Tuesday, March 17, 2015

About Zoey Tur and Misplaced Priorities

So, we're apparently at it again. Once again some high profile trans person is going off the reservation appointed for us by the arbiters of what trans people are allowed to say and think. I've tried to confine my remarks on this to short (for me) replies on various sites where the brouhaha is...brou-ing? But at some point their gets to be more to say than can be confined to a tweet or a Facebook post.  So knowing that (a) hardly anyone pays attention to my blog (and why should they when I post so seldom?) and (b) if they do this will catch hell, let me wade in anyway.

First, a disclaimer: We all disagree with everyone at some point on some score. Rare indeed is the valued friend in the trans community, or respected "leader" with whom I haven't disagreed on some point. I'm absolutely certain Zoey Tur has said or implied something lately which I simply don't accept. This post is NOT about defending Zoey Tur from measured and appropriate disagreement. However, the ongoing controversy over Tur brings to light (again) some other unsettling realities that need addressing. If you read this as a fangirl defense of Zoey you are missing the point.

I'll taken it as a given that anyone who's read this far is at least somewhat familiar with the nature of the dust up but I do have a few followers who are not tuned into the massive soap opera that is internal politics among trans celebrities. By the way, for clarity, by "celebrities" I mean both celebrated folks who have transitioned and thus have platforms, AND those celebrated as trans "leaders" whether or not they enjoyed any notoriety previously - I'm not prepared to concede to the latter group the title of "leader" whatever their self professed qualifications.

Zoey Tur is a national correspondent for Inside Edition who has been employed in journalism for decades before her transition (I'm not going into the whole business of what her name was and what she did, other than to note she has experience and is not just a "famous face" fake correspondent. She's transitioned relatively recently, as compared to some of the other celebrated trans folks, and that provides ammo to her critics in that she's perceived as "wet behind the ears" when publicly addressing trans related news, as she is being repeatedly called upon to do.

So, first the news story. In a Planet Fitness location in Midland Michigan, a person since identified as Carlotta Slodowska entered the women's locker room, s/he says, to stow her coat and purse, and later again to retrieve them. Unbeknownst to her at the time, another patron named Yvette Cormier saw her, clocked her as a male, and protested to management who told her Carlotta was within company policy. Cormier, having failed to receive satisfaction proceeded to spend a week harassing other patrons warning them about the "man"(?) allowed to enter the ladies locker room. Finally PF had enough and terminated Cormier's membership because of this behavior, so she turned to the media. It was only then that Carlotta realizes it was sh/e being discussed and, naturally, went to the media as well.

Now there are SO many layers to this initial story even before we get to Tur's remarks. There's "pretty privilege," i.e. if Carlotta had been pretty and passable this never happens; there's the fact that Cormier acted badly regardless of whether her concern was valid; there's the point that Carlotta purposely avoided being in any state of undress in the locker room; there's the fact that advocates tend to latch on to any story, no matter how problematic, that advances the narrative - and lest you misunderstand I'm a vocal proponent of private-space access by sincere gender identity so don't think I take issue with that goal - but there's the rub: it IS a problematic situation. Enter Zoey Tur who had the temerity to notice and in so doing she tread on the third rail of trans advocacy.

Seperatism, and/or the accusation thereof.

Of course, Now I have to divert and provide background on THAT for the uninitiated. Did I mention this stuff was complex? Okay, how do I make this brief but clear? Within the broader transgender community, there are some competing schools of thought - with different shades of extreme in each. In the broadest terms, the great majority of the politically active (that is, those who control the accepted narrative via media access or widely popular writing) religiously adhere to the concept of "transgender" as one unifying term applying without distinction to any gender non-conforming behavior, condition, or presentation.  "Conforming" in this case would be to societal expectations associated with your "biological sex" (I will NOT go down THAT rabbit hole or we'll be here for 5,000 words). This has the political advantage of maximizing the number of affected persons, and the emotional advantage of avoiding the possibility one might inadvertently marginalize someone.  It is, however, not as simple as that.

The minority view (at least among those with a platform) is that the expression "transgender umbrella" ought to be a bit more of a literal analogy than the majority folks seem to apply it - which is to say that just as varying sorts of people with varying needs may shelter under one umbrella, likewise not everyone under the Transgender Umbrella has the same issues and needs, even if they are of the same value and worth. For example, to use another celebrity name, RuPaul has no need of laws designed to ensure insurance companies cover transition related medical expenses - because he is a self-identified man who has no need to transition, despite his "gender non-conforming" profession.  Different sorts of folks under the umbrella with different sorts of needs. Seems prety common sense, right? But THAT sort of thinking is the third rail of which I spoke.

Enter Zoey Tur.

The touchstone is an interview with Dr. Drew about the aforementioned PF story. You may view the critical portion (for the purposes of her critics) of the interview here.

Let me be clear, I do not personally know if what Tur reported concerning the background of Carlotta Slodowska is correct or not. It's got some traction in online discussions but such discussions tend to be incestuous with a circle of people referencing, ultimately, each other. It is not necessary that the report is true for the point I wish to make to apply - because Tur is not standing accused based on having falsified those claims. Rather, her critics are after her hammer and tong because, they argue, it doesn't matter if they are true. Tur believes that it does matter and, full disclosure, so do I. But I do not write tonight because I agree with that position. Read on.

Tur's comments point out that Carlotta Slodowska identifies in his/her own posts on Facebook and elsewhere as a MAN. Moreover, it seems that many of those posts contain some rather sordid material (as such things are judged) of the sort that the majority advocates had rather not exist. But they do, according to Tur, exist. Like it or not that changes the complexion of the situation. Let's acknowledge that not a few trans women came to a place of transition via a journey through "I'm just a crossdresser" denial, and let's also acknowledge that a lot of people, trans or no, have more than a little bit of kink in their present or past. But Carlotta Slodowska has, we are told, a post history that reeks of the ugliest stereotypes thrown at trans women by our critics both among radical feminists and Pharisaical Traditionalist Christian activists. If Tur had not reported the evidence on that they surely would still have become very public.

The uncomfortable (for the majority position) but logical truth is that if a self-identified male, particularly one with a publicly displayed track record of fetishization of crossdressing is proudly defended as entitled to the protections which are absolutely necessary for transsexual women, then he becomes Case Study A1 for the political movement to keep trans women out of sex segregated spaces for women. Zoey Tur had the temerity to state the politically incorrect but obvious conclusion. Let's think back to the umbrella analogy above. A male-to-female (or vice versa, but we all know who's the accused threat here) transsexual who is in transition or has transitioned has a legitimate, non-negotiable NEED to access the ladies room (bath or locker) for a host of reasons which one would hope needn't be explained. A self-identified male, crossdresser part time or no, does NOT have a NEED to do so. One may argue it's best to allow it and that's a discussion that can be had but I speak of health and safety need of a sort that can't be addressed any other way. Again, remember, the critics are not saying Zoey Tur was wrong about Carlotta Slodowska's self-professed identity, but that she's wrong about whether it matters. But on tat point, at least, she's right - it does matter.

We are a very tiny minority of people (even under the very broad "transgender" definition) and we are asking the massive majority to revise a deeply set cultural tradition in order to accommodate our health and safety needs. They have the political power to squash us like a bug and legislators in some half dozen states (and growing) are attempting to do just that.  We have the high moral ground but the grip on it is exceedingly tenuous.  Already the "pro-family" groups (and the "gender critical radfems") are tripping over themselves to point to this story and say "See? See? We TOLD you these policies would bring out the perverts!!!" I'm not saying Carlotta Slodowska is a "pervert" by any means, but HE says "I am a MAN" and then proudly displays his kink in public, there's no other way it could have ever played out.

Still, Zoey is considered off the reservation for having reached the obvious conclusion: we don't need that kind of help! Since my own transition I have tried to educate my friends and acquaintances in small town Mississippi about trans people, starting them from a knowledge base of essentially zero since almost none of them had ever met a trans person before me. Universally, what they THOUGHT a trans woman is reflects pretty much exactly what Carlotta Slodowska has said of himself. That perception will never lead to our very real medical and safety concerns as transsexual women being addressed. Tur nevertheless has become a pariah among the "right" people because she violated the cardinal rule that insists that all transgender people are exactly alike.

Thus, this battle become a proxy war for the real fight - the Crusade to destroy "Seperatism" (or any perception thereof). But that war itself is misguided. There are those out there, a fringe, who think that "legitimate" transsexuals are superior to, and ought distance themselves, from "lesser" transgender people such as crossdressers. Maybe Tur is one of them (I've not heard her claim that) or maybe she's not, but admitting that there is a distinction, a difference in nature and needs, between transsexuals and crossdressers (or other parts of the transgender community) is not a case for seperatism but a case for clear communication and wise goals. We don't need ordinances that make it possible for RuPaul to pee in the ladies room, we need ordinances that protect people with actual female gender identities to do so.

After all, have we not built the entire case on gender identity? Do not proposed laws and policies routinely say "sincerely held and consistent gender identity" or words to that effect?  Now comes a self-identified MALE and yet our "leaders" rally and say "it doesn't matter!!" of course it matters! It's what the whole thing was built on! Who are we to deny Carlotta Slodowska's self-reported identity because it furthers our otherwise worthy agenda? Have we not then become hypocrites?

It can be rightly argued that crossdrerssers, while presenting as females, are also in danger in men's rooms -  and from that further argue this justifies defending Slodowska as entitled here. There's a discussion to be had there, but I've gone too long already to divert into detailing it. But even allowing that point of view, that means the one who holds it and Tur have a DIFFERENCE OF OPINION not a difference on the facts. The crusade against Tur is about suppressing OPINIONS that do not align with the script. Tur has expressed opinions on other subjects (all the guns are being brought to bear now so a lot of stuff is suddenly appearing that was not discussed a month ago) which are now being eviscerated, and on some of those I strictly disagree with her. She's also being called out on points which are lightly if at all supported (a lot of yelling, not a lot of links). IF all the accusations were true, I'd have many points of disagreement with her.

Most notably, it's accused that she's saying only post-op trans women are legitimately trans. I'm 90% certain that's not her position and wasn't her intent but if it were, I'd be very unhappy with that and would happily debate her on the point.

But this whole business isn't really about any specific comment, it's about the Proxy War. Plus a couple of side dishes of human weakness. Tur went off script, she acknowledged that there's a difference between someone with a female gender identity and someone with a male gender identity and that smacks of Seperatism. Layered onto this ugly beginning is a war of competing egos, arrogant people calling other arrogant people arrogant for not changing their minds and agreeing with them, "veteran" activists resentful of "newbie" faces in front of the camera, those without the financial wherewithal (or prevented by other circumstance) to have GRS resentful of the one who has and looking suspiciously to see if she's lording over them (maybe she is?).

It's all very sordid and ugly. But it's worse than that and this, at long last, is the reason I wrote so much on the subject tonight: it's distracting.

As I noted, in state after state legislatures are moving forward bills specifically targeting trans people. Culturally we have never been more visible and we stand on the ragged edge of moving towards general acceptance, or towards tremendous and vicious backlash - WE DON'T HAVE TIME TO ATTACK EACH OTHER!

Disagree with Zoey Tur? Great! Hell, maybe I do too. but why oh why do we take our eyes off the ball and start trying to destroy her? Damn let's try to destroy Tony Perkins or somebody instead. If you disagree with her say so. I'm perfectly sure Dr. Drew would be happy to book a guest with a famous face who could explain to him in great detail how she disagreed with Tur. But do well to remember that disagreements WILL HAPPEN. Not every Democrat agrees with every other Democrat, not every Methodist agrees with every other Methodist, not ever Latino agrees with every other Latino. The question is - what will you do wen that disagreement arises? State your case, or angrily try to destroy the one with whom you disagree? Disagreement and the vibrant exchange of ideas is GOOD. Group-think is NOT. Right now many higher profile trans activists have seemingly become devoted to the group think above all else and as a result we are putting the worst possible face out there just when the spotlight is brightest and the opposition most motivated.

Please be careful, you leaders, where your priorities are. While your petty rivalries run rampant, all us peons still have a lot of REAL needs to address. I don't ask you to agree, i don't ask you to keep silent about your disagreement, but I do ask, no plead, for CIVILITY. Zoey Tur, however legion her faults may be in your view, is not your enemy and if you have made it your mission to destroy her it is YOU who are off mission.