Trans-Form the Occupation
Occupy Wall Street
13 November 2011
Thank you for the opportunity to speak here. I’m Pauline Park, chair of NYAGRA, the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, and president of the board of directors of Queens Pride House, an LGBT community center in the borough of Queens.
I’m honored by the invitation to speak here at Occupy Wall Street, which I think is one of the most exciting recent developments in American politics. People are finally standing up to corporate greed and the powers that be. And that includes transgendered people. I’m a transgendered woman who was born in Korea. I’ve lived in New York since 1995 and I’d like to talk about the people who make up my community.
1) The diversity of the transgender community.
We need to recognize the full diversity of the transgender community. There are as many different ways of being transgendered as there are transgendered people. Do not assume that sex reassignment is the end point for every transgender transition; most transgendered people do not want sex reassignment surgery, and most people who do never get it.
2) ‘Transgender’ as an umbrella term.
There are literally hundreds of descriptors and self-descriptors that people use to identify or self-identify. But don’t confuse the label with the person. ‘Transgender’ is an ‘umbrella’ term that is widely used to bring together a wide variety of different subgroups within the community, including transsexuals, crossdressers and genderqueers. The term ‘transgender’ can be used in three different ways: as a term of self-identification, as an analytic term, or as a political term. There are many people who don’t identify with the term ‘transgender,’ including a lot of immigrants and transgendered people of color.
3) Sexual orientation vs. gender identity.
It’s important to understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual orientation refers to who you’re attracted to; gender identity refers to how you identify and express your gender. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with gender identity per se. There are transgendered people who identify as heterosexual as well as those who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual. Don’t assume someone’s sexual orientation from their gender identity or presentation. What do you know about someone’s sexual orientation if you know that they’re transgendered? Nothing~!
In this society, transgendered and gender-variant people face pervasive discrimination, harassment, abuse & violence. Even with a transgender rights law in place since 2002, transgendered people regularly report discrimination in this city. Fortunately, the transgender rights law enacted by the New York City Council in 2002 prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, education and credit. If you experience discrimination, contact NYAGRA through nyagra.com or the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund through the TLDEF website at transgenderlegal.org.
5) Bullying, harassment & violence.
Transgendered and gender-variant youth face pervasive bullying and bias-based harassment in our public schools; and the rate of teen suicide among trans and genderqueer youth is astronomically high. Many trans and genderqueer youth drop out of school because of such bullying; and without even a high school diploma, the chances of finding a well-paying job are very slim. Last year, the New York state legislature enacted the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), which prohibits bullying and bias-based harassment in public schools throughout the state.
6) Housing & homelessness; health care.
Many transgendered people find themselves homeless because of discrimination and abuse, including domestic and intimate partner violence. Many are forced into sex work, with heightened risk of HIV infection, police brutality, and street violence. Many transgendered people lack health insurance and even access to basic health care.
Many transgendered people access hormones and surgery through the diagnosis of gender identity disorder (GID). But the GID diagnosis pathologizes everyone who is gender-variant as a gender deviant. As I like to say, I do not have a gender identity disorder; it is society that has a gender identity disorder. We need to eliminate the pathologizing of transgender and gender variance.
We need to create a society in which no one is denied employment or housing or health care because of their gender identity or expression. We need to recognize the multiple oppressions that face transgendered people of color, including immigrants of color. We need to recognize that the root of our oppression as transgendered and gender-variant people is the sex/gender binary — the policing of rigid gender norms by the police and public authorities, corporations and other employers, and conventionally gendered people in our society. We need to bring feminist consciousness to the project of challenging, deconstructing and dismantling the sex/gender binary.
We need to create a society characterized by social and economic justice, not governed by rigid gender norms and corporate profits. And as a step towards that goal, we need to make sure that this space is safe for everyone, including our transgendered brothers and sisters. As the Mahatma Gandhi said, we need to be the change that we want to see in the world.