It takes something really special to make me want to spit out my delicious coffee in the morning. I think my favorite might be public officials using pseudo-science and awkward religious monologues to justify legal discrimination. My second favorite just might be degrading reporting done by news media on the lives and struggles of transgender people. So you can imagine how gross my kitchen table was after I read this article last week. I avoided the comments section (and I feel like you probably should, too).Just to catch you up, Oklahoma County Judge Bill Graves has denied a petition for legal name changes sought by trans women in our state. Angela Renee Ingram and Christie Ann Harvey have been open about Judge Grave’s orders to deny their petitions and how that presents real roadblocks in their efforts to transition and live happy lives; Angela told the Oklahoman that it took a severe toll on her mental health after the hearing.
Judge Graves had the audacity to back up his denial by referencing his incredibly vague “DNA research”. To my knowledge Judge Graves has never been to medical school or worked at an institution that does meaningful work with respect to the mechanics of genetics and gender, so I’m VERY ANXIOUS to read what this research has to say. I’m also curious if Judge Graves has documentation of his own chromosomal status; given that there are a variety of common intersex conditions (some of which are identified by chromosomal patterns), I wonder what his own DNA might say about him. But the answer to that question is as irrelevant as the question he presumes when he considers the birth assignment of a person to be definitive and enforceable by the state. Your genetics and physical or hormonal structures, whatever they are, have no impact on your right to self-determine your gender or sex, seek legal or medical confirmation for your gender or sex, or have anything to do at all with public officials like Bill Graves.
Judge Graves also thinks name changes for transgender people hinder crime investigations, after weirdly quoting bible verses with seemingly little context other than just a random opportunity to let us know he thinks god is on his side on this one. This is a painful statement that exhibits just how little the criminal justice system cares about how transgender people are overwhelmingly more likely to be victims of violent crime rather than commit them, particularly if they are transgender people of color. Why do we not have a judicial inquiry into the obvious hindrance cissexism has on the justice system in pursuing people who violently attack trans and gender non-conforming people in our community?
Again, it’s an example of the state using power to make the lives of those who suffer under reproductive oppression particularly difficult. Trans* people who are not granted the name changes they seek might suffer multiple consequences, ranging from denial of services at businesses like gas stations and banks, to interpersonal bigotry, to a host of legal issues and difficulties in seeking employment and educational opportunities, to lack of or a lower standard of care at medical facilities, etc. They also may experience serious, life-threatening effects of having your gender constantly deligitimized in personal and material ways. The list continues and varies for trans* people all over this country.
And while I’m glad the story was reported on at all, The Oklahoman reporter for this story, Nolan Clay, has a lot to learn about writing about transgender people in a way that could actually begin to address the ignorance and violence that made this a news story in the first place. Several times Clay refers to Angela Ingram by her current legal name, a detail that’s not really necessary to get the full effect of the story but effectively misgenders her and creates this idea that transgender people must constantly qualify who they are based on their birth assignment or transition history/plans.
Clay also refers to Angela Ingram as the wrong gender (IN THE TITLE OF THE ARTICLE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD) and refers to her future medical plans as a “sex-change operation” (more appropriate would be “gender confirmation surgery” but stay tuned, there’s more). Clay also refers to whether or not both Ingram and Harvey have had “the surgery”. I think a pro-tip here: unless it’s transgender people writing about their own surgeries or surgical plans or talking about best practices with medical professionals, let’s just all agree that it’s completely irrelevant to discuss it at all. You don’t have to have or want surgery to be transgender, and you certainly shouldn’t have to owe anyone an explanation about your medical history or plans to get some basic human respect.
Although Clay seems to make an attempt to avoid pronouns altogether in the story, there’s still a lot of mention of this common, harmful narrative about trans* people: that even though they are really this gender/sex, they live this other gender/sex. Structuring the story in this way does a real disservice to trans* people by again forcing them to justify themselves in public based on a birth assignment they did not have control over. It communicates an idea that trans* people do not live real lives, are lying or attempting to cover something up, and are not worth taking seriously. These attitudes inform bigotry, discrimination, and violence. Again, pretty much the furthest thing from giving someone ultra-basic human respect.
If you’re working on some kind of action in Oklahoma County to address this disgusting abuse of judicial power, please let us know on Facebook or comment below. I’ll be following the story as it develops, and will be working with my amazing editor Mallory on a series about being queer in Oklahoma (spoiler alert: it’s complicated!).
Jen is off to St. Louis for a conference this week. But you should totally come hang out with them at the OK4RJ meetup on Friday at Blu in Norman! They’ll be part of the ultra-cool sober crowd, jsyk.
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