RE: RuPaul and the Participation of Women in Drag Race

An exploration of the recent controversy behind RuPaul’s commentary on bio queen and transgender women’s participation in RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Last week, RuPaul told The Guardian, “Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture. So for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”

In this statement, it is made clear that what are sometimes referred to as “faux queens” or “bio queens” are not welcome to participate in RuPaul’s Drag Race.

In a followup question, Decca Aitkenhead of The Guardian asked, “So how can a transgender woman be a drag queen?”

To which RuPaul responded, “Mmmm. It’s an interesting area. Peppermint didn’t get breast implants until after she left our show; she was identifying as a woman, but she hadn’t really transitioned.”

Decca continued, “Would you accept a contestant who had? ”

“Probably not. You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body. It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing. We’ve had some girls who’ve had some injections in the face and maybe a little bit in the butt here and there, but they haven’t transitioned.”

In a followup tweet which has sparked a great deal of outrage, RuPaul tweeted:

Before I speak to this topic, let me just go ahead and deplatform myself immediately in establishing that I am an outsider to queen culture.

Queen culture is something I have always avoided association with because I have never liked having who I am conflated with what I have (and many others) have perceived as a male-exclusive form of artistic expression.

My life as a trans woman is not art nor entertainment for anyone.

I do not want to be on display. In fact, I want the opposite. I want to be myself and live a normal life free from the distress of being forced to live the life of a gender that I am not.

That distinction isn’t easy for many people to make. Just yesterday, an anti-trans activist compared me with Divine, who is best known for their role in John Waters’s Pink Flamingos.

We are not the same.

Avoiding that conflation has led me to avoid appreciation of the expression of oneself as a queen. I recognize myself as an outsider to this culture and approach my criticism to it as such.

As would be the case with any form of artistic expression, I feel that biologic sex should not matter in the expression of the form. Exclusion of women from queen expression strikes me as similar to excluding women from forms of artistic expression such as writing, painting, music, acting, comedy, etc.

One might say that women have the option to participate in king culture and to create caricatures of men to put on display on their own art, but it’s really not the same, and bio queens very much do exist. As I have come to understand drag, it is more about the expression of extreme femininity in queen culture and extreme masculinity in king culture. It is less about biology and more about the portrayal of a caricature. As such, I do not see why it would be problematic for anyone, in spite of sex or gender, to express themselves as a queen/king or participate in a competition such as RuPaul’s Drag Race.

In a piece by Kashmira Gander of The Independent in which Kashmira, a female at birth, explored the concept of women’s participation in queen culture by, herself, undergoing transformation into expression of the form as a caricature known as Trashmira, Kashmira wrote, “But a question remained. How can a woman be a drag queen, when a drag queen is a man dressed as a woman? This issue has divided the drag community – with bio, or “faux”, queens defending their right to perform alongside their male counterparts. The answer comes down to the fact that drag is about more than just a man wearing a dress, but about questioning gender stereotypes and the norms we are expected to conform to – norms that can stifle us all – all while putting on a blinding show.”

This attitude has brought me to view the artistic intent of the expression of oneself as a queen in an entirely different light. If attitudes like this were more embraced toward queen culture and women were openly welcomed to participate in drag competitions, I would personally begin to find queen culture far more appealing.

Many have been outraged by RuPaul’s exclusionary statements regarding trans women in particular. Initially, I was not offended because I viewed queen culture through the frame that it was a male-only form of expression, as RuPaul himself appears to believe. However, the feminist in me then began to think about how sexist that sounded, a “male-only form of expression” and I began to consider that perhaps it may be time to re-evaluate our perceptions of queen and king culture. The issue seems to me to be less about trans-exclusion and more about female exclusion.

What exactly precludes women from the expression of themselves as queens?

What exactly precludes men from the expression of themselves as kings?

I’m not convinced these questions have valid answers. I can only speak for myself as an outsider who has never appreciated the form. The boundaries we might construct in answering these questions are a detriment to the form. If we can push these boundaries, I know that I personally will become much more interested in these forms of expression because, as is true in most things, diversity brings strength to forms.

Roots: Gender

An exploration into the determination of Gender, Sexuality, and Identity in the eternal quest to know thyself.

“Who knows where a woman begins and ends? Listen mistress, I have roots, I have roots deeper than this island. Deeper than the sea, older than the raising of the lands. I go back into the dark… I go back into the dark! Before the moon I am, what a woman is, a woman of power, a woman’s power, deeper than the roots of trees, deeper than the roots of islands, older than the Making, older than the moon. Who dares ask questions of the dark? Who’ll ask the dark its name?”
– Ursula K. Le Guin, Earthsea

What is Gender anyway?

Isn’t that just another word for Sex?

If you have XY chromosomes, male organs, and produce sperm, you are a man!

If you have XX chromosomes, female organs, and produce ova, you are a woman!

But what gender is God? Or what of His son, Jesus?

The Bible insists the use of these pronouns is so vital in reference to both that it demands we capitalize them.

In my life, I have studied a great deal of Christian theology.

I have never studied the Father nor the Son’s chromosomes.

I have never seen their organs.

Certainly no one has known their sperm.

I know them to be male because their sex has been expressed to be male.

This is Gender.

It can be best understood in three parts:

  1. Gender Identity – The internalization of personal biological and physiological experience and memory of bodily experience of the world.
  2. Gender Expression – The externalization of Gender Identity as it is expressed in one’s intent, actions, and movement through world.
  3. Gender Experience – The third-party experience of Gender Expression and culturally-defined knowledge and expectations of gendered behavior and expression.

Gender exists, as described above, both within and beyond oneself. It is internalized as a part of one’s identity, externalized through expression, and experienced, understood, and interpreted by others.

As in the case of the Christian Father and Son, the genders of a great many people are known to us without any knowledge of anything which makes them up biologically.

In fact, we may well only know the biologies of those whom we are intimate with.

Biology does not dictate gender.

Biology dictates two things:

  1. Reproductive capability.
  2. Disease compatibility.

As any rational human being would agree, men and women are a great deal more than those two reductions. All of the rest of what defines us as men and women, by identity, experience, and expression belongs to the realm of gender.

Gender is certainly not innate to biology, though it is most commonly associated with it, as part of gender identity is the internalization of biological and physiological experience as well as bodily experience of the world.

Like sexuality, gender exists as more of a gradient between two binaries than as the two ends of the binary. More often than not, we are not perfectly heterosexual nor perfectly homosexual, but somewhere in between and it is also common for us to fluidly move through the gradient as we change with the tides of our lives.

We are never perfectly masculine nor perfectly feminine, but a mixture of the two. Each of us carries within us a biological nature consisting of this mixture as well as the ability to nurture either to full potential. Women are as capable of nurturing masculinity as men are capable of nurturing femininity while still living as women and men themselves.

What makes the dysphoric experience unique is not an over-nurturing of or obsession with femininity or masculinity as some transphobes like to believe but as a discomfort and disassociation with one’s own presence which leads to losses in translation to any attempt at expressing either masculinity or femininity in one’s self.

The same discomfort and disassociation experienced by us is experienced by those we interact with and as such, we are unable to impact the world or be interpreted meaningfully by it, leading us to ghost-like existences. The only way for us to become complete human beings is to erase the incongruence in our being via transition or through finding some other way to overcome the incongruence.

Speaking as a trans woman from a traditional Christian/Conservative family who tried everything imaginable to deny herself Hormone Replacement Therapy for fear of rejection by her family, let me tell you, transition is the best option available for those who suffer from gender dysphoria.

I tried everything else.

Of course, not everyone who transitions experiences gender dysphoria. Some who might choose this do not live in the persistent state of incongruence I lived in, but may develop it later in life or realize that they have been living with it without understanding what it was and then choose to transition. The experience is different for everyone, but the end goal is the same, to conform to expression of our self-determined gender identity, allowing us to maintain comfort and strong association with ourselves and our world.

In my opinion, human beings have the right to self-determination and as such, all forms of gender and sexual expression should be celebrated and supported by our communities, so long as they allow for social stability and the safety and consideration of others.

Judith Butler said in a 2014 interview, “No matter whether one feels one’s gendered and sexed reality to be firmly fixed or less so, every person should have the right to determine the legal and linguistic terms of their embodied lives. So whether one wants to be free to live out a “hard-wired” sense of sex or a more fluid sense of gender, is less important than the right to be free to live it out, without discrimination, harassment, injury, pathologization or criminalization – and with full institutional and community support. That is most important in my view.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The truth is that both fixed and fluid senses of self are equally valid and it is pointless for anyone to wrestle with another human being over their right to self-determination. It becomes nothing but a pointless exercise in bigotry over two equally valid experiences of oneself.

This diversity of opinion over the nature of sex and gender would have great potential for societal and cultural growth if we could only allow one another to flourish rather than bringing decay to the quality of one another’s lives over petty disagreements with methods of self-determination.

There are also sexualities and genders which exist outside the constraints of their respective binaries also and I don’t mean for such people to be an afterthought in my thinking on gender, but it’s just not something I can speak to as I am very comfortable in my positioning within both binaries and I have never experienced the world outside of it.

I would encourage anyone with thoughts related to non-binary gender experience or the experience of gender determination which may differ from my views to express those thoughts to me in the comments below. Thank you!

Roots: Dysphoria

A description of dysphoria itself and clarifications on the nature of Gender Dysphoria.

Before this series continues, I should slow down to bring meaning to terms some might not be familiar with.

Dysphoria is human incongruence.

It is a divide between all of the elements which come together to make one human.

Mind

Spirit

Body

I find it best that an understanding be established that dysphoria can be understood by it’s opposite, euphoria, which many are more familiar with, and would understand to be represented as the three elements shown above in congruence.

Mind

Spirit

Body

To experience euphoria is to be right with yourself and comfortable with your own presence in the world. Mind, body, and spirit unite and you are able to focus these into your presence, which gives meaningful impact to your movements and actions in the world. In this state of congruence, you feel the most like yourself.

To experience dysphoria is to be wrong with yourself and uncomfortable with your own presence in the world. Mind, body, and spirit disjoin and you are unable to focus your presence into any sort of meaningful impact to your movements or actions in the world. In this state of incongruence, you feel the least like yourself.

In states of euphoria, you are a complete human being.

In states of dysphoria, you are a ghost.

Everyone experiences moments of dysphoria and euphoria, but typically these moments are brief.

Gender Dysphoria, as my condition is known in psychology is the persistent state of incongruence brought on by a separation between the body and the mind. A great many studies in other fields have also confirmed, as most any of us would tell you ourselves, that this incongruence exists in us biologically and is experienced by us physiologically, socially, and psychologically.

This is just who we are.

Of course, science doesn’t really consider seriously the element of spirit, but I believe it is worth including as it is something nearly everyone believes exists in some form or another.

Call it what you will:

Soul. Heart. Essence, Core. Spirit. Nature. Psyche.

Or anything else you might fill with its meaning.

It drives us. It exists within us and moves beyond us through our many forms of expression and the impacts our lives leave upon the world.

It will exist long after our physical bits have turned to dust, even if it is only within the memories of those whose lives we’ve touched.

Normally, spirit would act as the glue which bonds the mind and body together in congruence, but in dysphoric states, it cannot attach to either and instead drifts between the two.

It is this part of ourselves that suffers the most from dysphoria.

This little light of mine,

I’m gonna let it shine.

No you aren’t, dysphoria is going to snuff it out.

I wish someone had told me this when they taught me that song.

The incongruence brought on by Gender Dysphoria can be dealt with via treatment to either the brain or the body. Neither is wrong, they simply are the way they are. Unfortunately for us, being as they are leads to a great deal of distress if untreated.

Strategies for coping with the distress are not very effective, nor are any other approaches which focus entirely on the mind/brain. Conversion therapy does not work. Nor do any medications which target the brain and/or chemical balance.

Trust me on this.

I’m from Mike Pence’s hometown.

It and all of my family/friends/co-workers were every bit as traditional/Christian/Conservative as you might expect. Fear of rejection by so many people who were important to me kept me from pursuing body-based treatment for far too long. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself not to worry and to follow through with it as soon as possible.

I would give anything to have those lost years of my life back, but what’s done is done.

The fact of the matter is that hormone replacement therapy is the best method of ending the incongruence of gender dysphoria.

Dysphoria can be brought on in a number of ways, gender-based dysphoria being only one of a diverse bag of possibilities. Most transgender people also experience “Biological Dysphoria” (though as far as I know, this distinction is not made in psychology) which extends beyond the experience of gender and into our biologies, driving many of us to seek out sex reassignment/confirmation surgeries, though in most of our cases, this type of dysphoria never dissipates because wrapped up in this type of dysphoria is our reproductive systems, which no currently available technology can repair.

Though my own lack of reproductive system does bring me dysphoric distress, it is not burdensome. At least not any more burdensome than it is to any other woman who might wish to bring children into the world, but lacks the ability to do so. It does not leave me locked in a state of distress, but rather brings me situational distress, typically only in sexual situations.

In spite of the biological dysphoria which will always be with me, I no longer suffer or am burdened by dysphoria otherwise. My incongruence has ended and I now live a normal life with a mix of euphoric and dysphoric states, though more commonly I know the former than the latter.

New Series: Branches

New series “Branches” will explore what it means to come to terms with gender dysphoria and transgender people from external perspectives.

All,

I had an idea that I hope some of you might be interested in:

Dave Chappelle said of transgender people’s perception in the public consciousness, “They have the longest mental gap to cross.”

I believe this is a true statement.

So, as I continue my work in building my own bridges with my “Roots” series, I would absolutely love if I could get some of you to write some pieces for a companion series I intend to call “Branches” which would (preferably) be narratives written from your perspectives in your own journeys crossing the mental gap Chappelle describes above.

These could be stories about me or just about generally getting to know, and/or coming to terms with transgender people being a part of culture.

If anyone would be willing to contribute any effort to this, I would greatly appreciate it! And if you are a blogger yourself or otherwise artistically motivated, I will ensure your work is properly attributed and celebrated in this series.

Thank you in advance to anyone who may be interested!

RE: Equanimity – Dave Chappelle Stand-up Special

Dave Chappelle’s recent Netflix special touches deeply on transgender topics and provides personal insights into his experience coming to terms with transgender people. This article will analyze and respond to this introspective journey into Chapelle’s worldview.

Transgender people have existed in varying forms in every culture throughout the course of human history. Dysphoria has always been a part of the human condition.

It’s something that all people of all these cultures have had to come to terms with, and for many, it isn’t an easy bridge to cross.

Dave Chappelle said of us, in his special The Age of Spin, “They’ve got the longest mental gap to bridge.”

This comment, as well as a few other offending jokes in both this special, and the next which followed, Deep in the Heart of Texas has stirred up controversy in the media and in various trans/transactivist communities.

Personally, I thought both specials were hilarious and would recommend Age of Spin especially.

Here’s a thing about comedy:

All comedy transgresses.

By its very nature, comedy is an act of transgression. Either your expectations are transgressed as a clever comedian subverts them, your senses are transgressed as something comedic teases at them, or your personal life is transgressed in such ways that highlight relatable things you can look at in a different way after a comedian shuffles them about and reorders them to their own subjective liking.

Comedians walk this fine line of transgression in all of their work. At any moment, any thing they say and/or do could cross the line drawn between comedy and offense into dangerously transgressive territory.

As it turns out, though from my perspective, Chappelle’s above specials were quite good and transgressed without offending me, he did offend a lot of other trans people.

In Chapelle’s next special, Equinamity, he spoke to this experience:

But motherfuckers are just taking it too far. I don’t know why or how everybody got this goddamn sensitive. You know who hates me the most? The transgender community. Yo, yeah, these motherfuck– I mean, I didn’t realize how bad it was. These motherfuckers was really mad about that last Netflix special. It’s tough, man. I don’t know what to do about it ’cause… ‘Cause I like them. Always have. Never had a problem with them. You know. Just fucking around.

As he mentioned in his previous specials, Chappelle genuinely does not seem to be any sort of transphobe. He has built the bridge required to cross the mental gap he mentioned in Age of Spin and he has accepted us as a part of culture he doesn’t have a problem with. As such, he’s incorporated us into his comedic transgressions.

Equanimity, the word Chappelle employs in the naming of this special is defined as follows by Merriam-Webster:

Capture

Chappelle strives to maintain this equanimical balance in his transgressions as he works his way through many of the uncomfortable discussions western civilization currently faces.

A matter fact, I think I make fun of everybody. I mean, as a group of people, they have to admit that… it’s kind of fucking hilarious, man. I’m sorry, bro. It’s like… I’ve never seen somebody in such a hilarious predicament not have a sense of humor about it. They’re born feeling like they’re something other than they’re born as, and that’s… That’s kind of funny. I mean, it’s funny if it’s not happening to you.

I have long been of the mind that the world desperately needs transgender comedy. Preferably from a mainstream transgender comedian, but I think Chappelle’s voice is a good start. He’s absolutely right. Our predicament is hilarious, as most all human predicaments are. If we are so stressed in our predicaments that we can’t step back from them to allow a comedian to transgress upon them and make us laugh, then we have a problem.

And there’s the rub, transgressing upon the current transgender predicament can be a detriment to us if we aren’t equanamical. We trans folk suffer such horrendous attacks on our equanimity, that when a comedian transgresses upon it, any boundary they might cross risks causing distress.

From my own perspective, I greatly appreciated Chappelle’s specials because I am equanimical. I’ve had a wonderful life and for me, transition has been nothing but an uplifting, life-affirming, stress-free experience. My family, friends, co-workers, and communities have all accepted and embraced me as who I am. I’ve never once suffered any sort of serious conflict over gender identity with anyone in my life.

Online, sure, but I purposely seek out those conflicts myself in engagement with transphobes.

All-in-all, I have a great life and am not burdened by any form of stress centering on my gender post-transition.

Others aren’t so lucky.

For others, to transition is to suffer the slings and arrows of social outrage. It would have likely been the same uplifting, life-affirming, stress-free experience that it has been for me, but something went wrong for them.

Maybe the people in their lives rejected them. Maybe their social support structure collapsed. Maybe they lost access to the medical or psychological care they needed. Maybe they’ve fallen into poverty or even homelessness. Maybe they’ve been assaulted or abused.

Anything could happen.

Ours is not an easy road to travel.

However, in spite of the sensitivity I have to the feelings of trans people with regard to comedy, I do feel that Chappelle fields the topic well, because he turns the topic inward, and gives his audience a personal introspective of his own life’s journey in coming to terms with transgender people.

Chappelle continues:

It’s like that white black bitch that’s in the news all the time. Rachel Dolezal. She always says that. She– She– She was– She’s a white woman, but then she dressed up like a nigga and… shot her way up to the very top of blackness. And I always wanted to meet her just so I can understand. I just wanted to have dinner with her, so I can just look in her eyes… and call her a nigga to her face. What the fuck is that bitch talking about? “I identify as black.” That is trans-talk, lady. Stop biting. Stop biting. There’s a big difference between her and a trans. The difference between her and a trans is I believe transgenders. I don’t understand them either, but I know they mean what they say. Them niggas cut they dicks off. That’s all the proof I need. Never seen somebody just throw their dick away. Don’t need it. I don’t understand, but I believe you, and I support your decision, motherfucker. But how far is Rachel willing to go? Hmm? What is Rachel willing to do so that we blacks can believe that she believes she’s actually one of us? Bitch, are you willing to put a lien on your house? So that you can invest in a mix tape that probably won’t work out. She didn’t even change her name. Didn’t even change her name. Her name is Rachel. I can’t believe in that name. You want my support , you gonna have to change your name to the blackest shit I’ve ever heard. Bitch, you gonna have to change your name to Draymond Green. I don’t know a blacker name than that. That shit is black on paper. If you type “Draymond Green” in the Airbnb… that shit will log off automatic.

I’d like to, first of all, speak to Chappelle’s main point here, which I believe is to show that there is a big difference between identifying with a gender and identifying with a race.

Race is an arbitrary marker of culture.

It very much makes sense for people to appreciate and identify with cultures. It doesn’t make sense for people to identify as a race, because race is only an arbitrary marker of that culture. Sometimes cultures close themselves off, which is understandable, but in most, everyone can participate in and appreciate culture in spite of race as long as it’s done out of respect and with the purest intent.

Changing your skin color really doesn’t change any of that. It’s probably not going to gain you any sort of cultural acceptance. In fact, it runs you at great risk of cultural rejection.

So, when Chappelle criticizes Rachel Dolezal by saying, “That is trans-talk, lady. Stop biting. Stop biting. There’s a big difference between her and a trans.” I agree, but by completely different logic.

Gender identity runs deeply with everyone. It is one of the least arbitrary elements to identity. Manhood, womanhood, or anything we might find in between is internalized to the core of our being. It determines so much about our subjective experience of the world and forms the foundation for our nature, which drives our instincts and our sensual experiences of the world.

People like to degrade dysphoria to a “mental illness” without realizing that so much of what makes us ourselves is formed in our brains and that our brains control every conscious movement we make with our bodies as well as a multitude of unconscious functions that keep us alive. Our nervous systems stretch throughout our entire bodies and feed information back into the brain via our senses.

As such, growing up with dysphoria, with what you might call a female brain in a male body, all of my physiological experiences were of a female existence. As a child, this was easy to deal with, but as my body’s natural hormones did more and more damage to my outward image, it became more and more difficult to be myself and to project myself outward into the world and that led to great physical, emotional, and psychological distress which strained and fractured my identity and led me to begin a ghost-like existence, never able to project myself into the world.

There is nothing physiological about feeling like another race. In fact, I’m not convinced a race is something anyone can feel like at all. Races are skin pigments which arbitrarily indicate culture.

Sexes are very different biologies with different physiologies and differing sensual, social, psychological, and emotional experiences experiences of reality.

Aside from differing impacts by outside influences and perhaps an internalization of heritage, can it really *feel* that different to be another race? If so, would these feelings ever create such distress in someone as to disrupt function and necessitate a racial transition?

I’m skeptical.

Though I am open-minded.

If you disagree, I’d love to hear your opinion.

People get mad, bro. People get mad about everything I say. I was doing a show. I was in Portland, Oregon. And I was checked in a hotel under the name Charles Edward Cheese. I came back to my room late at night… and there was a note. It was like a letter on my desk. It was addressed to “Mr. Cheese.” So, obviously, I’m gonna assume that whoever wrote this letter must be an intimate friend. This is not some kind of name that a person would just guess. But then I open the letter, and it turns out I don’t know this person at all. It’s a fan letter. I’m not even used to the idea that I have fans, but I’m grateful for it. And… And even though I’m grateful for fans, I… I don’t read those letters. Be nice if I did, but realistically, it’s like, “What am I, Santa Claus, nigga? I don’t have time for this. Got shit I wanna do. I’m trying to chill.” Read all these dreams and wishes from strangers. But then– But I read it. I’d already opened it, so I just read the whole letter. And you know what, man? Whoever wrote this letter truly loves me. I mean, they were really fucking nice in the letter. And then they described to me what it was like to come to the show. How excited they were and how much fun they were having. And then they said… that when I got to my jokes about transgenders… that they were quote, “devastated.” ‘Cause turns out that whoever wrote the letter was transgender.
I’m gonna be real for a second. As a policy, you gotta understand, I never feel bad about anything I say up here. And I would never admit this to you if I hadn’t locked your phones up. But it was the weirdest thing, like when I read this letter…the shit made me feel bad. I didn’t feel bad about what I said, you understand. I felt bad that I made somebody else feel bad.
But I feel like… I feel like it was probably… this joke I’m about to tell you right now.

Chappelle rebounds from the empathy and introspection above and goes on to tell an unapologetic joke about Caitlyn Jenner, which I’ve spared you in this text. I’d personally never heard of Jenner prior to her transition and I don’t have feelings one way or the other over her. The thing that bugs me is just that people have for some bizarre reason crowned her queen of the trans people.

Chappelle shares his perspective as someone who knew Jenner prior to transition. As such, her transition was a shock, as it was to many, to his worldview. It’s almost traumatic to some degree, certainly for atheletes who may have at one point idolized or positioned Jenner as a role model.

It’s a lot to come to terms with for some.

I can see how someone could see this joke as terribly offensive, but my takeaway is that Jenner’s shock to Chappelle’s worldview was the beginning of his journey to coming to terms with transgender people and, ultimately, he worked that out via comedy.

I don’t know what I said that upset that person. But I’m gonna tell you something. When I read that letter… in the moments after I read it, I did something that many black men in America do not have the time or the money to do. I thought about how I felt. Asked myself a very basic question that I don’t think I ever directly contemplated. I said, “Man, Dave, if you’re writing all these jokes, do you have a problem with transgender people?” And the answer is absolutely not. The fuck you guys think I am? I don’t understand all the choices that people make. But I do understand that life is hard, and that those types of choices do not disqualify you from a life with dignity and happiness and safety in it. But if I’m honest… my problem has never been with transgender people. My problem has always been with the dialogue about transgender people.

Chappelle makes great points above and I will let them speak for themselves.

He continues, to make some terrible, but true, points:

I just feel like these things should not be discussed in front of the blacks. It’s fucking insulting, all this talk about how these people feel inside. Since when has America given a fuck how any of us feel inside? And I cannot shake this awful suspicion that the only reason everybody is talking about transgenders is because white men want to do it. That’s right. I just said that. If it was just women that felt that way or black dudes and Mexican dudes being like, “Hey, ya’ll, we feel like girls inside.” They’d be like, “Shut up, nigger. No one asked you how you felt. Come on, everybody, we have strawberries to pick.” It reeks of white privilege. You never asked yourself why it was easier for Bruce Jenner to change his gender than it was for Cassius Clay to change his fucking name?

My main criticism of Chappelle’s position here is that black people transition too and he seems to have forgotten about them in the framing of this statement.

However, the rest of what he says does have a ring of truth to the dark heart of America and I believe Chappelle’s apparent lack of empathy for those of his own race who transition is a symptom of that very issue.

DISCLAIMER: I am not anti-capitalist, though what follows here and elsewhere in this article explores criticisms to capitalism. Critique of capitalism is not anti-capitalism.

Where Chappelle remains wrapped up in racism with a twinge of transphobia in forming this idea, I point my finger to capitalism, where the blame belongs.

If the most privileged among us didn’t want to transition, transgender people would never be accepted in capitalist society.

It shouldn’t be that way.

Everyone should have access to the care they need and all of our concerns toward those cares should be considered equally in a Democracy.

Capitalism has stifled Democracy.

Figures like Jenner carry much more weight in public consciousness than anyone else ever could because capitalism has deemed it so.

It’s about time we had a reigniting of Democracy in America.

And if I were to be brutally honest… the only reason I ever have been mad at the transgender community, is because I was at a club in LA and danced with one of these niggas for six songs straight. I had no idea. Then the lights came up and I saw them knuckles. I said, “Oh, no!” And everybody was laughing at me. WorldStar.
I said, “Why didn’t you say anything?” Then I heard that sultry voice. “I didn’t say anything, Dave Chappelle, because I was having a wonderful time. And I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about it.” I said, “You knew how I’d feel.” And she said, “I’m going home. I don’t want any trouble from you.” I said, “Home? It’s only two songs left. I mean, we might as well… finish the night.”And we ended up having breakfast together. Oh, grow up. That doesn’t make me gay. I just titty-fuck them. Those titties are as real as any titties in LA. It was two o’clock in the morning. I was just borrowing a little friction from a stranger. Whoops! It’s the madness of youth. It’s the types of mistakes a man makes when he’s young. I wouldn’t even know that it’s necessarily a mistake. It was a wild night out. But I don’t do it like that anymore.

Remember, this is an introspective journey Chappelle is taking us through. He expresses transphobia comically here, but he expresses it in reflection on his past self, which he acknowledges to be foolish.

His past self’s transphobic reaction to the woman he was dancing with, however, is one that I would like to speak to.

For Chappelle, who had at that time in his life not yet come to terms with transgender people, the experience of not knowing, but enjoying his time with a transgender person was quite a shock for him.

The experience Chappelle relays here is a microcosmic view of an experience I have had in entirely different, non-sexual contexts, with many transphobic people in my own life.

In the majority of my career, I have never disclosed the fact that I’m transgender to any employers or co-worker but in moments of my choosing. I’ve also worked with a great many people and customers in both my life’s work and my career who have appreciated my efforts on their behalf and have never once called into question the validity of my womanhood.

I have always just been Ella to these people.

In many moments, I have known exactly how someone might feel.

I have encountered a great deal of transphobia in my life, but none of it has ever been directed at me. It’s always something I overhear, directed at no one in particular, or at someone else.

Often, I never come to know someone holds those sorts of feelings until after I have known them and/or worked closely with them for a year or more.

This leaves me in a powerful position to combat transphobia, like the woman Chappelle danced with, I’ve just had a wonderful time helping others in my career and I choose to not share the fact that I am transgender with most along the way because I don’t know how anyone will feel and I don’t feel it demands mentioning.

It’s scary every single time, but my reaction to encountering such external transphobia is to come out to the person expressing transphobia.

Such experiences have a healing effect over transphobia.

Again, I have only ever been Ella to such people, a hard working, respectable woman.

The idea that I could be anyone else is impossible for them to grasp.

They consider this, and it re-shapes their thinking.

Because the truth is, having known me as they have, the idea that I could ever be a man is foreign to them.

They realize that if I were to “de-transition” and would become a man, this would invoke a similar negative reaction in them to the reaction they would have if they’d known me in the first place. They would have to begin using a new name and new pronouns. The process would be exhausting for them and they would be equally inclined to not participate.

My coming out in this way tends to bring transphobes to terms with transgender people.

As I said, this is a scary thing to do, but I would encourage any trans person lucky enough to find themselves in the types of positions I’m describing to do as I have done when you encounter external transphobia among those with whom you interact with regularly.

It can work wonders.

In Chappelle’s comedy, he relays this experience well, through the lens of sexual comedy.

He shows himself encountering and then overcoming transphobia to finish the wonderful night he was having with the trans woman he’d met and he scolds his audience for any notion that might form that this is a homosexual act.

Chappelle is not gay, he’s had straight male interaction with a woman.

His view here says all we need to know about whether or not Chappelle is transphobic any longer.

Chapelle ends his special with this:

You know, I’m gonna give you a history lesson, ’cause I’m sure this wasn’t on your entry exam. But every naturalized American has heard something about what I’m about to tell you. Picture, it’s the early ’50s in the United States. This 14-year-old boy goes down… from Chicago to Mississippi to meet his extended family for the first time. He’d never been to Mississippi. And before he went, his mother said to him, very pointedly, she said, “If a white man looks you in your eyes in Mississippi, look away.” And I don’t know what you know about black people from Chicago, but they’re not a scared people. Legend has it, he was in front of a convenience store, hanging out with his cousins, having a good time, and a white woman walked out of the store, and he thought she was pretty, and he said… [wolf whistles] “Bye, baby.” Not realizing that he had just made a fatal mistake.
Four days later… Four days later, a group of adult white men burst into this family’s home and snatched a 14-year-old boy out of bed, in front of his family that was powerless to stop them, and he was never seen alive again. His name was Emmett Till.
They found his body maybe a few days later. It was in a creek, tied to a wheel so it would sink, horribly beaten and bloated. Hideous. And lucky for everybody in America… his mother was a fucking gangster. She was. If you can imagine , in the very midst of a mother’s worst nightmare, this woman had the foresight to think about everybody. She said, “Leave my son’s casket open.” She said, “The world needs to see what they did to my baby.” And every publication here in the United States, from Jet magazine all the way to the New York Times, had this boy’s horribly bloated body on its cover. And if our Civil Rights Movement was a car, this boy’s dead body was premium gas. This was a very definitive moment in American history, where every thinking and feeling person was like… “Yuck! We gotta do better than this.”
And they fought beautifully, and here we all are.
And the reason that I bring that up tonight and why it’s relevant now, is because less than a year ago, the woman that he allegedly whistled at… admitted on her deathbed… that she lied in her court testimony. And you can imagine, when we read that shit, we was like, “Ooh! You lying-ass, bitch.” Was furious. That was my initial reaction. And initial reactions, we all learned as we get older, are often wrong or more often incomplete. They call this phenomenon “standing too close to an elephant.” The analogy being that if you stand too close to an elephant, you can’t see the elephant. All you see is its penis-like skin. You gotta step back and give it a better look.
And on stepping back and thinking about it for a few moments, I realized that it must have been very difficult for this woman to tell a truth that heinous about herself at any point in her life.
Even the very end.
And I was grateful that she had the courage to tell it before she left this world. Because it’s an important truth and we needed to know. And I said to myself, “Well, thank you for telling the truth… you lying-ass bitch.” And then time goes on, and then after time, you can kind of see the whole elephant. And it’s humbling. ‘Cause you realize that this woman lied and that lie caused a murder. But that murder set in motion a sequence of events that made my wonderful life possible. That made this very night possible. How could this be that this lie could make the world a better place? It’s maddening.
And that’s how I feel about this president. I feel like this motherfucker might be the lie that saves us all. Because I have never felt more American than when we all hate on this motherfucker together.
Jesus Christ. It’s good.
And when it happens, I can see everybody that’s stuggling. So if I’m on stage and I tell a joke that makes you want to beat up a transgender, then you’re probably a piece of shit and don’t come see me anymore. Or if you don’t understand that when a football player takes a knee during the national anthem, he’s actually standing up for me, then you might not want to fuck with me anymore. ‘Cause I swear no matter how bad it gets, you’re my countrymen, and I know for a fact that I’m determined to work shit out with y’all. And if that woman that said that heinous lie was alive today, I would thank her for lying.
And then I would kick her in the pussy.

Chappelle tells the story of Emmett Till, who died a tragic death after 21-year old Carolyn Bryant claimed the then 14-year old Till made sexual advances toward her.

This led to Till’s kidnapping and brutal murder and his mother showed the world what the racists had done to her child.

In Carolyn Bryant since confessed that the accusation she made against Till, which led to his death, was false.

Rosa Parks is said to have had Till on her mind in December 1955 when she refused give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, kickstarting nationwide protests.

The killing has been the subject of a play by the Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, it has inspired a myriad of stories, poetry by Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Alexander, Jericho Brown, and even a song by Bob Dylan.

This lie, which sparked this horrific tragedy, led, somehow, to such great healing for our nation.

Chappelle ends by tying this to President Trump, calling him, quite aptly in my opinion, “The lie that saves us all.”

Donald Trump, with his air of capitalism has become a symbol for the people to unite against.

A common capitalist adversary to overcome.

And I have seen it spark Democracy the likes of which I haven’t seen in America in my entire life. The kind of Democracy I’ve only heard stories about from times before I was born.

It feels so good to see Americans being American again.

We are coming together.

We are finding common ground.

We are becoming a Democracy again.

We all know the truth of Donald Trump’s campaign slogan isn’t that he is going to Make America Great Again™, it’s that we are, in uniting to face the adversary of Democracy.

Chappelle closes with slaying a few adversaries of his own, in calling out any transphobe who might read a hateful message in his comedy and later unleash it as abuse against a transgender person.

He tells it like it is.

He shows us the whole elephant.

They aren’t worthy of his transgressions.

Roots: Growth & Socialization

Roots explores the developmental and social experiences of a dysphoric existence from childhood to puberty.

Growing up dysphoric, you experience the world physiologically, sociologically, and psychologically as natal girls do.

As such, you form your understanding of yourself and others through that lens. For myself, I was aware of dysphoria as early as I could understand concepts such as gender. My mom was a babysitter and crossing guard and my dad worked in a factory. I understood the differences between male and female bodies and social roles (especially in 1983) through them because they were both very much what you would call cisgender and very much did embrace their perceived societal roles. It might be strange to kids nowadays, but that kind of social split between men and women was much more common back then.

God, I feel old. I shouldn’t feel this old at 34.

Anyway, my parents were wonderful. Grandparents also. I had an incredibly strong and close family unit and no source of childhood trauma external to dysphoria. So, let’s dis-spell any pre-conceived notion someone might have that all trans people experience child abuse here and now.

I experienced none whatsoever.

The only source of distress in my childhood was based in my dysphoric condition. I became aware of the incongruence in me at about the age of 5. My 5th birthday party is one of my first memories. We played Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey. I remember listening to the adults talking as I blindly aimed to pin my tail onto this pompous jackass in front of me and I realized one referred to me with a male pronoun.

It bothered then as much as now.

Taking aim, I pinned my tail.

The blindfold was removed from me, my tail was nowhere near the mark.

I turned to face the world again and another adult stopped to admire my eyelashes.

She said they looked like a girl’s.

She was right, but for now it would have to be our little secret.

Shortly thereafter, I tried to rebel against efforts to gender me to the contrary of my feminine nature, but could never escape it. It was like a ghost shackled to my soul, tearing me apart in every movement I made in the world.

Eventually, I realized that the ghost must have won, because I wasn’t the one in control of who I was anymore.

I’d become the ghost. I was the one chained to this body.

Claw as I might, I could never get back in.

I tried sometimes, in my private time. Much like Patrick Swayze in Ghost, I’d attempt to sit inside my body and try to be comfortable, but I couldn’t, it was a square hole and I, a triangle peg.

Eventually, I discovered books and video games (Mario 2 was my favorite. I loved that I could be Princess Peach) and I found solace in them and in solitude itself. When I wasn’t reading or playing games, I’d play with my toys and get lost in imagination. My imagination is a female-only safe space none of you are welcome in. There, I cared for my dolls as my children, dressed myself up in clothes my mom never knew I took from her (sorry, Mom),  and began to dream about being just like her one day.

I was socialized primarily among other girls who always treated me just like I was one of them. I was so happy in these interactions, and I found I could exist almost somewhat comfortably within my body in moments like these. I’d feel the incongruence in me begin the mend. In the briefest of moments, I may have even experienced dysphoria’s opposite, euphoria.

Here’s a small tattoo (sorry again, Mom) that’s on the back of my neck:

5Sslm

To me, this is what Gender Dysphoria looks like. These lines represent a separation between Mind, Body, and Spirit. A fracturing of humanity.

It represents, as minimalistically as possible, the sensation of experiencing life as a ghost as I have described it here. When I was socializing comfortably and able to be myself, I felt these lines pull together. It’s in those everso brief moments of euphoria where my fragile young identity was formed, and in the rest where it was broken.

I remember experiencing sexual segregation for the first time in Kindergarten. Nobody understood why I was crying when I didn’t want to sit with the boys. Nobody cared to ask. I was assumed to be a problem child and forced to do it, in spite of my resistance. Adults continued doing this to me, regularly. Never once did anyone ask why I didn’t want my humanity ripped apart. I was just picked up like a pig in a chute and forced, again and again, into groups I didn’t belong in.

I’m not sure if you know anything about masculinity, especially as it begins manifesting in young boys, but as I understand it, it seems like a hell of a drug.

Some boys couldn’t seem to get enough of it. There would be fights and conflict everywhere all around me with boys trying to claw the manhood out of one another. I hid as best I could, but of course it was impossible to hide forever.

They thought I had something they wanted and they came to take it from me too.

As you might imagine, I was these boys’ whipping girl. I had testosterone running through me but no masculinity in me with which to defend it, and so, smelling it in me, they would pounce at every opportunity to grab a piece of masculinity that just wasn’t there. I can’t even describe how terrifying many of these interactions were.

Just imagine being the only little girl thrown into the middle of a swarm of testosterone-crazed apes who want to eat parts of you, or worse, want you to not exist.

Every day at school was a nightmare like that for me. Every single one.

It led to distress in my life like you can’t imagine.

I developed a serious eating disorder fairly early on. By 2nd grade, I was already way more chubby than anyone would consider reasonable. The fat was like an armor I wore. It hid perceptions of masculinity in me and detoured boys from attacking me over it. Instead, of course they attacked me for being fat. Most kids would respond to that and just lose some weight, but I couldn’t.

needed my weight. It protected me from having my humanity ripped apart by boys who wanted to consume the masculinity I didn’t have. I was far happier with their attention re-directed to my stomach and away from my mind and crotch.

It wasn’t just the weight either, I’d do as much as I could to deflect. Any stupid thing I might think of to make myself seem outrageous in some fashion, all with the effort of pushing them away from the identity they continually tried to fracture. I pray this doesn’t still exist, but there might even be a video of myself singing  Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achey Breakey Heart” in a school “talent” show.

I knew exactly what I was doing. I knew the social wrath this would bring down upon me. I didn’t care. It was everso much better than the alternative.

I resisted school more and more as I got older. After 3rd grade, my mom pulled me out of public school and I went to a private Christian school. Things were much less stressful there. Primarily, due to the fact my classes consisted of 3 girls, 1 boy, and me.

I could handle one. In fact, this one was a nice one. We even got along decently.

By 6th grade though, even he began to become a source of distress for me. You see, I liked him. Like… really liked him. By the time we were all about to graduate to Junior High, he’d dated all 3 of the other girls, but as you might imagine, never took any interest in me.

And then came Junior High, like a trainwreck into my life.

Puberty.

And I became a fully realized, fractured human being.

That tattoo on the back of my neck became my entire existence.

It was everything it was in elementary school, but indescribably worse.

The only choice I had to deal with it was akin to Stockholm Syndrome.

Dysphoria had abused me through my entire life and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I attempted to embrace the fate the world had for me.

As I’ve mentioned, I was obese. Even moreso by this time. My family was worried to death about my health and wanted me to play sports. I’d played a bit of basketball with my Christian school friends which was tolerable enough. I had to play with the boys, but it was alright. I looked on it as a battle of the sexes. One which I lost but that’s just because I suck at basketball.

A better girl definitely would have won.

In junior high though, in what I’ll tell you was an act of true insanity, I tried playing Football at the behest of my family.

If the world wanted me to be this way so badly, I thought I’d give it one honest try. If I was supposed to be one of these masculinity-starved beasts, I would do so while wearing padding on a battlefield over some weirdly shaped ball of pig-flesh that men carried up and down a field while other men tried to stop them.

That only lasted about a week. I hated every moment of it. Worst thing I’ve ever done. Who gives a crap honestly if that stupid ball gets to one end or the other anyway?

Later in life, I came to realize that ball and I had a lot in common.

I was a weirdly shaped ball of pig-flesh being carried around by the men against my will, being forced by them, from one end of a field to the other.

A source of conflict they could focus all of their masculinity into protecting and/or attacking.

A woman.

A football.

Same difference to many men.

 

Roots: Us & Them

A concept to approaching positive engagement with transphobia and effective ways to overcome it.

TERFTrans Exclusionary Radical Feminist

Big, scary term, innit?

I’ve spent most of my life scared of people who I saw fit to this label.

Well here’s the thing, transfolks. It’s a thing that most of us who have been abused by them over the years have a REALLY hard time with.

TERF is an offensive term in many cases. Many who share concerns with those who we might call TERFs do not necessarily identify with this group.

The continued use of this term in our conversations with such people disparages the genuine concerns of women who, at the end of the day, just plain don’t understand us and need to be shown that we aren’t a #transcult injecting the world with #peaktrans ideologues with a #cottonceiling we demand women break through in #totalitarian fashion.

We are not #bogeyMEN.

And neither are all the people you perceive as TERFs.

Applying this term to those who think in ways which defy our own demonizes them and causes us to pre-conceive bias against them and it leads to destructive, rather than constructive conversation.

They are humans with real human concerns over real human conditions, just like we are.

They need to be shown our Humanity if they are ever going to accept it.

But how to we do that?

My friend Rya shared with me an amazing concept for beginning the building of bridges with people like those who are infected with transphobia:

1. Demonstration of understanding

2. Nurturing of understanding

That begins a process of growth. From there, you can bridge the rest of the gap with apology and capitulation wherever necessary.

This has been my moral guide throughout this entire, often times terrible, bridge-building process. And it has begun to work. I’ve seen the potential for growth it has and have experienced first hand its uplifting of the human condition.

It has required apology and capitulation on my part. I’ve apologized for being certainly overly-liberal in application of the term TERF and for, in my fear of those who I saw as TERFs, brushing the valid concerns of regular women under the rug.

If you’ve paid any attention in your life to the world around you, you’ll likely have noticed that most every theology, narrative, poem, etc has a figure alluding to this sort of path. These sorts of signifiers can be found everywhere, woven into in culture.

Maybe, just maybe that’s because a lot of people have learned that it is an invaluable lesson in humanity.

Haven’t you heard? It’s a battle of words.

There is no good or bad. Only thinking makes it so.

Words, words words!

Slanders, sir. For the satirical rogue says here that old men have gray beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams—all which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down; for yourself, sir, should be old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.

Words without thoughts, never to Heaven go.

The path to insanity is fraught with many flawed ideas.

Let’s not succumb to them.

Let’s build bridges.

Let’s overcome the obstacles that separate Us & Them and find our common ground.

The truest problem we can all face together, right here, right now, in egalitarian fashion is to volunteer our voices and time to shelters as well as donate anything we can to them. In exercising our voices, let us not use them to bicker on social media and instead use that energy to set out into the world and help shelters!

I’ve taken concerns over sharing shelter spaces very seriously and have capitulated to certain concerns over them.

Let me preface this in saying that the one thing I would never capitulate to transphobes is my womanhood. That’s mine and isn’t for anyone to take. However, certain biological and historical elements do tie me back to men in an unfortunate way. The mental process required to understand and accept me for who I am, can require a processing of men.

Women who are traumatized at the hands of a man can internalize this experience in such a way that the experience of men by any stretch of the imagination triggers pain in them. They can’t come to accept who I am because they quite simply can’t complete the mental process. This means, that in the eyes of a survivor, a trans woman can take on the appearance of a threat. By and large, we are of course, not any sort of threat and do have every right to shelter when we need it.

Both sides have perfectly valid concerns over survivors in this argument. This, above all else, is why we need to take an egalitarian approach to this problem.

Women’s shelters, which have been built and designed specifically for women and/or children have not been made with trans people in mind and we must be sensitive to the concerns of those who run such shelters. Transwomen shouldn’t impose themselves on these spaces. Women have earned them through years of blood, sweat, and empathy. We must put forth the same effort if we there will ever be enough shelter space available for all types of people in need.

When I say “all types of people” I mean ALL types. This problem of spacial accommodation to trans people, over shelters especially, is FAR bigger than the trans/transphobe dichotomy.

If a black woman is beaten to within an inch of her life by a group of white women, where can she go?

Do we have shelters for her?

If not, we damn well should.

Equipping shelters to handle all types of people in a myriad of circumstances is no easy task, but it is a necessary one.

I have been working together with my local shelter to acknowledge and address these sorts of concerns. Here is the most relevant response I have received so far:

“Operating a shelter is a challenge and there’s no one right answer for any question when talking about shelter issues. I’ll answer your question to the best of my abilities. We work on a case by case basis with every client that comes to our shelter, because everybody has a unique story and individual needs. With that being said, we do have basic rules that everyone who comes to shelter must follow. Resident advocates do everything we can to ensure the safety of residents staying in shelter, and we have a zero tolerance policy for any violent behavior in shelter. We also have a nondiscrimination policy that everyone must agree to when they come into shelter. That includes not discriminating on the basis of age, race, creed, gender, ethnicity, color, size, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, different abilities, religion, or gender identity. That being said, we do realize that things will sometimes happen in shelter that we cannot control or that residents may break the rules. We hold all residents accountable for their behavior. We work to ensure everyone who calls us for shelter know that we serve all genders.

We train everyone in our program not to assume gender, but we know that people bring in their own biases and personal history. On our intake form we ask for gender just as we do other demographic information. If a person identifies as female and they do not have children, we have them share a room with up to three other women. If a person identifies as male without children, then we have another room for them that they may have to share if another male identifying person comes into shelter. If people complain about a person who appears to be male, we remind them that we serve all genders, and that they agreed to stay in shelter knowing that. We have clients who come to shelter who have suffered trauma from various types of relationships. Some of those relationships are same or opposite gender so they may be uncomfortable with people of their own gender. We make sure to tell everyone that they don’t have to be friends with the people that they room with, but that they must be respectful towards everyone.

We still do have basic criteria for entering shelter. The person needing shelter must be fleeing domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking. We have a six county service area and we give preference to those meeting the criteria within our service area. People can only bring children that they have custody of, but people don’t have to have children to stay at Middle Way House.”

Let’s stop bickering and get off social media to face and end this problem together, hand in hand, fighting the tide that disparages and oppresses women everywhere while pushing to provide shelter and a safe and secure pathway to healing to everyone who needs it.

Here are some resources to help you find shelters in need:

Volunteer your time to them and donate to them for the betterment of all humanity.

Thank you.