The Bittersweet “Change Of Gender” Court Ruling: It Came With Cyberbulling
This is the second part of three parts on referring to what California calls my legal change of gender. This is an exercise in cathartic writing for me explaining not only why my change of gender, but also explaining why I haven’t been as prolific in my writing since last summer, nor as active in civil rights work. After these three blog articles, my intent is never to write about trans surgeries again — at least my trans-related surgeries again.
This is a fairly long, personal post about a personal experience — if that’s not the kind of post you enjoy reading at Pam’s House Blend, then you should probably just skip over this post.
I would hope that anyone that lives in California would write to the State of California and ask if this is what they intended with the legal changes made there. I cannot believe it was. What was intended for post-operative transsexuals to ease their burden and give them some freedom from accusation will now mean NOTHING because they will all ask “well we know you can still have a penis” and get your birth certificate changed.
~Elizabeth in Notes From The T Side‘s Sandeen had her orchiectomy and is now a woman?
For me, it’s not clear whether or not I should be sharing the story I’m going to share in this post. However, I want my peer trans people to know what can happen to trans people when they share their personal stories online — the level of hate speech, and sometimes even hate action, one can experience in sharing one’s own personal transition story.
I still hold that it’s best when more of us trans people are out of the closet. That’s because as we become personally known to more members of society we become more accepted in society — just look at how lesbian, gay, and bisexual civil rights have progressed since the Stonewall Uprising. Their visibility, especially to their friends, families, and coworkers, has moved society towards greater acceptance.
But what’s good for a community isn’t necessarily good for an individual. It’s not only discrimination and hate from some in broader society we trans people face when we’re out — even when just out to our friends, families, and coworkers — but when we’re more visible we can also be on the receiving end of serious hate from within our own populations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people.
We, as individuals, can face a great deal opposition and oppression from many sources in the struggle for ordinary equality for our population. And sadly, some in the population of transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people want to oppress those whose trans experiences aren’t the same as their own personal trans experience.
So from that personal perspective on civil rights, on being out and proud as trans, and on the costs sometimes exacted for being out and sharing one’s own personal trans experience, let me tell a personal story of cyberbulling resulting from me telling a part of my transition story.
[The story told below the fold.]
On the 22nd of May, 2012, I went to the San Diego Courthouse for what feels to me an anticlimactic trip to court to change what California refers to as my legal change of gender under 2011’s AB 433. I’ve legally changed my sex/gender in my home state of California from male to female.
I started the process of legally changing my gender under previous rules passed into law in the 1970’s that required surgery for that legal change of gender, and ended up filing under the new rules that took affect on January 1st of this year (2012). The rules were changed for legally changing one’s gender by the passage into law of California’s AB 433: the Vital Statistics Modernization Act.
My experience writing about my surgery and legally changing gender resulted in a level of cyberbullying I wasn’t prepared for at all. There are two tacks to the cyberbullying I experienced, and this post details one of those two tacks. This post’s story includes both cyberharassment and cyberstalking.
The finalization of my legal change of gender occurred on May 22nd, although the calendar item on the court docket listed it as a change of name. I legally changed my name back in the first year of my transition, so I assume the listing of my May court appearance as a change of name is for some reason to do with the class of court filings that a legal change of gender falls under, but I could be wrong about that.
I usually recommend to trans people not to publicly comment on their surgical or legal status in blogs or in other media settings, and definitely not to strangers. There’s of course reasons for that: 1.) civil rights are human rights, and one’s surgical or legal status is irrelevant to obtaining antidiscrimination protections based on gender identity and gender expression; 2.) transition related surgeries equate to any other medical surgeries in the sense that your medical history is no one’s business but your own (unless you choose to share it), and 3.) if your legal or surgical status is known, your identity as a male, female, or genderqueer person will be judged personally — by both broader society and others in the population of transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people.
To the third point, geneticist Eric Vilain made a still relevant statement regarding this in a 2004, Los Angeles Times commentary on marriage equality (emphasis added):
Sex should be easily definable, but it’s not. Our gender identity — our profound sense of being male or female — is independent from our anatomy. A constitutional amendment authorizing marriages only between men and women would not only discriminate against millions of Americans who do not fit easily in the mold of each category, but would simply be flawed and contrary to basic biological realities.
Even with those thoughts in mind, after consulting with Pam back in 2008 I made a personal decision to reveal my surgical status in 2008 as part of going in to receive a gastric bypass at the VA hospital in San Diego. To me, it was important to tell the part of that particular surgery experience of going into a VA hospital and not knowing how I was going to be treated because of my then legal sex — I was the VA San Diego’s first trans Weight Loss Clinic patient to present them the concern of having a genitalia shape not usually associated with my female gender.
But ever since, my surgical status has been of issue to a number of people within the population of transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people, as well as to a number of people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) community. And, the focus on this is in regards to my sex and gender, as well as my identifications of female, trans, transgender, and transsexual. I became so used to being misgendered and being called a myriad of antitransgender names by such a wide range of people I’d developed a pretty thick skin.
However, I had no idea how much my publicly discussing my bilateral orchiectomy and legal change of gender would enrage folk — enrage folk I consider my peers into planning and in some cases actually taking actions intentionally meant to negatively impact my life in the brick-and-mortar world.
We [lesbians who challenge gender identity] are “bullies” because we don’t agree with you, political transgender community. Because it’s not as if we lesbians can “force” you to do anything – we cannot even get you to listen and comprehend our objections to overbroad gender identity legislation without you threatening to maim us or wishing we would die in a fire. As for “less power,” do you actually believe that a handful of lesbian activists who do political advocacy around gender identity in their spare time have power over a GLBT movement that has fully embraced gender identity as a cornerstone of our community’s liberation?
It is to laugh!
So, where is the bullying? Point of fact, there is no bullying. Adults should be able to engage in political debate – even heated, profane political debate. And adults should be able to use all the creative tools and tactics at their disposal to make a political point.
~Cathy Brennan in the Baltimore OUTloud! commentary On Bullying, and Being Nice (emphasis added)
Where the cyberbullying began to take shape in the brick-and-mortar world was in the comment thread of the Pam’s House Blend post Ow! But Yay!, with comments made by those who went by the aliases of EnoughNonSense, Shi Thread, and Absentee Thoughtlord.
In response to an EnoughNonSense comment, user Shi Thread wrote under the comment subject line Petition for Name and Gender Change:
Where are you filing your petitiion? [SIC] What is the court address and case number? There are ladies on the blogs that want to file objections to your petition.
PS You are required to “publish” your petition in the legal notice section of a local publication (ie newspaper).
The user Absentee Thoughtlord — who outed herself as northern California resident Andrea Rosenfield in the TS-SI commentary Reform The GLAAD Media Reference Guide — responded to Shi Thread in this way:
Only the name-change (NC-100) and name and gender change (NC-200) require public notice. This gives notice to creditors, to facilitate the collection of debts outstanding in the old name. Change of gender alone doesn’t affect debt collection, so the NC-300s don’t technically require publication. That’s why you have to watch the new civil case filings to be sure to get the case number, hearing date, and location.
But of course this kind of monitoring will be unnecessary, since nobody being so intentionally public would try to sneak anything under the radar. So of course a date and location and case number will be provided just as soon as they are issued. Right?
Remember Cathy Brennan? The coauthor of the essay to the United Nations against recognizing gender identity as harmful to women? The one who I quoted on Tuesday (May 22, 2012) as stating…
“I respect trans women as women, but I do not believe they are female.”
“Females have a right to set a boundary and have it be respected.”
“…Females have a right to be free of Males if they so choose. Trans women are male.”
Well, under the heading San Diego County Court Docket Resource, Brennan provided Shi Thread and Andrea Rosenfield with the link to the San Diego court docket that listed civil actions in the comment thread for Ow! But Yay! (reference the last comment in the comment thread where Brennan posted under the screen name bugbrennan). That docket she provided the link to included items such as change of names and change of legally recognized gender.
Let me back up just a bit here. Some definition bits on cyberharassment from the definitions I linked to earlier in this piece:
Cyber stalking is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk someone which may be a computer crime or harassment. This term is used interchangeably with online harassment and online abuse.
…As noted by Gilbert (1999): In real life, stalkers usually stalk in proximity to their victims — they want the victim to see them and know they are there — they feed on the victim’s reaction. On the internet, proximity takes on a new meaning (Ogilvie, 2000).
Obviously, there are important differences between the situation of someone who is regularly within shooting range of her or his stalker and someone who is being stalked from two thousand miles away. While the previous examples can be viewed as offensive and threatening, they can, nevertheless, be viewed as distinct from “traditional” stalking in that they remain in cyber space. While emotional distress is (appropriately) acknowledged in most criminal sanctions, it is not considered as serious as actual physical threat. Thus, while links between stalking, domestic violence, and feticide have been empirically demonstrated “in real life” (Burgess et al. 1997; Kurt 1995; McFarlane et al. 1999), much cyber stalking remains at the level of inducing emotional distress, fear, and apprehension. However, this is not to say that causing apprehension and fear should not be criminally sanctioned, or that the cyber and the real are somehow inherently or intrinsically disconnected (Ogilvie, 2000).
Wikipedia offers an added component of cyberharassment:
Encouraging others to harass the victim. Many cyberstalkers try to involve third parties in the harassment…
Cathy Brennan, someone who in the past I personally considered a friend, and as such knew I have a sometimes debilitating bipolar condition, is a woman who clearly doesn’t believe any trans women are female. Brennan gave a tool to enraged transsexual women who were upset by my assertion that I had a surgery that affirms my gender, and was planning to change what California refers to as a legal change of gender based on that surgery.
And plot with that tool those women of transsexual history did.
At the beginning of this piece, I quoted Elizabeth at Notes From The T Side. In the comment thread for Elizabeth‘s Sandeen had her orchiectomy and is now a woman?, a San Diego commenter under the pseudonym Not your friend posted the link Cathy Brennan provided. Not your friend indicated where she found the link later in the comment thread — noting we’d removed Brennan’s thread comment at Pam’s House Blend.
Not your friend is the same woman who sent me the threatening email in 2010 with the subject line of What A Sissy, and included as its closing line:
I rest knowing you will get what you and your kind deserve soon enough.
Not your friend also posted on the web a number of times that she had my home address. I recently moved in significant part because I found my old address on the web and realized I wasn’t as safe at home as I thought I was — Not your friend personalized that realization.
Andrea Rosenfield wrote in the thread about how to take action in opposition to my legal change of gender here, even mentioning AB 433. She talked about how she’d already written her “friend of the court” brief for court submission — only waiting for the date and docket number to be published online for my court appearance.
Elizabeth mentioned here, and Not your friend mentioned here and here respectively about how they had planned to contact, or actually did contact local media and a local talk radio host about my surgery story — hoping it would be picked up. Andrea Rosenfield was very supportive of the idea.
Andrea Rosenfield wanted me to have the experience of going to court in part so she could feel the satisfaction of me being denied my petition for legal change of gender by a judge. And in the process of what she hoped would be a failure to legally change my gender, she stated she hoped I’d loose hundreds of dollars in filing fees.
Elizabeth elsewhere in the thread, replied to a thread commenter who stated “Sandeen has already read your plans and will not take the bait ..” by stating:
If it stops her then it worked didn’t it?
I’ve given you a small sample of what kind of cyberharassment these folk were planning — the plan was pretty obviously meant not only to interfere with my legal change of gender, but to also cause me anxiety and fear — to a point of hoping I wouldn’t file my court petition. I’m writing about what happened now because I have in hand the court order they’d wished to block me from obtaining — the time of their ability to inject drama into my petition to the California Superior Court for the County of San Diego for change of gender has now passed.
There’s more in that post and its comment thread if you’re really interested in reading the whole thing — even if it’s just to verify I’m not overstating the comments and tone of these women. Frankly, even if the Notes From The T Side post and comment thread weren’t specifically about me, I’d be sickened by the commentary and planned behavior of the people involved.
Going back to Cathy Brennan’s action of posting a link on Pam’s House Blend for a moment: These enraged women of transsexual history are the third parties Cathy Brennan intentionally, and in my opinion recklessly, gave a cyberharassment tool to — a tool that she apparently believed would be used to block my legal change of gender.
You can read arguments by Brennan against gender identity based antidiscrimination protections at many places on the web, including her regular column at Baltimore OUTloud — an LGBT publication. Considering that there now is a
Baltimore County, Maryland law that was literally passed as a response to Brennan’s own experience with cyberharassment — well it’s incredible to me that she essentially yelled “Fire!” in what is functionally a crowded cyber-theater of enraged women of transsexual history.
But to quote Cathy Brennan:
[A]dults should be able to use all the creative tools and tactics at their disposal to make a political point.
It appears to me that Brennan employed a creative tool at her disposal in an attempt to make a political point about trans women being legally recognized as female. Brennan no doubt intended that the tool she provided to third parties — women of transsexual history whom she considers to be male — would be utilized to by those who intended to go to court to “prove” I, as a trans woman, am not female. It appears to me that Brennan targeted me because she doesn’t want me, or any other trans woman for that matter, to be legally held as female, and she intervened in an attempt to stop me personally from being legally held as female. And, it appears to me that Brennan believed that if she could use women of transsexual history — women she considers to be male — to accomplish the intent of her political point regarding my legal change of gender from male to female, so much the better.
Well. So much for Cathy Brennan’s assertion that there’s no bullying coming from her.
This all said, I wouldn’t make the mistake again of considering Brennan or her like-minded peers to be harmless. I will also no longer make the mistake of considering surgically invested, highly defended women of transsexual history to be harmless. In both cases I’ve seen first hand that members of these groups are quite capable of crossing the line past rhetoric into the place of planning and taking actions specifically intended to cause brick-and-mortar world harms to trans people whose ideas they strongly disagree with.
Again, what’s good for a community isn’t necessarily good for an individual. It’s not only discrimination and hate from some in broader society we trans people face when we’re out — even when just out to our friends, families, and coworkers — but when we’re more visible we can also be on the receiving end of serious hate from within our own populations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people.
We, as individuals, can face a great deal opposition and oppression from many sources in the struggle for ordinary equality for our population. And sadly, some in the population of transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people want to oppress those whose trans experiences aren’t the same as their own trans experiences.
As bad as this particular story of cyberharassment I’ve laid out in this post is — or at least as bad as it is from my point of view — there’s yet another story of cyberharassment that involves my surgeon and one other highly defended trans woman that I also feel a need to tell. And, I’ll tell that story on another day. I’m not sure that it’s a worse story of cyberharassment than the one I’ve laid out here, but that second cyberharassment incident impacted me more personally than even the incidents I laid out in this post.
But hey — We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. I’m optimistic about the trans community’s future. As negative as I may at times seem in this post, I see lots of reasons to press forward with hope. Expressing that hope will no doubt come from me again very, very soon.
* Wikipedia: Cyberbullying vs. cyberstalking
* Part 1 of the series: My Bittersweet Sex/Gender Court Ruling: The San Diego Court Appearance
* Part 3 of the series: The Bittersweet “Change Of Gender” Court Ruling: It Came With Even More Cyberharassment
* Surgery Set For February
* Dates Are Set, So Full Speed Ahead
* Under The (Hopefully) Tiny Knife Tuesday
* Released From Weight Control Monitoring
* What Genital Reconstruction Surgery, And When
* My Primary Care Says I’m Recovering Well From My Orchi
* The Ginchy Letter I Received Via Snail Mail On Saturday