Tag: gender

LGBT+ Figures in History #5: Bobbie Lea Bennett

Image credit: zachozma.com/lavender

Bobbie Lea Bennett and her contribution to history may seem like a small one on it’s face, but it was in fact, monumental. She is best remembered for forcing the United States Medicare system to consider covering gender affirming surgeries.

As opposed to previous (unsuccessful) attempts to obtain Medicare coverage for gender affirmation surgeries, Bobbie Lea occupied the uniquely advantageous position of already being a Medicare recipient. She did not need to build the case that transsexuality was itself a disability. This forced Medicare to address the singular issue of gender affirming surgeries.

In 1978, after mobilizing media interest in disability rights in her favor, she literally pushed her case into the faces of government administrators. She set off on a cross country road trip from San Diego to the Baltimore, Maryland offices of Thomas M. Tierney, the director of Medicare at the time. During the meeting, Tierney assured Bobbie Lea that a committee was assessing her case. Three days after this meeting, Bennett received a check in the mail. Medicare denied that this check was to cover Bennett’s surgery, instead claiming that they were simply correcting an error.

Bobbie Lea Bennett is best remembered for this particular instance of activism but she dedicated her life to the pursuit of liberation. In 1985, she founded the St. Tammany Parish Organization for the Handicapped, which served the interests of wheelchair users, and other disabled persons that lived within St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. This organization has since been dissolved.

We don’t have much more in the way of facts about Bobbie Lea’s life, but she is remembered as a beloved wife, and mother to 2 children.

Complement this with a look into the life of another often overlooked activist, Ernestine Eckstein, or the great Miss Major Griffin-Gracy.

LGBT+ Figures in History #4: Thomas(ine) Hall

Thomas(ine) Hall

Thomas(ine) Hall has a fascinating story. A lot of historical accounts still require more strict verification, however, it is generally accepted that Thomas(ine) was born Thomasine Hall sometime around 1603 in Newcastle upon Thyne, England. According to their own account, though they were born intersex, Thomasine was raised as a girl and trained in traditional women’s crafts such as lace making, and needlework.

The first recorded instance of Thomas(ine) adopting traditionally male dress, name, and pronouns was when they cut their hair, and “changed into the fashion of a man” in order to join a brother in the military. Upon returning to England from the service, Thomas(ine) again resumed the lifestyle of a woman.

In or around the year 1627, Hall took an opportunity to resettle in Jamestown, Virginia, dressed as a male indentured servant, ultimately moving to a smaller settlement on the James River. At the time, there was likely more work available on tobacco plantations for people who were coded as male. However, it appears that Hall remained fluid in their gender expression by occasionally being seen about in women’s attire. In explanation of this particular “quirk”, Thomas(ine) Hall offered what I consider to be one of the best historical quotes ever: “I goe in womans apparel to get a bitt for my Catt”. This has been interpreted as meaning that women’s attire allowed Hall to enjoy sexual relations with people with penises.

Eventually, this flaunting of current social norms caught up with Hall. They were accused of having had sexual relations with a maid. Apparently, the gender of the offender became a matter of criminal responsibility. The legal system of the time stated that if Hall was a man, they could then be charged for sexual misconduct with a servant, but women were deemed incapable of committing this particular type of crime. The “criminal investigation” into this matter consisted of the townspeople taking it upon themselves to examine Hall’s anatomy without their consent, possibly while they were sleeping. Despite a prominent local man determining that Hall was not a proper man, this did nothing to change the townspeople’s desire for punishment, and led the villagers to take the case to the Quarter Court of Jamestown. After hearing from several witnesses, as well as from Hall, the court handed down a punishment inconsistent with legal precedent at the time. The court ruled that Hall was of a “dual nature”, and where usually these offenders were made to choose one gender, Hall was punished in a rather unusual manner.

The court determined that Hall would go by the name Thomas(ine) and “goe clothed in man’s apparell, only his head to bee attired in a coyfe and croscloth with an apron before him”. Meaning that Hall was made to wear both men’s and women’s clothing simultaneously, essentially branding them a permanent outcast.

Not much is known about this person’s life after this controversy, but I like to believe that they hit the road and continued to get a bit for their cat.

Complement this with the curious story of The Public Universal Friend, or an argument for the joys of not passing.


https://wams.nyhistory.org/early-encounters/english-colonies/thomas-ine-hall/ – CW: If you do choose to look at this source, it is rife with cisnormativity. The author consistently uses either “she/her” or “he/him” pronouns (when we know that this person’s identity was more fluid than these terms), and describes intersex genitalia in a rather offensive manner.

Facing Disillusionment with Masculinity

I know there are positive aspirational models of masculinity out there. But trans men in particular may feel shut out of the positive aspects of masculinity that many cis men expound as the virtues of being a man. I find the general air of bioessentialism, and justification for the continuation of the racist historical patriarchy found in the approach that certain cis men have towards thinking deeply about masculinity to be a huge turnoff to the whole idea of interrogating my own masculine identity.

All of the people that have been responsible for some of the most heinous acts of cruelty against me and the people around me have been men, and my mother was raised by a woman who genuinely hated men. This unfortunately common combination lead to my mother picking up some aggressively “anti-man” stances. One of which was the idea that if she just brought her dildo into work her staff would respect her more. This idea was seen as a way of dealing with the patriarchy under which she was forced to work, and this idea that if she only had a penis she would “get the respect she deserved” struck her young trans son (me) as being pretty damn simplistic and decidedly anti-masculine. It reeked of her mother’s idea that if only there weren’t men, women would be fine, and free from oppression. Anyone who has observed groups of humans for any length of time knows that inequity, oppression, and manipulation are not the exclusive domain of cis/het/white masculinity, and cis/het/white women are not the worst targets of this inequity, oppression, and abuse. This is not meant to denigrate my mother’s experience of chafing against the effects of the patriarchy, but she still held down a job that put her in the top 1% of earners for our area. And she did struggle to gain respect at work because she was woman, but she also held the same well-paid job at the same company for over a decade and only left at her own choice. This is not the worst way her life could have shaken out, not by far. In fact, it is because of the above that I felt fairly privileged during that time in my childhood. Stability, however excruciating it may be, is a privilege.

I feel the above may be able to be misunderstood as me saying my mother should be grateful for her position in the patriarchy. Please do not take my criticism of my mother’s lack of awareness of her privilege as an endorsement of the structure in which she found herself. I only take umbrage with the manner in which she chose to express her discontent. I found it only led to further mental anguish on her part because focusing your criticism of the patriarchy solely on the basis of biology leads to thinking that one has no means of action against the structure. She felt that because she was born a woman, she only need mimic the “biology of a man” to improve her comfort within the existing structure. Transgender and nonbinary people didn’t seem to factor into my mother’s understanding of the world, despite the fact that she was very much aware of the existence of trans people.

She never challenged the structure itself. She never felt that she was in a position where she could. All of this, while others out here approach the structure, and (unlike my mother) are actively refused the opportunity to thrive within in it. Thusly, they are forced by society to actively work to change the structure. Not because they are in any particularly special position to effect this change, but they are simply left with no choice other than to lie down and die, by their own hand or someone else’s. When your life is on the line, it can be a much harder spur to effective action.

I struggled to accept my own masculinity because I lived in fear of the understanding of masculine identity that I was force fed as a child. My father still looms large in my mind when I think about my childhood, even though I last laid eyes on him in person about 15 years ago. I don’t feel the need to get into the more prurient or heinous details of the abuse my family suffered. I don’t think that’s necessary. Pretty much everyone I know has deeply seeded issues like this with at least one man in their life. This doesn’t bode well for those of us who know themselves to be men.

I think one place to start when thinking about masculinity in general, is to question masculinity as it exists in my life today, rather than reject it on it’s face. I prefer to understand the racist motivations, bourgeois origins, and ableist sentiments of the version of masculinity that is currently accepted as this truly non-existent “norm”. I want to explore how masculine energy can show up in my life in service to my mental health, and development as a person, rather than as a set of standards of appearance and behavior to which I must adhere.

This is vital work in which I encourage everyone to engage. Below is just a sample of some of the questions that you could think over to start off your journey into thinking deeply, and critically about your masculinity and relationship to it.

What are your current ideas of what constitutes “masculinity” and “femininity”?

How do you fit into those ideas right now?

Do you feel a relation to the commonly held ideas of what constitutes “masculinity”? (Meaning do you feel you should be called he/him? Are you sexually attracted to people whom greater society considers to be masculine? Do you want masculinity to show up in your life at all?)

Are the ideas of masculinity and femininity useful to you, and your life?

Ask yourself how have men and masculinity shown up in your life up to this point?

How do you relate to the people that make up that representation?

Is your relationship to them rooted in abuse, fear, and/or manipulation?

Do you currently have any healthy, substantive relations with men/masculine people?

Do you have healthy relationships with masculine people of different generations?

How has religion influenced your view of masculinity?

How has your country or society’s history with racism, and colonialism affected your ideas around masculinity? (i.e. venerating one type of skin color, or body shape over another; promoting conceptualizations of people of color as a set of stereotypes instead of encouraging seeing everyone as humans deserving of understanding, and respect)

Do you feel like your current relationship to masculinity supports your efforts to live your personally held values and beliefs?

What can you change to ensure that your ideas around men and masculine people do not continue to enforce the current status quo? (This could be as simple as consciously being more inclusive in your use of language i.e. using the phrasing “pregnant people”, or as involved as deconstructing the manner in which you argue with your partner and realizing that many of your responses are rooted in the enforced sublimation of all emotion to anger because that’s the only way you have seen men approach intense emotions.)

How can your masculinity be used to better serve those around you and your greater community?

Complement your exploration of masculinity with a better understanding of the effects of the desire to “pass” as cisgender.

How to Support a Transgender Coworker

transgender coworker

As transgender and genderqueer people become more comfortable expressing themselves in a professional setting, the culture, and habits of any workplace will need to adjust or risk, at best, alienating its employees, and at worst, committing outright harassment. Here are some pertinent statistics on the harassment that genderqueer individuals have experienced in the workplace:

  1. A study, linked below, of aggregated surveys by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy found that 90% of transgender workers have been harassed on the job
  2. The same study found that 47% of workers have experienced an adverse job outcome because they are transgender. This includes:

– 44% who were passed over for a job
– 23% who were denied a promotion
– And 26% who were fired because they were transgender

Moving Forward

With these harrowing statistics in mind we can turn to figuring out how to better support our trans coworkers. The foundation of feeling secure in the workplace should be a robust and routinely communicated sexual harassment policy and an anonymous reporting system. Most organizations have some sort of sexual harassment policy in place, yet sexual harassment still happens everyday. Which is exactly why the the leadership team is the best place to start with any improvement to company practices.

People respect people in positions of authority. It isn’t enough to just have some outside company come in and show some videos, and discuss some hypothetical situations with your team. As a leader, you are responsible for taking a hard line against harassment, and for articulating that every complaint will be thoroughly investigated so as to discourage false reporting, (which is so rare it hardly needs discouraging). This communication doesn’t need to be a long drawn out meeting, either. In fact, you would be better served keeping things as clear and concise as possible, so as to leave no room for misinterpretation. If it does nothing else, this small effort on the part of those in leadership positions, will communicate to anyone who may become a victim of harassment that they should come forward. Ultimately, anything that promotes a culture of acceptance is worth the effort.

How to Help Transgender Coworkers

Building an accepting workplace culture takes more than an email. Leaders have to demonstrate this acceptance in their day to day actions and conversations.

  1. Keep in mind that repeated misgendering is a form of sexual harassment and should be dealt with as such. Meaning, misgendering and deadnaming should be explicitly included in any sexual harassment policy, and should warrant the same consequences as any other form of verbal sexual harassment would.
  2. If someone has a nickname, any nickname, ask them if they are ok with it, preferably in private.
  3. Take a look at your access requirements, and other forms in your organization. If they require the use of a legal name, this could be extremely distressing to your trans and gender expansive colleagues. On the flip side, the use of alternative names should be a standard policy across your organization. Meaning, if nicknames are allowed to be used for email addresses and other access points, you should definitely allow a trans person to use their correct name for these items.
  4. Be sure to always address people by their chosen names, and proper pronouns. Please do not revert to using only their name. This is obvious to everyone and is still considered harassment as you are essentially refusing to acknowledge them in the same way as anyone else.
  5. Be careful what jokes you repeat. Workplace culture has changed so rapidly that some older employees are not aware of what is appropriate. i.e. Buffalo Bill jokes, Ace Ventura jokes, ladyboy jokes. When they happen, call these jokes out and calmly explain that they are offensive to some people, and have always been. This is not a new thing, the only difference between now and the 1980s is that people are speaking up more.
  6. Avoid tokenism – if you are putting together a diversity panel, or are looking to ask questions about “the trans experience”, “how you can help” or “how you can improve company culture in regards to transgender issues”, your one trans employee is NOT the first place to find this information. This is a form of emotional labor that many marginalized communities are forced into performing. LGBTQ+ people and people of color are not your source for all things relevant to their identity. They are not representative of their entire community. All it takes to shift this idea of the token “insert identity here”, is for white/cis/hetero people around us to do the work of educating themselves up front. Read books and articles written by trans people and people of color. Listen to our podcasts, follow our Instagram pages, support our causes. Get in the trenches with us, so you can be an accomplice, not just an ally.

Lastly, keep in mind the reality that your employees may be facing. This country is not a terribly accepting place. We have not made as much progress as some would have you believe. People face harassment and micro-aggressions everyday. In fact, before the landmark Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, it was completely legal to deny a promotion, refuse to hire, or terminate an employee for being transgender. Bostock v. Clayton County, which was only decided on in June of 2020, finally extended the Title VII protections against discrimination on the basis of sex to gender expansive individuals. Meaning that terminations like the one that Vandy Beth Glenn faced will finally be illegal. Let Vandy, who held a job with the Georgia General Assembly, tell you in her own words what transgender people face when cis people become “uncomfortable” with their transition.

[My boss] told me I would make other people uncomfortable, just by being myself. He told me that my transition was unacceptable. And over and over, he told me it was inappropriate. Then he fired me. I was escorted back to my desk, told to clean it out, then marched out of the building…I was devastated.

Wrapping it up

To sum up, if you have read this far you are better informed than most people out there. Use the suggestions here to shape your company culture going forward, even if you aren’t in a position of leadership you can still have a positive impact. Intervene when someone makes an inappropriate joke, or comment. Use people’s chosen names, and proper pronouns, and insist that others do as well. Stay informed on the issues facing transgender people. Focus on being kind to people instead of just how you come off when speaking to someone. There is no downside to a basic sense of consideration in the workplace.

If you are interested in learning more about the reality of being transgender you can learn more about the financial challenges trans people face, and I highly recommend you watch this video by Milo Stewart on how using they/them pronouns for people who do not use them is, in fact, misgendering. Their videos have greatly improved my understanding of gender as a concept and of nonbinary people, specifically.



Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén