Allow or Accept: Importance of Semantics in Trump’s Anti-trans Military Tweet

This morning Trump tweeted that the government will not allow or accept transgender people to serve in the military. Let me say this upfront; trans people are currently serving our military. We are there. The weight of his words doesn’t fall on the reasons why he stated the government would not allow or accept transgender people in the military. BTW, the reason was “tremendous medical costs and disruption,” neither are true. The weight falls on the words that the NYT highlighted, “accept or allow.”

Accept is consent to receive and allow is to give permission. Trump isn’t just saying that the government will not allow transgender people to serve in the military. He is saying our government will not accept their service.

As transgender people, we are often not allowed to do the things. We weren’t allowed to play football because we were assigned female at birth. We weren’t allowed to be in ballet because we were assigned male. We aren’t allowed to use the proper bathroom. Not being allowed doesn’t stop us, it motivates us. It inspires us to tear down the walls. We fight to be allowed. But acceptance is another story.

The use of “accept” regarding a government decision about the military holds a deeply personal feel. I’m sure for transgender people currently serving in the military, it has a familiar sting of rejection. This type of language is often used to renounce transgender people. When a transgender person comes out to an unsupportive family, they often hear, “I can’t accept it.” Acceptance is used as a tool to manipulate a trans person into feeling wrong. If your family or church doesn’t accept you, it makes you question who you are. It makes you doubt the decisions you’ve made.

Most of us have craved acceptance from family and friends, to society as a whole. We’ve wanted to be seen and accepted for who we are. Acceptance is a human need.

We have military trans folks who have devoted their lives and passions to their government. They have worked to make our country safe and free. After fighting their own personal battles of not being accepted, they are told their devotion and loyalty is not only not allowed, but it is not accepted. Their blood and sweat have stained government-issued band-aids and sheets. Is this type of devotion not accepted?

Our families may practice the deeply personal rejection of not accepting us. But our government, the one these transgender military folks have fought for, can not. You may not allow us in the military, but you certainly cannot say you do not accept it. We are there with or without your acceptance.

Things are changing here

Hi all,

I’ve had the good fortunate of getting paid for some of my recent pieces. I will continue to post links to my work on this blog. However, I will rarely blog here. You can read all of my posts on Patreon  by becomg a patron.

I want to turn this passion into a career (some day). This is the first step in that direction. I’m still always available to chat. I’m here if you need me.

Read my latest blog When trans people are privileged enough to police on Patreon.

Thank you for reading and commenting!

I love you,

Leo

Focused on my throat

My birth would be described as traumatic.

Tragic.

You see I was born with my umbilical cord wrapped around my throat,

and one of my lungs had collapsed.

The very thing that gave me life was taking it away.

They laid me on a cold metal table and I began to struggle,

I was whisked away to a plastic box,

Skin to skin contact,

I wouldn’t know what that was for another week.

When I was five I ripped open my neck, on a barbwire fence,

They said it was millimeters away from slicing my jugular vein.

 

It felt like some unknown force was focused on my throat.

If I couldn’t be strangled, maybe I would bleed.

And now since I haven’t bled maybe, just maybe,

I can still be suffocated under the tragedy of a misunderstood existence.

Maybe the isolation will suffocate the brilliance within my heart.

But I find tragedy can become poetry, in the right context.

When your words have worth

I’ve been sharing my gender journey publicly for over two years now. During that time I’ve received such kind and beautiful emails and comments. I know some of you have sought solace in my words and, for that, I’m happy. I started writing because I thought the world needed to hear me. I thought my story could be helpful.

During this time I’ve published 33 blogs, I’ve created an interactive bathroom piece. I presented a new concept for structuring gender at Philly Trans Health Conference.  I’m writing a book about unbinding the transgender narrative from the gender binary – for Jessica Kingsley Publishers. I’ve published 11+ columns in the Pensacola News Journal and The Courier-Post. I wrote a research paper Transgender Experiences: Using Media to Highlight the Complexities of Gender.

And it’s been a blessing and it’s been a lot of work.

I’m writing because I need to get paid. This has been a labor of love but the baby has been born and diapers need to be bought. The last year I’ve struggled financially because of medical bills and lawyer fees (see my blog about my bully). I have a wonderful full-time day job and I feel blessed and privilege to have that. But I’m still struggling to make ends meet. So, I want any labor I do to be financially backed.

I am asking for opportunities or suggestions that will pay me to write. I know, I know it’s pretty bold to just ask but I struggle to find specific jobs related to being a transgender writer. So I figured what the hell. I need to reach out to you, my community, the people that know me and my writing.

Please send any suggestions to my email hi@leocaldwell.com

 

Remember, you are who you say you are. I’m a writer.

Dead inside this American Dream

The last bit of mulch spilled out of the wheel barrow. The dog barked because he has separation anxiety. The kid repeated the same phrase over and over.

I don’t know how I got here. In this suburban setting with this suburban life. It’s my own fault. I never felt normal so I figured if I could shove myself into that American Dream, normal I would become. The mortgage, the wife and the dog. Sitting on my mountain of success. It’s clear now, that mountain is a shifting pile of mulch that is probably gonna kill the grass so I’ll need to move it soon. This isn’t normal and I’m not okay.

Worrying about curb appeal and drinking a beer. Watching my gut grow as my bank account disappears. This isn’t the utopia that was advertised. I’d like my money back, please? Where is the return lane?

I’m tired of the tidiness of the neighbor’s yard, my return on investment, my leaf blower and my IRA.

Somewhere while I was checking off the boxes, I lost the point. I lost the connection. My chakras stopped spinning because I stopped feeling. The pictures say I’m loved. The pictures say my life is good. But the dog needs fed and the yard needs mowed and I have not a moment to feel any of that.

The American Dream has destroyed the person I am and want to be. So, I need to stop chasing. Maybe I need to sell the house, maybe I need to stop worrying about the fuckin’ mulch. Because I don’t feel real in this life. I tied myself to all of this to feel loved and loved I am but I can’t feel it. Because I’m too busy keeping up with this fucked up American Dream.

And each time I try to tell you, I hate it. You say, ‘Renting is a waste of money.’ ‘You’ll treasure these times’ or you give 50 fuckin’ likes to a photo that fits in that American Dream but ignore my deepest thoughts and feelings. Because you too have been shoving the illusion down your own throat and you don’t want me to ruin your Xanaxed version of the world. You want me to conform and love it. I just can’t.

Give me back my freedom, my time to connect to my wife, my time to understand the world, my time to lay in the sun.

Give me the trans people, the sex workers, the single moms, the broken families. Give me the people that are living life instead of paying to watch it on TV.

What do sex and gender have in common?

Answer: Everything.

In order to breakdown the binary, we first have to understand that the current medical definition of sex is a social construct. In my creative project research lit review I broke this down through the lens of the intersex experience. The following is an excerpt from the paper. Read the whole paper here. 

Sex and Gender as Social Structure
Wilchins (1997) makes this observation about sex and gender:

The more we look, the less natural sex looks. Everywhere we turn, every aspect of sex seems to be saturated with cultural needs and priorities. … Gender is not what culture creates out of my body’s sex; rather, sex is what culture makes when it genders my body. The cultural system of gender looks at my body, creates a narrative of binary difference.
(p. 58)

The separation of sex and gender is an established concept within sociological research. However, how we define sex and gender is still up for debate. Sex is defined by several components including chromosomes, anatomy, and hormones. Yet only anatomy is used to determine sex at birth. An issue arises when the genitals appear ambiguous. In some cases a
determination is made for the infant and the genitals are altered to fit a socially accepted version of a penis or a vagina. If an XY individual has an “inadequate” penis the individual is turned into a female even at the risk of destroying reproductive capabilities (Greenberg, 1999). These individuals fall under the umbrella term intersex.

Kaneshiro (2013) defines intersex as “a group of conditions where there is a discrepancy between the external genitals and the internal genitals (the testes and ovaries)” (para. 1). While the Intersex Society of North America (2008) defines intersex a bit differently: A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types — for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY. (para. 1)

There is discrepancy between how the medical field identifies intersex individuals and how they self-identify. The intersex conditions provide evidence that sex is not biologically limited to two categories. The intersex child is transformed through surgery to fit into the binary. Girshick (2008) points out that these genital surgeries are not to prevent harm or to provide a
better functioning body. The child undergoes surgery because the genitals threaten the child’s culture. There is not a universal standard on what constitutes a biological male versus a biological female. As Intersex Society of North America (2008) confirms, “So nature doesn’t decide where the category of ‘male’ ends and the category of ‘intersex’ begins, or where the category of ‘intersex’ ends and the category of ‘female’ begins. Humans decide” (para. 6).

The intersex condition is evidence that sex is a structure built and maintained by humans. While nature provides evidence that sex is not limited to two categories, the social structure of binary sex is continually studied and reinforced as a natural and unquestionable fact. Our society goes as far as genital reconstruction to keep the sex binary narrative alive. Rothblatt (2005) says using the genitals as gender indicators is a burden that limits humanity. We derive our social gender categories of women and men from this unnaturally limited biological sorting system.

Gender has been understood as socially constructed for decades. Gender is created through culture, language, institutions, and interactions. However, gender as a performative act is a relatively new idea. Sociologists West and Zimmerman (1987) contend, that the ‘doing’ of gender is undertaken by women and men whose competence as members of society is hostage to its production. Doing gender involves a complex of socially guided perceptual, interactional, and micropolitical activities that cast particular pursuits as expressions of masculine and feminine ‘natures.’ (p. 126)

These gender performances maintain gender norms. The repetition of socially acceptable gender acts creates and reproduces gender day to day and decade to decade (West & Zimmerman, 1987). The norms of gender are built on human interaction and history. Every day we enact our gender through our presentation, our mannerism, and our language. Butler (1988) frames the acts of gender as guided by historical representations and expressions of gender. The representations and socially acceptable norms of gender change from generation to generation. The next generation either holds onto or disregards previous gender stereotypes and expressions. These recursive acts construct the historical institution of gender
(Martin, 2004).

Gender norms are shaped and created by each of us every day. Butler (2004) calls gender performance “a practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint” (p. 1). Because there is no objective gender ideal these constricted performative acts build the structure of gender. Gender is in no way a stable identity but is instituted by the repetitive acts of the body (Butler, 1988). Waskul and Vannini (2006) expand the power of interactions and actions not only to creating the
institution of gender, but the body as well.

A lesson in being lady-like from a former lady

If you peeked in on my fifth grade class, you’d see me sitting at my desk with my ankle-length jean skirt and tennis shoes. I’d be the tallest one in the bunch, I always was until high school. My hair slicked back in a tight ponytail and glasses covering a 1/3 of my face. Being Pentecostal, my classmates assumed I didn’t own pants and as I think back, I probably didn’t. I was a tomboy in every sense of the term. But what does that mean? Tomboy is defined ‘as a girl who enjoys rough, noisy activities traditionally associated with boys.’ So I enjoyed archery, had a BB gun and rode a go-cart. Why couldn’t every girl? Why was that strictly ‘associated with boys?’

I never thought about my activities or who I was or what I was until fifth grade. That’s when teachers and parents turn into gender police. That’s when my tomboy behavior should’ve hit the ‘she’ll grow out of it’ part of my life. But there I sat, legs open, hair frazzled, looking forward to the next foursquare match. I was really good at foursquare. I never thought about how my body moved or what I wore until adults in my life started asking me to modify myself. ‘You walk awkwardly’ and ‘Please tell Natasha to sit lady-like’ became common criticisms.

I was sorting through a box of old school papers a few months ago when I stumbled upon my fifth grade parent-teacher conference summary. I was a bright kid. Engaged. Interested. Excited. But that piece was only a fraction of what Mrs. F wrote. She decided to highlight my un-lady-like behaviors – particularly sitting. You’ll see in the image attached to this story – her suggestion to my mom was to ‘discuss lady-like to sit’ and with a star ‘talk to Natasha about sitting.’ I remember this. I remember my mom approaching the subject in the kindest way she could. But really what I want to say to Mrs. F 23 years later is FUCK YOU. I remember my jean skirts and they didn’t reveal any ‘private’ parts of my body. I intentionally wore them long. That way I could hop into my go-cart with ease. Plus, I needed the most mobility while playing foursquare. I wonder how many boys in my class were told to sit gentleman-like??

Mrs. F was trying to police my 12-year-old body. But why? It’s simple, I was a girl. I got expectations while the boys got exceptions.

Throughout my childhood, these conversations only made me increasingly insecure and uncomfortable. I didn’t suddenly become some sort of ideal version of womanly expectations. I just became open to being abused because I thought I was less than and not confident. So, Mrs. F, I wonder what were your intentions? What would sitting lady-like do for me, your student? Would it improve my grades? Make me kinder? Because your kind of feedback for a fifth grader does nothing but discourage and shame. I think you were afraid. You were afraid of a bold, brave girl who wasn’t limited by social gender norms. You needed to reel me in. Show me that limited path I needed to follow. And while your feedback and the feedback of so many others was painful, I tore through it. I blazed beyond it. I did not let you keep me on this limited path. I didn’t let you destroy who I was to become who you wanted me to be.

And on international women’s day, I have some advice to all you fifth grade girls on being lady-like: Be whatever you need to be. Adults don’t know what they are talking about. Girls and boys aren’t two separate groups. They’ll sort you, they’ll label you and they’ll lay expectations on you. But you do not have to play within those lines. You get out there and be you.