against them.But Susan has said all along that she's not like other transgender people. She feels uncomfortable even looking at some,"like I'm seeing a bunch of men in dresses."Eventually, she decided it was too early for transgender people to be federally protected. People need more time, more education, she says. "The transgender groups boo me, now, when I speak. Isn't that ironic?" But I don't blame the human rights groups from separating the transgender people from the protected groups. Most Americans aren't ready for us yet, " Susan says. Transgender people need to be able to prove they're still viable workers, especially in the mainstream."The biggest issue against the federal legislation is that politicians think the ladies' rooms will be invaded by guys in drag," Susan says, "instead of someone like me."

Now, I have it from someone who actually spoke with Susan that she states that she was actually misquoted - and here is a link to Susan's own website that indicates the same:

(And an excerpt for those who don't want to click, or in the event the URL gets stale . . . ):

"I was shocked and disappointed when I read the recent article in the St. Petersburg Times entitled "Susan Stanton’s Lonely Transformation". The St. Petersburg Times is an excellent newspaper and I consider Ms. Lane DeGregory to be a gifted writer and a personal friend so I am not sure how my words could have been so terribly misunderstood. ""During the last year, I have had a very unique opportunity to become acquainted with many members of the transgender community and the wide diversity of life experiences. Contrary to the St. Petersburg Times article, I do not see members of the transgender community as "men wearing dresses." However, I do feel there is a fundamental misunderstanding by the general public that being transgender is simply a matter of men wanting to "dress up as women." Most people do not understand the medical nature of being a transgender and therefore cannot understand the need or justification for non-discrimination protection in employment and housing. During the extensive discussions associated with my termination, many reasonable people felt it was irresponsible conduct for a government official to be "dressing up in women’s clothes" let alone expect to someday "come to work in drag." In my extensive discussion with the national media, transgender people are still perceived to be living unhealthy lifestyles inconsistent with family values. It is my belief that
until the general public is properly educated on the diversity of gender identification and expression, attempts at passing comprehensive federal legislation prohibiting discrimination will not have the necessary support in Congress."

There is more, a lot more.

Personally, I think Susan Stanton's explanation is pretty clear, and as someone who has been misquoted in the media myself, quite believable.

(And I think it’s likely that she said was that the *general public* sees all of us as "men in dresses, frauds and deceivers." (and somehow that morphed into what ended up in print.)

While my initial reaction to the St. Petersburg Times article was to characterize Susan from that picture as a "transsexual separatist," it really doesn't necessarily appear to be the case.

(For a picture of what transsexual separatism looks like, one can visit

and take a look – but don’t expect the nice folks who operate that website to admit to anything like "transsexual separatism!" – just look for yourself and see it it looks, walks and quacks like a duck.)

Susan's explantation is nuanced - she does not reject the transgender "umbrella" but she believes that it takes education for people to understand that there is a diversity under that umbrella, and that Susan and those most like her are not "men in dresses."

The last of the quoted sentences is important - education of the general public is necessary. The problem is that doing the education faces problems from the Christianist conservatives whose misinterpretation of their own Bible makes the education an uphill battle.

Susan Stanton's nuance is one that does not rely on separatism. Unlike some of the advocacy one can see at that TS-Si site, it does not rely on a rigid belief that those who are post-op (or at least scheduled for surgery) are fundamentally differentand have no common ground with those who are unable to have surgery due to medical issues.

Making the achievement of SRS surgery the only dividing line between those that"have theirs" and those who don't, is an unfortunate oversimplification that harms a significant but tiny number of people with Harry Benjamin Syndrome (HBS) (This is the term currently in vogue for what is referred to as "Gender Identity Disorder" (GID) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) used in the psychiatric profession.

Having medical issues that make my surgery too much of a risk for any of the surgeons to undertake (I am ready to pay for it in the US, Canada or Thailand, I already have the mental health professionals certifying me, but none of the surgeons is willing to do it, even those in Thailand who don't require a surgery letter, because of my medical situation), I find myself on the "other side" of the artificial divide (encouraged by at least some of the columns at TS-Si) where surgery completion is advocated as the sole criterion for legal recogntion of one's correct sex identity.

All in all, I don't think that *anyone* should have to wait for legal recognition of our right to dignity and fair treatment as human beings with the reasonable accommodation of having legal sex assignment corrected in accordance with our established sex identity (those who aren't "educated" yet do have many resources to avail themselves of already to learn about this), I can understand (while disagreeing with) Susan's pragmatism regarding the HRC willingness to allow "gender identity" to be dropped from ENDA.

There has been a lot of angry critical reaction from segments of the"trans" community to the original article, and even some severe criticism of the explanation.

I think it shows pretty well that even "under the umbrella" not everyone marches in lock-step to a particular tune, or applies a single "Transgender party line."It could also show that there are alternatives to the rather strict "surgery first before legal correction" standpoint that appears to be taken in some columns and other writings at the TS-Si site (and in other forums) - and that these (like mine) shouldn't be dismissed, as someone commented over at TS-Si in response to a comment I made to one of the articles published there) as"The rest of her [i.e. my] posting(s) are just more of the same TG party line donkey dung."

So, the bottom line question is "what can we learn from all this?"

  1. we have to be careful when being quoted by the news media; and perhaps have a strategy for what to do when news coverage goes wrong – and when we read the newspaper, or get "news" from other media – we have to remember that even in the bast cases, only about a quarter of what is provided as "news" is actually factual;

  2. the "trans community has to continue educational efforts aimed at both legislators and the general public – when we do the educating, and I really do think it is necessary to educate, we have to make it absolutely clear that while there is a whole range or spectrum of differences within the community of people who don't fit *exactly* as expected by society into its societal expectation of binary sex and gender, that there are basic human rights that should not be denied on the basis of that single common factor of not completely fitting into that societal expectation. There are, in addition, possibly different levels of "reasonable accommodation" of any of our various forms of not fitting in (even those of us who strive to fit in to the "opposite" sex from birth assignment, do not fit in perfectly), that may or may not apply across the board - and we should all be willing to give the benefit of the doubt to those in our communities whose self-identity is not identical or extremely similar to our own. The problem is going to be getting the *very* binary-oriented society to recognize that not everyone fits into the binary in accordance with expectations. Some fit in opposite those expectations and some fit in some ways into both, or don't fit at all well into either one.
  3. we need to get what it is that we are teaching to be consistent. In a discussion group I participate in, one of the members wrote: "Drag Queens and Transsexual women are very different animals." That is not necesarily or entirely true - it depends on the definitions of the terms. I do happen to know some transsexual women (not all of them pre-op, either), who have found employment in doing "drag" performance to be a better option than anything else available to them. At the same time, I think I understand that member's intended point. A male-identified gay man who dresses up as a woman for fun and perhaps profit, is *not* the same as a trans woman who identifies as a heterosexual woman, even if she is pre-op and even if she works in the same drag club (meaning that if you were to just *look* at them, their bodies might be nearly identical - their minds, however, are not), and even if both of them are attracted to men (one as a hay man, the other as a straight, but trans, woman).Part of the problem is that the less-than-fully-educated in society see that the bodies in that example are "the same" (at least what they can see -I'm not saying anything about BSTc or other things in this example) and would treat both as "men." Others who need education would be those who might be happy aligning things solely on whether people can "pass." (The result there would be the marginalization or ghettoization, or worse, of post-op TS women and men who don't "pass" well.) There are several minefields in the education process - one example is the situation where SRS is pushed as the *only* bright line to use for the correction of the sex assigned on identity papers. This approach marginalizes those who cannot have the necessary surgical procedures for medical or other valid reasons, but who have the appropriate self-identity. The British Gender Recognition Act permits correction of sex based on having had SRS, but also allows correction in cases where SRS is not medically advisable. (A similar 2006 proposal for New York City birth cerificate correction was tabled because of concerns over conflict with the then-forthcoming federal Real ID Act regulations).We all need access to appropriate medical care, not just for transition-related issues.We all need protection in the traditional areas of human rights - employment, housing, access to public accommodations, credit, etc. (though there mat be reasonable differences in exactly what the reasonable accommodation is going to be). Some of the more controversial ideas have to do with the binary itself. Society isn't going to abandon it altogether. But what it can do is recognize that it is not reflective of 100% of all reality - and allow for people to be "other" "both" and "neither" as well as "still the original assignment" or "opposite the original assignment;" and

  4. Perhaps it is necessary for all of us to be aware of separatism within the trans community, and the possible deleterious effects of it (at the TS-Si site, for example, a comment to one article indicated that there were transsexual separatists working against the 2006 NYC Health Department proposal that would have made it possible for persons who couldn;t have sex reassignment surgery to have their birth certificates corrected; perhaps some are working against GENDA and other inclusive human rights legislation and regulatory amendments as well). Separatism is not only that of the post-op transsexual person who believes that rosurgery divides "real women (or men)" from "transgenders" – it includes those in the crossdressing community who see the people who seek surgical correction of their bodies to match their minds as being sick or delusional and that their surgeries are unnecessary. That is just as harmful.