On Trans, Gender, and Body

I tweeted out a post on Mashable this morning and then, after it went out, I wanted to elaborate on why it’s important. This is the tweet:

Gender is not a binary thing

It would be easy to look at that headline and switch off. I don’t care about trans-anything. Those people aren’t like me. There’s nothing for me here. That’s the nice version. The not-so-nice version might get into the mental states of transpeople or the “right-” or “wrongness” of a 14-year-old taking estrogen for hormone replacement treatment. Having met a trans kid who was living as one gender in kindergarten and first grade and then publicly coming out as the opposite gender the next year, I’ve had to take some time to evaluate my own feelings on whether it’s a nature or nurture thing, of whether we are pushing things, and our own agendas onto kids and that this is a decision rather than a part of who they are.

Despite what you may have been told, gender is not a toggle switch. It’s not Green for male and Red for female (see what I did there?). The reason why there has been a marked increase in articles about transgender individuals and issues and more transgender people in the media is because this is a human thing. This is a thing that exists in the grand scope of human existence and it is normal.

It’s a thing that we just accept as a given that people are different. No two people are alike. “Everyone is a unique snowflake” and all that. So why do we assume that the same does not apply to things like gender, like mental health, like sexuality, like autism? There’s more to it than just XX or XY chromosomes, but even within those, there are more variations than just those two. None of these things are on/off, you-have-it-or-you-don’t things. Like everything else that it means to be a living creature on this planet, it’s a spectrum. And it’s that spectrum, that variety, that makes things interesting.

Speaking from a place of extreme privilege

Look, I’m well aware of how easy things are for me just to exist in our society. I will never know how hard it is to be a woman walking down the street, let alone what it means to be a trans woman walking down the street. I’m white, male, cisgendered and (more or less) heterosexual. I have it easier than most, so it’s important to me to take advantage of that privilege and add my voice to these types of issues.

…and so…why that post is important

I have never experienced the feeling of not knowing/understanding/trusting/feeling comfortable in my own skin. I have maybe experienced mild gender dysphoria but it had nothing to do with my identity and everything to do with the expectations and cultural values assigned to men. Men are supposed to be muscular, drink beer, watch football and shoot guns. They harass women, rape, and are physically and emotionally aggressive. They are villains but they are also heroes. They are the center of the story. They are the ones who rescue the princess. They make the rules and run the show. They are presidents, CEOs, prime ministers. I am not, nor will I ever be, any of those things, or those things I might be because of my gender, I do not accept. Ergo, I must not be a “real man.” It was later, after doing an intense study on gender and transgender issues, that I realized that none of that mattered, really, because society’s expectations are stupid and don’t define any of us. But I digress.

The point is, I don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager who feels like she is trapped in the body of a boy and I never will because that’s not me. I only know what it feels like to be a teenager and young adult who has a lot of self-hate having to do with what it means to be the gender that I was born as. But I don’t have to have that common ground to watch that video and realize what just happened. And what’s happening every. single. day. that posts like this and others are published and more awareness is spread around the existence and acceptance of women and transpeople as human beings deserving of equal rights, respect and privilege.

I am well aware of the demographics of my followers on social media and the sorts of folks who will stumble across my blog. Very few of them are around because I talk about gender equality or gender issues. Mostly it’s nerds like me, or people who follow me because I write about soccer or WordPress. And that’s part of what makes it so important that I also talk about stuff like this. Because maybe someone who would never have looked at that video of a transgirl getting her first hormone treatment from her mom and breaking down in tears of gratitude will be able to see it for what it is — a real, human experience, real joy and acceptance. And the more stories like this there are, the more real, human experiences from transfolk and women and people of color we see, the closer we get to a world that I want to live in. One that accepts you for the person you are. Not for what you look like, not for what society expects you to be, not for the things you like or the way you style your hair or your tattoos or piercings or clothing or money or where you live or where you were born or what god you put your faith into or what the motherfucking scale says. Just you. That’s where I want to live.

Developing for a greater cause

So, for a number of years, I’ve had a sort of rule: “don’t do work for free.”

There are a number of caveats to this. Doing stuff for myself or my own projects would technically be working for free, but maybe I’m doing it to figure out how to do a new thing in WordPress or development in general or maybe this is for one of my business sites (so, ultimately — we hope — would lead to cash and not working for free). This is purely an economic thing — doing work for free means I don’t get paid (obviously) — and since I work primarily for myself, not getting paid is Kind Of A Big Deal. Ideally all my side projects will ultimately lead to paid work, even if it’s a matter of building experience and becoming a better developer.

That’s how my Cat Signal plugin started out. It was something that no one else had done yet and I did it for myself and to play more with the Settings API and validation best practices and trying to make myself sure that I am _doing_it_right() in terms of writing good WordPress code. When it was done, and still no one else had done it yet, and people started to download it, I thought, “huh, well, maybe it would be a good idea to let the Internet Defense League know that I did this, and they can maybe post a link to it on their site or whatever.” I’d like to take a second to point out that they never contacted me to do this plugin (they probably wouldn’t know me to contact me and presumably they didn’t contact anybody). This plugin was built organically out of a need to have a plugin to run the javascript for the IDL alerts without having to hack your theme and lose that stuff next time there’s a campaign.

Since then, I’ve been contacted by some folks at the IDL and invited to join their developer Google Group (though it’s open to non-devs as well) and have learned that not only are they actively promoting the plugin for their WordPress users to test it out in advance of a campaign that’s coming up, but that there’s this wider world of people who I wasn’t developing for because I built this originally for myself. And this is what every developer wants, right? You write code you think is useful and hope that other people find it useful, too. But even better than that is to be promoting a cause, and the Internet Defense League is a cause.

In my experience, causes tend not to pay very well. In fact, coding for causes has, historically, sucked. That’s speaking from a web designer standpoint where I’m building a site for a non-profit who really doesn’t have a lot of funds to pay for the work they need done. But there’s really only so much of that that you can do before you go broke, right? You can’t make a living working for free. For my part, this wider audience for the Cat Signal plugin has a) made me aware of a stupid oops I left in the code b) made me aware of a way to test whether the script was installed correctly that I didn’t know about and c) showed me some areas where I could improve the plugin. Which goes back to the original intent of doing this to increase my knowledge and skills and I learned a new php function (is_numeric()) in the process.

This morning I responded to a forum post in the Cat Signal support forums about what else can be done to impact the cause (or causes) which led me to write a pseudo-philosophical/political/ideological response about activism, awareness, social engineering and education. In a WordPress support forum. I’ve been involved in activist groups in the past and it all comes back to making people aware that there’s something worth caring about.  Which is what the plugin and the IDL Cat Signal does. It’s not going to force the issue if it’s not going to be forced, and it’s not the same as donating cash, which is always the best way to help these causes and activist groups. But talking about civic responsibility (yes, I went there) and how every individual is responsible for doing their part in a democratic system if you don’t agree with something that’s going on made me happy to be contributing in my small part to a wider cause that reflects how I look at the world sans actually getting paid.  (Although, getting paid for this would be even more awesome. Just sayin‘. *cough*)

Take action for change…with your mobile carrier

This is guest post by Chris Reynolds, one half of the design team at Arcane Palette Creative Design. If you’d like to guest post on 10 Times One, click here.

About a week ago, I got an interesting piece of snail mail.  It came from
CREDO Mobile — a name that didn’t ring any bells at the time — but it didn’t start off like your average “switch to us” cell phone pitch.  Instead it began by talking about all the positive change that has been accomplished in the past year: initiatives to help combat global warming, improved health care, marriage equality in Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire, the Lily Ledbetter Act — which ensures that victims of pay discrimination can go to court for justice…

What is this?  Is this a political campaign or a mobile provider?  What’s their angle?

Here’s the bit of important information I was missing: CREDO.  CREDO Action is an activist organization much like Organizing for America (what the Obama Presidential campaign evolved into after the election), Change.org and MoveOn.org — which is to say, they have a bunch of causes and you can help out by signing a petition or donating money.  It was through my involvement in one (or all) of these organizations that I became a member (by signing a petition) of CREDO Action, mostly to my unawares.

Okay, so what does that have to do with cell phones, then?

Well, did you know that AT&T made campaign contributions to someone who called global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” and Verizon contributed to the Republican Senator of Louisiana who urged President Obama to expand offshore drilling after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

Did you know that AT&T gave the maximum allowable contribution to GW in both the 2000 and the 2004 elections?  And AT&T has also been a repeat contributor to the Oklahoma Senator who opposes abortion even in cases of rape and advocates the death penalty to doctors who perform abortions.  Did you know Verizon has been a steady contributor to the group of centrist Democrats who helped derail the public option in the final healthcare bill?

As a member of all the above petition-signing groups and being an AT&T customer, out of contract for over a year, and just hanging on for lack of anything better to switch to, it’s hard to read where AT&T’s values lie and not be tempted to jump ship rtfn.  I’m sure they’ve made other contributions to other politicians with not so spotty records, but, in the end, is it worth it?  But woah there, space cowboy — how much do the plans cost?

My current plan with AT&T is a basic, 2-line family plan, 550 anytime minutes, free nights and weekends and in-network mobile-to-mobile.  We don’t even touch those minutes, though, because we actually talk on the phone so little outside of those times that our rollover minutes effectively amount to infinity (although rollover is something we got in the last year or two, the 550 shared minutes was never a problem for us even before we had rollover since the majority of calls we were making were to each other).  Our monthly bill averages out to about $120/month — $50 per line plus taxes.  Compare that to the 550 shared plan from CREDO: all of that (minus rollover) for $59.99. I must be reading that wrong, I thought.  It can’t possibly be $59.99 for both lines.  Even if it was though, that would end up being just about as much as what we’re paying for AT&T anyway with better values.

So I contacted CREDO Mobile and asked about the $59.99 family plan.  I looked all over the site and, try as I might to find some kind of loophole or fine print that said $59.99 was per line, I failed.  So I asked them.  Two days later I received a personalized email (not an email from a robot or a script monkey in India) that specifically addressed all my questions and concerns.  Effing brilliant! I couldn’t sign up fast enough.

So now I’m waiting for two phones, an LG Rumor 2 and a Sanyo 3810.

How does this action group become a mobile provider?  Obviously they’re targeting people just like me: educated, active in news and politics, concerned about strong issues, they’ve got a huge network of people (with names, addresses and email addresses) from everyone who’s ever signed a petition (a rather clever way of culling a contact list).  Now they’ve got a list, they’ve got an idea to fight against the big mobile conglomerates with right wing leanings, but they need to jump into an already-crowded market with no cell phone towers of their own.  They solve the problem by using Sprint/Nextel’s network.  I looked up Sprint/Nextel for coverage in my area: I got a combination of “Nextel is the best provider in this area” and “Sprint is the worst provider in this area”  (Nextel was purchased by Sprint in 2005), so this puts them right about the middle with everyone else if you average it out.  As far as tech goes, Sprint/Nextel is the first nationwide 4G network, and CREDO Mobile offers Blackberrys and Android smartphones (The HTC Hero 2 is coming soon).  Their plans are all pretty cheap — at least if you go by minutes.  It gets pricier for  unlimited plans, but even if we added almost 1,000 more minutes to our family plan, we’d still be paying less than we are now with AT&T.  Their individual plans are similar — dirt cheap if you go for the least amount of minutes, more as you add more minutes, data or texting.  But the point is, they’re competitive, and, if you’re an activist for any of the causes that CREDO Action supports, why would you get a cell phone plan with anyone else?


Chris Reynolds is one half of the design team at Arcane Palette Creative Design. He writes in his personal blog, jazzsequence, on subjects like music, technology and social media and shares links, videos, and posts various personal music and writing projects. You can also follow him on Twitter.