Tag Archives: Cross-dressing

Translating trans-prisoners’ rights to all

Transitioning from male to female or female to male is not an easy or inexpensive process. Considered by some insurance companies as an elective or cosmetic surgery, many transpeople must pay for gender reassignment surgery out-of-pocket and draw out the process over years. In many instances the process involves hormone therapy and surgical components.

The number of insurance companies covering sex reassignment surgeries is on the rise reported Huffington Post last December. Recent court decisions in Wisconsin and Massachusetts ruled that the failure to provide hormone treatment and other services constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. So if it’s a constitutionally mandated right for our prisoners to have access to transgender surgery, shouldn’t it also be accessible to law-abiding citizens?

The related Wisconsin case concluded in March of this year, and it began with a state law barring the medical care of transgender inmates. Lambda Legal and the ACLU challenged the state law in federal court and won in 2010. After being upheld in a court of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a subsequent appeal, securing the right for current and future transgender inmates access to appropriate medical care.

The recent decision by a federal court in Massachusetts focused on the right to surgery, discussing the medical implications of gender identity disorder. The fact that convicted murderer Michelle Kosilek (born Robert Kosilek) attempted suicide and self-castration demonstrated the gravity of the disorder and the requirement of surgical treatments. I do, however, worry about labeling all transgender people as disordered. Mental illness and trans-identities are both already stigmatized in the U.S.

Implementing these new rules will be complicated for prison systems, which operate on a strict gender binary. Officials in Massachusetts worried about the added cost and security required to care for a transfemale in a male facility. But just because an transition is difficult doesn’t mean it’s not important and necessary – just ask a transgender person.

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Musings on Mustaches and Masculinities

I spent an afternoon mustached last weekend, and it was fun. At a beer festival in St. Paul, The House of Shandy handed out tattoos of thin ‘staches and furry adhesive ones in various styles. I donned “the smarty.”

I was curious to spend the afternoon with this symbol of masculinity across my face, though admittedly I was pretty far from masculine in my sun dress. My recent completion of a gender studies course in masculinity inspired the temporary transformation. And it was well received. I wasn’t the only person (woman or man) to wear the House of Shandy’s party favor, thus it became more of a playful accessory than a commentary on gender. Thirteen different men complimented my mustache. Some pretended to be jealous. Two women gave me positive feedback. I did get one confused query about where I got it and why I would wear it, but nothing hostile.

me (mustached) with my partner

But there is quite a difference between a satirical, temporary mustache on a female and a woman’s acceptance of her own natural facial hair. Rebecca Nieto makes this distinction in her piece “Hair Trigger,” in which she chronicles her own desire to remove upper lip her at age 12. She also examines the growth of mustache popularity in queer communities, versus its rise in hipster popularity.  If you don’t recognize society’s fierce protection of mustaches as a symbol of masculinity, check out this commercial for the prescription Vaniqa, a product intended to reduce women’s facial hair. In the commercial a beautiful, smooth-skinned woman’s voice drops to a baritone when discussing how her facial hair makes her feel manly, presumably a tragedy for any women trying to leave the house.

Some women, queer or not, have begun to let their – facial – hair down.  Not only is it liberating to free onself from the hassle of waxes, razors, or lasers, but it also sends the message that women can be women without perfectly smooth and hairless (dare I say prepubescent) bodies. Or, on the other hand, women can be choose to be a little masculine with their facial hair.

Gay men arguably took to mustaches as a way to confirm their masculinity in the 70s. R.W. Connell writes about the Castro Clone trend  in his book Masculinities. Gay men are often excluded from hegemonic (i.e. mainstream) masculinity because of their sexuality. By accessorizing as a tough, manly man (think Ron Swanson’s ‘stach), gay men affirmed their masculinity despite attempts to feminize them.

While I wore my temporary mustache I couldn’t help but consider the politics that center on these two to three square inches of hair. A hairy upper lip says a lot. And even though my experiment with it didn’t shock or shatter stereotypes, it’s fun to play with people’s perceptions. Nieto concludes, “With every imitation and copy, the mustache is warped, destabilized from being a symbol of purely masculine citizenship, and brought to a place of queer play.” And really, the mustache has only the power that we allow it. It remains a symbol of masculinity, but it doesn’t have to be confined to a male body.

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Late Retrospective for Black History Month: From Female Slave, to Southern Gentleman, to Freedom

1. Ellen and William Craft decided they would rather risk their lives than risk the severance of their budding family. These Georgian slaves in the mid-19th century sought a way to escape when they first decided to marry.

My wife was torn from her mother’s embrace in childhood, and taken to a distant part of the country. She had seen so many other children separated from their parents in this cruel manner, that the mere thought of her ever becoming the mother of a child, to linger out a miserable existence under the wretched system of American slavery, appeared to fill her very soul with horror (Craft 27).

2. The couple considered various escape routes, aware that failure would mean death, or worse. Slaveholders seemed to enjoy the pursuit and punishment of escaped slaves. William and Ellen would not risk escaping 1,000 miles without a sure plan. They resigned to marry and toil as slaves until a path to liberty presented herself

3. In December 1848 the idea dawned. Only eight days to freedom

4. Ellen Craft, a fair-skinned slave, must take on the disguise of a white slave master. She would travel from Georgia as the owner of her darker-skinned husband. This clever plan would keep them under the radar, and yet require Ellen to cross firm caste, race, and class lines in disguise.

At first she shrank from the idea. She thought it almost impossible for her to assume that disguise, and travel a distance of 1,000 miles across slave States. … [But] the more she contemplated her helpless condition, the more anvious she was to escape from it (Craft 30).

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5. Over the course of four days William purchased a disguise piece by piece. Ellen tailored herself a pair of pants and hid all the items in a locked drawer. They convinced their master and mistress to permit them a few days of Christmas holiday, as they were trusted and well liked. The leave allowed them a head start towards the North.

Just before the time arrived for us to leave I cut my wife’s hair square at the back of the head and got her to dress in the disguise and stand out on the floor. I found that she made a most respectable looking gentleman (Craft 35).

6. When William opened the door to flee, Ellen burst into tears. A perilous journey waited for them, but remaining meant a life of slavery and uncertainty. William sympathized. After a prayer, they set off.

We were like persons near a tottering avalanche; afraid to move, or even breathe freely, for fear the sleeping tyrants should be aroused (Craft 42)

7. Once on the train, William spotted his master peering through the train cars, suspicious that the couple might flee. He failed to recognize Ellen, and the train pulled away before he could find William

8. Ellen endured the first leg of the trip next a friend of her master who had known her since childhood. She pretended to be deaf to avoid contact with him. He did not recognize her and treated her like a gentleman.

9. A trader en route sought to separate the two and buy William. Slaves on free soil could not be trusted. A military officer recommended she stop saying “thank you” and “if you please” to her slave.

10. They were held up in Charleston, where legislators feared abolitionists would smuggle slaves through to the north. The same military gentleman, who provided Ellen with advice on how to treat her “slave,” vouched for them.

11. On the train to Richmond,Virginia, Ellen, pretending to be asleep, overheard a young women swooning over her male persona:

After [Ellen had] been lying there a little while the ladies, I suppose, thought he was asleep; so one of them gave a long sigh, and said, in a quiet fascinating tone, “Papa, he seems to be a very nice young gentleman.” But before papa could speak the other lady quickly said, “Oh! Dear me, I never felt so much for a gentleman in my life!” (Craft 60).

12. Officers stopped the couple in Baltimore, their last transfer before Philadelphia — and freedom. The law required registration and documentation for slaves. Their courage waned. The room filled with tension. The train’s captain passed through, acknowledged them, and then sounded the train’s bell for departure. An officer waved them through indifferently at the last moment.

13. They arrived in Pennsylvania on Christmas day. Eight days after they conceived the plan, four days after their flight began, Ellen collapsed on William. They found refuge in local abolitionists.

14. The couple moved to England where they raised a family, received an education, and spoke out against slavery.

15. Ellen became a symbol for the anti-slavery movement.

[The picture of her as a man] sold so well William hoped the proceeds might assist him in securing his still-enslaved sister (McCaskill 515).

16. Reluctantly, Ellen challenged many aspects of the status quo, so that she could live her life as a mother and educated lady. In an effort to escape one institution she subverted many.

With her appearance as an Africa woman ‘dressed’ as a white woman dressed as a white Southern man, Ellen elides the distinctions between the genders and scrambles the identities of haughty mistress and humble slave (McCaskill 520).

Sources:

Running a thousand miles for freedom, or The Escape of William and Ellen Craft. 1860. William Craft.

“Yours Very Truly”: Ellen Craft–The Fugitive as Text and Artifact. 1994. Barbara McCaskill
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Exploring Gender-Bending on Halloween

A mormon church in Utah posted fliers for a Halloween event and requested “no masks or cross-gender dressing.” This sends two messages:

1) the gender binary is fixed, and

2) it is never acceptable to assume a gender you weren’t born with.

The first point here precludes the second. The gender binary depends on the belief in two separate and immutable sexes: male and female. Images that support the gender binary bombard us daily: advertisements, television shows, and public figures portray beautiful, stylized women and stoic, powerful-seeming men. Reinforcement of the gender binary is ubiquitous.

The gender binary is not the only way to consider gender. Many people throughout the world do not identify with their birth-determined-gender. Jessica Who? (a blog) explores personal transgender experiences and transgender issues in society. Native Americans refer to those who occupy mixed gender roles as “two spirit.” (Check out the award-winning documentary Two Spirits which tells the story of  Fred Martinez who “was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture.”) The binary leaves little room for all people, of various identities, to occupy the liminal space between maleness and femaleness.

In one regard, Halloween cross-dressing may reinforce traditional roles, because that subversive behavior is confined to the holiday. But why shouldn’t a little girl dress as superman? What are her other options? Maybe she fits the binary and identifies as a girl, yet also aspires to superman’s strength and heroism. Should she be discouraged? Consider the controversy last year over a little boy in Ohio who wanted to dress as Daphne from Scooby Doo. His mother supported him, despite criticism from other parents.

Every family and every community value different things. While one neighborhood in Utah prohibited cross-dressing for a holiday that lends itself to subversion, Girl Scouts of Colorado agreed to let a 7-year-old boy — who identifies as a girl — join a local scout troop. The mother of the child,  Felisha Archuleta, told a reporter, “He had a princess birthday, and last year when he turned 7, he had a Rapunzel birthday. I have just basically supported him.”

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