Dear Sen. Kolkhorst, So You Want Me to Use the “Women’s” Bathroom?

Senate Bill 3 requires people to use the bathroom in Texas government buildings and schools according to their gender marker on their birth certificate. My Texas birth certificate still says “Female,” even though I have medically transitioned to male. Senator Lois Kolkhorst, you have said, “Ask a woman how safe she feels when a man appears in a restroom.” Well, that is exactly what you have asked me to do: appear in a women’s restroom. It is a frequent argument that sexual predators (presumably men) will “dress up” as transgender people and sexually assault women and children in bathrooms. A huge gap in this logic is that predators can already do this and, so far, not a single one has in the history of the United States.

I agree that we need to address the fact that we live in a rape culture, but scapegoating transgender people sidesteps the real issue: the inequality of power between genders. We live in a male dominated society, in which sexual assault and domestic violence are systemic rather than abnormal. Any violent act stems from the desire to establish and maintain power over someone, not from inherent deviance or moral corruption. So let’s begin by addressing the legacy of the disempowerment of women and children and what this really has to do with transgender people.

Recently transgender and gender non-conforming people (from here on referred to as “trans” or “GNC”) have met much resistance advocating for their right to use public facilities that match their gender identity. Just last year alone, at least 44 discriminatory anti-trans bills have been proposed, 29 involving restrooms. The restroom is a battleground perhaps because it is the primary place where gender is segregated. Gender is dominantly defined as female or male identity, a supposed opposition which supports systemic male privilege and dominance. The belief that men are fundamentally different from women is necessary for male privilege to exist. This power difference is perhaps the root of gender segregation. Trans people face so much resistance because their very existence challenges male privilege by rejecting this underlying gender power structure. Ultimately, while anti-discrimination legislation is important for trans and GNC people, real equality for any gender will not be achieved without re-evaluating basic attitudes about gender.

Gender Equality Toilet Training

Gender segregation in the restroom can be attributed to the justifiable fear of male assault and harassment of women and children. The fear of trans people using restrooms with everyone else (which they have been doing as long as there have been restrooms) is based on this fear, but confuses trans women as men and the fact that most rapists simply wouldn’t (and haven’t) gone through the trouble of disguising themselves as transgender before assaulting someone. Statistically, trans women are actually at the highest risk of being targets of assault (especially in public restrooms) and at the lowest risk of perpetrating assault. In fact, there have been no reports of trans people assaulting women or children in public restrooms in the U.S. ever.

Restrooms represent what fountains once represented for racial integration: no more than a symbol for the discomfort society feels sharing public spaces with oppressed groups. Racial desegregation of restrooms was once condemned based on fear that men of color would sexually assault white women. Just as the discourse surrounding racial integration of restrooms and other public areas questioned the humanity of people of color, current rhetoric around restrooms calls into question the very personhood of trans and GNC people. The issue doesn’t necessarily concern the bathroom itself, but rather underlying systems of privilege which result in discrimination.

Authorities and the media have historically portrayed “homosexuals” as child molesters and rapists, despite statistical evidence to the contrary. Conservatives are still using emotional appeals representing trans and GNC people as such, distracting voters from the institutionalized discrimination trans and GNC people face. Statistics show it is not primarily trans, GNC, or people of color who assault and harass women, but rather white, cisgender (people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth), heterosexual men. As far as cisgender men “dressing up” as transgender women to sexually assault women, this is neither historically accurate nor plausible. Rapists are already breaking the law. Frankly, they aren’t going to be deterred by a bathroom bill.

Where Do You Stand or Sit? – The Arguments

Argument 1: Ban Transgender Use of Preferred Restroom

“I don’t want men who think they are women in my bathrooms and locker rooms,” a Marylander testified. “Males are always males. They cannot change. I’m here to stand up for women, children and their safety.” This position asserts trans people morally should not be allowed to use public facilities matching their gender identity. Gender is viewed as immovable and acquiesces to male dominance. This view seems to necessitate and normalize the fear that men will rape and kill if left alone with women and children, passively confirming rape culture without actually addressing it.

Argument 2: Create All-Gender Single-Use Restrooms

The creation of all-gender single-use restrooms in addition to gender segregated ones, a popular approach among progressives because each group still maintains their own space, supports the gender identity of anyone using such facilities, but still places them outside the societal norm. This system promotes the safety of trans or GNC individuals and, as such, is a commendable step toward equality. However, this view still holds the gender binary as normative and any other gender expression as “other.” 

Argument 3: Allow Trans People to Use Restroom of Choice

A slim majority agrees with simply allowing trans people to use their preferred restroom, perhaps because this promotes tolerance without having to question gender structure. This stance asserts that trans people have the right to express their gender identity, but only within the gender binary. This view does not question the binary structure that supports male privilege and the possible violence trans people face using gendered public facilities.

Argument 4: Make All Restrooms All-Gender

This position affirms that the notion of two sexes is a cultural construction. Many biologists agree that sexual identity is a complex network of chromosomes, hormones, and other factors that develop differently in each person, not just genitalia, rendering biological sex not binary at all. As one Yale graduate proclaims,  “Give it a generation, and the divvying-up of the sexes may seem as bizarre as racial segregation does now.” Sadly, because of the reality of rape culture, this may take quite some time.

Transgender Identity and Being Human

As a trans individual, I have faced situations where my presence challenges presumptions about gender. I present myself how I feel as a human, which often does not match societal expectations. I actually faced more trouble in women’s public restrooms before I transitioned and began using male restrooms, even though I identified as female most of that time. As such, I realize that laws such as North Carolina’s HB 2 and SB 3 are potentially dangerous for the safety of trans and GNC people, but also for anyone who falls outside gender norms. Conversely, I also recognize the debate around bathrooms as a transphobic fixation actually stalling gender equality. 

I believe that all restrooms should be all-gender. This supports not just all gender identities, but families as well. However, because we live in a society that still struggles with male dominance and the consequent normalization of male aggression, we may have to lead up to this revolution with an intermediary step. Supplying single-use all-gender restrooms, in addition to gender segregated restrooms, may be the best policy for protection from male violence that is still prevalent. Conclusively, I believe trans rights are important for all genders because their advocacy necessitates examination of the power structure of male privilege and rape culture. It’s not just about transgender rights, it’s about challenging the normalization of violence against women and children. It may be that if public spaces are gender desegregated,  the rights and equality of anyone not benefitting from male privilege may soon seem transparent.

 

References

Brydum, Sunnivie. “DOJ Sues North Carolina Over Anti-Trans HB 2.” The Advocate, 9 May 2016, http://www.advocate.com/transgender/2016/5/09/doj-files-federal-complaint-against-north-carolinas-hb-2

Fornarola, Isaac.  “Are Feminism and the Transgender Movement At Odds?” The Huffington Post, 8 Jan. 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/isaac-fornarola/are-feminism-and-the-tran_b_8882764.html. Accessed 5 Oct. 2016.

Frank, Gillian. “Stalling Civil Rights: Conservative Sexual Thought has been in the Toilet Since the 1940s.” NOTCHES, 9 Nov. 2015, http://notchesblog.com/2015/11/09/stalling-civil-rights/. Accessed 5 Oct. 2016.

Gerson, Jeannie Suk. “The Transgender Bathroom Debate and the Looming Title IX Crisis.” The New Yorker, 24 May 2016, http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/public-bathroom-regulations-could-create-a-title-ix-crisis. Accessed 5 Oct. 2016.

Grindley, Lucas. “Insightful Poll Reveals Who Opposes LGBT People on Two Big Issues.” The Advocate, 28 Sept. 2016, http://www.advocate.com/politics/2016/9/28/insightful-poll-reveals-who-opposes-lgbt-people-two-big-issues. Accessed 10 Oct. 2016.

Haas, Ann P., and Philip L. Rodgers. “Suicide Attempts Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults.” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute, Jan. 2014, http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/AFSP-Williams-Suicide-Report-Final.pdf. Accessed 11 Oct. 2016.

Johnson, Allan G. The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. 3rd ed., Temple University Press, 2014.

Pandit, Eesha. “It’s Not Really About Bathrooms: Why the Trans Fight is About Human Rights.” Yes! Magazine, 13 May 2016, http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/gender-justice/its-not-really-about-bathrooms-why-the-trans-fight-is-about-human-rights-20160513.

Schulevitz, Judith. “Is It Time to Desegregate the Sexes?” The New York Times, 15 Oct. 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/opinion/sunday/is-it-time-to-desegregate-the-sexes.html?_r=0.

Steinmetz, Katy. “Everything You Need to Know About the Debate Over Transgender People and Bathrooms.” Time Magazine, 28 July 2016, http://time.com/3974186/transgender-bathroom-debate/.

—. “Why LGBT Advocates Say Bathroom ‘Predators’ Argument Is a Red Herring.” Time Magazine, 2 May 2016, http://time.com/4314896/transgender-bathroom-bill-male-predators-argument/?iid=sr-link1.

Tannehill, Brynn. “Debunking Bathroom Myths.” The Huffington Post, 2 Feb. 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brynn-tannehill/debunking-bathroom-myths_b_8670438.html.

Advertisements

The Othered Gender Takes the Knife/Unmaking Space

Our society identifies with and values art, people, and stories as concrete things, rather than movements or processes. Anyone who moves between definitions or exists outside of normative space is marginalized. In turn, we are so bound up in abstractions and stories of our own making (which are informed by a cultural paradigm and personal environment) that we are often alienated from our own experience.

The film short “Unmaking Space” was created for my Drawing I final, in which I had complete creative freedom as long as the project contained drawing. The film is an edited long shot of myself drawing with charcoal on butcher paper reversed, so as to ‘undraw’ a kind of autobiography until I am left with only a clean roll of butcher paper. The meat paper itself is a metaphor for these abstractions: they help feed us and our processes, but they also are the wrappings for something that has been killed: once a story is set about someone, even ourselves, changing that story becomes difficult. This film explores the issues of taking up space: how much space do we need? How are certain people shamed, marginalized and essentially then trained to take up less space? Finally, how do the stories we tell of ourselves take up space within, hindering growth into a new space? 

Part of the exploration of this project is my profound discomfort with being the subject of attention and essentially taking up space. To be the subject of this work is an exercise in taking up space. How do our own stories about ourselves prevent us from a spontaneous spaciousness? Personal experiences of lack of housing (living in my car or squatting in warehouses, for example) have prompted questions about access to literal space in the world or community from the perspective of social justice. Also personal experience of physical and sexual assault and being transgender has heightened my awareness of what it means to take up space within my own body or even feeling like my body belongs to me. Having lived most of my life socialized as a woman, I was trained to not take up space and to trivialize my own experience

The painting “The Othered Gender Takes the Knife” was the last assignment for Color Theory, in which we were to map any kind of data using color. Being transgender and having recently lost a dear friend to suicide, I decided to bring attention to the astonishing rates of suicides and attempted suicide in the transgender/gender non-conforming population. The green lines represent suicide attempts by males per age group, the red lines represent females per age group, and the purple line represents suicide attempts of transgender/gender non-conforming persons of all ages (not enough data exists to break it down into age groups). I was frustrated by superficial media analyses of the high rate of trans/GNC suicide attempts, which suggest mental illness is the root cause rather than lack of social support (i.e. we are killing ourselves because we’re crazy, not because we don’t have a safe place in society). It reminded me of the similarly superficial analyses of “black on black violence.” So I included social factors leading to this phenomenon, such as lack of adequate housing, health care, and frequent exposure to violence in the home and by police, exposing discrimination as a root cause, as well as age groups in gender, in order to also expose the sexism behind the high suicide attempt rate of young cisgender women.

I am thankful and honored for the opportunity that the scholarships I received from these works have brought me. These scholarships helped me to focus exclusively on creative work during my last term at Portland Community College and earn an associate degree.

2017 iPhone pictures 050 (2)

Legend to Data in Painting

http://www.thetrevorproject.org/

 

Fitcher’s Bird or the Girl Who Rescued Herself

Fitcher's Bird or the Girl Who Rescued Herself - Billy von Raven

Salvage wood, freshwater pearls, glass, watercolor, gouache, oil pastel, gold ink, music box, and found objects including wildflowers, fishing lure, jewelry, keys, trash, crawdad claw, lichen and moss from the Clackamas River, guinea feathers, tree bark, broken robin’s egg, seashell from the Oregon Coast, and toy doll

 

 

Inspired by the Grimm’s fairy tale Fitcher’s Bird, this piece reflects three worlds. The first world, harbored in the box on the left, is the dream world, the realm in which myth, spirits, and dreams are not just metaphors, but living types of truths. This is our unconscious, our dream house, the primeval source before being shaped by society’s conditionings, or as close as we can get to a kind of Cave of the Trois-Frères indigenous worldview.

The second world on the right is the everyday waking world. It is as far as we’ve gotten through the story, that is, the present. It is filled with the detritus of modern life, a kind of compost pile of traditions, and is looked over by perhaps the only spirit commonly recognized here: that of death. This represents the rational mind has been disconnected from the spirit world and the Earth it has created: machines, military complexes, industry, convenience devoid of fulfillment.

The third world, not really a world at all but perhaps a bridge, is the transformative space of the night sky, which is transparent to the cosmos beyond our world. This is also analogous to our consciousness when it is clear of all worldly limitations. When the sky and the mind is opaque, the cosmos is invisible, but the world is lit and full of action. When the sky and mind is clear, the universe is visible, but the world is dark and dreaming. This space is also the stage of the heroine and acts of courage take place here.

This brings us to the story of Fitcher’s Bird, in which a young woman uses her own wit to rescue herself and her sisters from the sorcerer or witch-hunter named Fitcher. This man has kidnapped and dismembered disobedient women, including her sisters. He leaves each woman with an egg and a set of keys to the house, with instructions not to open a certain door, much as in the Bluebeard story. But of course they do open the door, discovering the previous women’s bodies and dropping the egg in surprise. The blood spattered egg gives away the act of disobedience each time until our heroine knows to hide the egg before entering the room, where she find the bodies of her two sisters. She re-members her sisters, bringing them back to life. At this point, Fitcher does not suspect her act of rebellion and agrees to marry her. But she tricks him on their wedding day. She pretends a skull decked with flowers set in the bedchamber window is herself as the bride, after rolling in honey and feathers to disguise herself as a bird. With this incredible outfit she tricks the witch-hunter and all his friends to enter the house without her and her family, after which they set the whole place to fire. This is interesting because for many oppressive years throughout history, women who did heretical things such as reading and writing or practicing indigenous pagan arts were accused of witchcraft. Typical punishments included burning and being tarred and feathered. This heroine reclaims these punishments and uses them for her own empowerment. She is unafraid to be a powerful woman, even on penalty of death. I like to think that perhaps this story was told by Germanic grandmothers to encourage their young granddaughters to subvert the patriarchy.

As a transgender person, knowing that murder of transgender people is at a historic high (one every 29 hours and mostly women of color), I can identify with the kind of persecution those accused as witches faced. Any group of people who are marginalized for questioning the dominant paradigm, or for simply being different, have something vital to say about the ways in which the fabric of a culture are torn. It takes courage to point out the failures of a system that works for most people privileged by its biases. Often this generates negative and hateful attention, because this helps all of us to see our own shortcomings within the given system, bringing up shame, anger and fear. But the heroine in the story reclaims the symbols of violence, audaciously dressing in feathers as a way to embrace the cultural branding of a witch, while at the same time calling into the public arena questions of why such people are deserving of violent and genocidal oppression in the first place. Similarly, the gay rights movement reclaimed the pink triangle as a symbol of pride after it was used in Nazi Germany to mark homosexuals for death. The hero of any story, to me, is one who has the courage to be unashamed to be themselves, even in the face of death, and to stand up for others to do the same.

The music box plays an original melody, a kind of soundtrack composed by myself, which can be heard here on Soundcloud.

dreams: the star guides – solo art show in portland, or

Showcard Winter Solstice 2015

This body of work comes directly from my dreams. I feel that our dreams are the veins and arteries into the bigger organism of which we are a part. The dreams of our sleep reveal the storylines we have created about our waking life. How then, I ask through drawing and painting, do we let go of the stories and dramas we tell ourselves and practice radical honesty? How do we let our dreams expose our clever self-delusions and wake us up?

How can we be completely sincere and present?
A couple of years ago, I began compiling various dream recall techniques and practicing them as much as I could. I received instructions such as, “If you can heal water, you can heal all.” But I also received terrible reminders of unfinished business with darkness of the past, so delving into dream recall and lucidity practice was a kind of therapy for me.

I could face difficulties of the past in the dreamworld directly and transform them with this practice.
When I was very young, I dreamed of living off the land like a hunter gatherer or any other creature on the planet not locked in by civilized systems. “To be civilized” brings up a whole system of values, generally regarded as good, but if civilization brings forth mass-extinction and ecological collapse, this can no longer be taken for granted as “good”. As I grew up, I realized it was those same civilized systems whose exponential growth was destroying the planet. Do we throw our hands up into the air and cheer on the seemingly inevitable apocalypse with popcorn and zombie comics in hand? Or may we leave the safety of our hobbit-holes to awaken the dangerous dream that is in our blood, that dream that has stirred us since we were small children? We know from our dreams that many other realities are not only possible, they already exist waiting to unfold.
How would you live your life if you didn’t have to worry about all the trappings of industrialization and everything you were ever told was good or desirable, such as comfort, security, wealth and growth?

Where do your dreams point you? Or to put it this way, if the plundering hordes (or the Mega Storm) burned your village to the ground with no hopes of wifi or iPhones returning, what would really matter to you? What makes you feel alive and part of the Earth?

 

 Dream recall/lucidity exercises

  • Reflection – ask yourself throughout the day if you are dreaming or awake, this is a form of mindfulness
  • Symbols – recognize odd occurrences that would point to a dreamlike state rather than waking
  • Remind yourself to remember your dreams before bed each night
  • Keep a dream journal
  • Hold the position you wake up in and wake slowly, as your body remembers the dream
  • Plant an intent before bed – ask for a dream answer for something that needs working out – sometimes this is profound, sometimes it backfires into a hilarious trickster comedy!
  • Dreamtime awareness – remember that all reality is a kind of lucid dream
  • Supplements, herbs and whole foods can support vivid dreams and healthy sleep – B6s, tryptophan, 5-HTP, choline, beta carotene, mugwort, chamomile, lavender, rosehips, passionflower, anise, peppermint (combinations of these herbs make great “dream pillow” satchels) and of course, limiting alcohol and stress!

 

Learning the Tones Between the Notes of the Standard Scale

As we interact with our surroundings, we create resonances that spread from our actions. The dominant culture creates a kind of standard scale, which we are taught to use socially. The act of play allows us to experiment with tones not normally encouraged. My favorite thing to play as a child was the piano. Striking strings with hammers, the piano uses a quick and forceful action, not forceful enough to break or change the shape of the material being struck, but strong enough to ring out a percussive and powerful tone. This experiment with eliciting resonance with the surrounding environment, pushing the boundaries without going past the breaking point, is what fascinates me about the piano, and art in general. The piano in particular has called to me since I was young in part because I could pound the keys with the force of all my emotions – sometimes with my whole arm – and I couldn’t hurt it (though sometimes I would hurt myself!), in fact, this would only make it sing.

This piece is constructed from salvaged upright piano hammers, bronze guitar strings, copper wire, and steel key rings.

Photographs by Spencer Fisher.

What I Was Waiting For Was in Me All Along

Here is the first of what is to be a flurry of drawing for the next few months. I have two art shows coming up here in Portland, one at Miss Zumstein in December, and one at Cellar Door in January. If you need me, I’ll be at the drawing board until next year!

What I Was Waiting for Was in Me All Along
What I was Waiting For Was in Me All Along (2015) Archival ink on cotton paper 9 X 12 inches

Blue Heron and Dream Portrait

A Prayer for the Health of Family and the Wetlands of My Home:Blue HeronI have always felt that the great blue heron was a protector and a guardian. Seeing one in a marsh in my childhood home of north Texas was always a magical moment, like I had glimpsed a great spirit…this painting is a kind of prayer for all my relations: human, bird, and creek…

Dream Portrait

Dream Portrait

I had a dream of the being that I am was filled with all these things – I was hearing fungus and my skin was bark. This came down on the paper as a self portrait