Trans 101 for Wobblies

A great set of introductory guides to trans terminology, issues for trans people and trans issues as workers' rights issues. Produced by Fey, a trans member of the Industrial Workers of the World revolutionary union, nicknamed the "Wobblies".

Taken from

Trans 101 for Wobblies, part 1: Understanding basic terminology

A member of the Boston IWW drew up this introduction to Trans terms and issues effecting trans people. Part one of an ongoing series. Originally appeared here

As a transsexual/transgender person in the One Big Union, late last year I partnered with another trans Wobbly to put together a basic “trans 101″ workshop to help cis (non-trans) people in the radical labor movement create welcoming, safe environments for trans people. By the request of several Wobs, I’ve been attempting to present this workshop again for union members exclusively; so far I haven’t successfully scheduled something that all interested parties can attend, so I’m adapting the workshop handout for a series of posts here on this blog. Please note that I have made some minor modifications, but some of the content here is still not my own wording, so I can answer many questions you may have about what’s actually written, but not all. I will try to arrange for a formal workshop again at some later date.

Trans Communities & Experiences: An Introduction for Wobblies & All Anti-Capitalists

Trans people (particularly ones who aesthetically, behaviorally or otherwise don’t fit into the dual gender binary) usually feel extremely outcast in heteronormative communities and yet still feel on the periphery of queer and radical outposts for reasons that tend to be very case specific. Many of these cases, however, involve a lack of information about trans people, and systemic cissexism and transphobia— which, once you’ve read this series in its entirety, you will hopefully understand how to combat.

The fact that the DSM-IV estimates that we make up less then 1% of the population and still qualifies transsexual(ism) as a mental disorder likely pushes people back into the closet. In addition to the DSM there are quite a few misrepresenting and inflammatory examples in media that serve as our only casting before the public eye; we are entirely treated in the media as freaks, psychopaths, or tragic victims. Beyond psychiatric and media discrimination, there are still other pervasive reasons why people who feel alien and estranged from their body have incentive to continue to behave in a binary friendly way; suppressing their sexual and gender expression for the sake of avoiding job discrimination, preserving cis privilege, being allowed to stay with or speak to their families, upholding tradition, upholding religious beliefs, etc.— or they just are too afraid of even being out in public, subjected to daily harassment and abuse. Suppressing yourself sucks. Seriously. You know this from your own experience and that’s maybe why you want to be more inclusive of trans people, among other reasons. But how do we get these wonderful people into our communities?

Part 1: Understanding basic terminology

sex = body parts

For absolute clarity, let’s avoid talking about someone “of the female sex” or “of the male sex” because there are strong gender-associations with words like male and female. If we’re going to talk about bodies, let’s talk about them as bodies without gender qualifiers.

gender = depends who you ask

Some gender theorists and/or members of the trans community will tell you:
• it’s an identification that you feel deep inside, independent of other people
• it’s an identification that you feel deep inside corresponding to other people
• it’s a preferred way of styling one’s appearance
• it’s a set of behaviors that you perform more easily than others
• it’s a social role that you feel most comfortable inhabiting as part of your culture
• it’s a grammatical function of language

Not everyone agrees on these things; others would offer other explanations; it is unlikely that any description could apply to all people. What’s indisputable and more productive to think about: some people in this world are largely categorized by other people as “incongruent” in some respect regarding their sex and the gender that this sex is usually assigned at birth.

* Trans people are united, at a bare minimum, by a marginalization we have in common. *

transgender = people whose gender, whether it is innate or adopted, does not align with the sex that other people would say “matches” it; people who, by instinct or choice, have or express a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth

No matter what pronouns they prefer, what their name is, what they wear, how their body looks, who they sleep with, whether they’ve had surgery, whether they want surgery, or whether they actually call themselves transgender, if we wish to speak as inclusively as possible then a person is transgender or is essentially treated as transgender if they have some quality that defies their society’s traditional expectations of gender. No matter what, any of these people are likely to have their gender questioned by other people, and most if not all are likely to experience automatic discrimination, ostracization, misunderstanding, abuse, or violence as a direct consequence.

transsexual = these days, usually someone who specifically wants surgery and/or hormone therapy to change their sex, or at least to wake up one morning with the right combo of chromosomes and body parts

Many transsexual people view themselves as having a medical condition. Transsexual people may feel physically dissociated from certain body parts or experience symptoms akin to phantom limb syndrome with other body parts they’re missing. Many other transsexual people may instead— or additionally— just want surgery and/or hormone therapy in order to be “stealth” about their trans status. Many people may match this exact definition but do not call themselves transsexual, so please be respectful.

transvestite or crossdresser = these days, usually someone who routinely or occasionally dresses as a gender other than their own, or alternately someone who identifies with the gender they dress as but still finds the term appropriate for personal reason

genderqueer = alternately someone who does not have a gender (sometimes using the term agender), who has a different gender than the binary female or male (sometimes using the term third gender), or similar scenarios

genderfuck = usually someone who may have a set gender of male or female (or not) but who actively tailors their appearance to challenge others’ expectations of how that gender ought to look

Some people in the world are also bigender, polygender, pangender, etc. Some non-Western cultures have designated third genders already, like hijras in Pakistan and the surrounding area.

* Transgender, transsexual, transvestite, genderqueer, and other people falling under the general trans (or trans*) umbrella are not all the same thing, but they are facets of similar qualities and are all subject to having their bodies, decisions, and very existence questioned. *

Simple opposites:

cisgender = people whose gender aligns with the sex that other people would say “matches” it; people who, by instinct or by choice, have or express a gender the same as what was assigned to them at birth

cissexual = people who are more or less content with their particular combination of chromosomes and body parts

We usually distinguish less between cisgender and cissexual people because a) they’re both considered “normal,” whatever that means, and b) any differences between them right now can hopefully be extrapolated by logic.

Other terms:

cissexism = the systemic favoring of cis sex/gender alignment over trans alignments

transphobia = fear and/or hatred of trans people

binarism = the systemic tendency to separate sex/gender into male & female

Just like patriarchy sustains itself by misogyny and misogyny is in turn informed by patriarchy, cissexism sustains itself by transphobia and transphobia is in turn informed by cissexism. And if we’re going to untangle ourselves from any of these things, we have to untangle ourselves from binarism as well!

Trans 101 for Wobblies, part 2: Challenging assumptions & misconceptions

Part 2 in the series on Trans issues by Boston IWW member Fey, originally appeared here.

I’m glad to have gotten some positive feedback on the last trans 101 post And so, onward we go.

Part 2: Challenging assumptions & misconceptions

1. Trans people are not “really” their gender.
Wrong! Some trans people will say they became their current gender, but a lot of trans people will say they were born as one gender. Please respect our experience. More on this in some of the other points below, but let’s get this basic concept stated first.

2. Sleeping with a trans person challenges your sexuality.
Sometimes wrong. If you are a straight man and you sleep with a trans woman, you are clearly still straight. Something about her, not her anatomy, attracted you to her. However, if you are a gay woman and you get into a relationship with a trans man, many if not most trans men would feel disrespected by qualifying the relationship as “a lesbian relationship.” If your sexual experience with a trans person makes you uncomfortable, consider what it is about you that may have made it seem peculiar, not just what it is about your partner.

3. Trans people have an obligation to disclose whether they’re trans to have sex.
Wrong! Sometimes disclosing it can more dangerous than risking the possibility of a “surprise.” If a trans person’s so-called “failure” to disclose that they’re trans or have different body parts than you expect is a big problem for you, once again, consider what it is about you or the situation that may have made it hard for them to disclose. The media might make it seem like trans men are just closeted lesbians trying to snare young girls, and like trans women are evil deceitful prostitutes, but that’s the media, not the reality. (While we’re at it, there are a lot of trans women who do sex work, but it’s usually due to poverty, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with sex work either.)

4. Trans people rush into surgery or hormone treatment.
Wrong! This usually involves so much bureaucracy and money-saving that by the time we’re ready to go through with it, we have had every last possible opportunity to back out.

5. Bogus controversy: allowing trans people in the right bathrooms, and creating unisex bathrooms.
Contrary to public fears, trans people just want to use the bathroom in peace. Allowing trans people to use the bathrooms they feel most comfortable using, along with creating unisex bathrooms, is no more likely to give cis men excuses to enter women’s restrooms to commit sexual assault or rape. Cis men have never needed to dress up as women in order to do this.

6. Bogus controversy: trans women have male privilege.
Every trans person is different, but often, trans women have never been able to experience male privilege because of their childhood gender expression demoting them immediately on the social totem pole. It is an individual question after that point, but regardless, it’s extremely likely that a trans woman has experienced or is going to experience the effects of patriarchy as a woman, because she is one. Consequently she is just as entitled to safe spaces for women as cis women are.

7. Bogus controversy: trans men are only seeking male privilege.
Trans men often wind up with male privilege after years of never having received its benefits. However, this privilege only is useful in settings where trans male identities are accepted in the first place, and because of experiences both before and after transition, trans men often become feminist allies. In other words, if a trans man is a chauvinist douche, it’s because chauvinist douchery is intrinsic to our society, not because he’s trans.

8. Trans people are protected by anti-discrimination laws regarding someone’s sexual orientation.
Wrong! This is almost never the case. Even though society generally refuses to distinguish between our gender identity and our sexual orientation, bosses sure do love to make the distinction as an excuse for firing, not hiring, or mistreating us in the workplace.

9. If gender is all a construct anyway, a trans person’s gender doesn’t need to be so directly asserted.
Wrong! Lots of trans people would love gender to just not be a big deal, but we are under the same pressures to be manly men and womanly women as cis people. It’s true that gender is a construct, which many of us do actually challenge on a regular basis, but the argument that specifically trans people deliberately maintain gender as an oppressive division in society makes no sense when you consider how many cis people do the same thing.

10. A trans person who doesn’t effectively pass for cis can’t complain about discrimination; they’re clearly not trying hard enough.
Wrong! This should almost go without saying, but our right to be treated fairly should have nothing to do with whether we pass for cis. Of course, some of us do try to pass for cis in order to avoid discrimination, but that’s not the ideal situation.

11. Trans people with non-binary identities are just trying to get attention.
Wrong! Non-binary people really just aren’t comfortable with the descriptors of “female” or “male,” and that’s their right.

More coming soon, thanks for reading! Part 3 is now available here.

Trans 101 for Wobblies, part 3: Awareness of widespread problems

Part 3 of the ongoing series by Boston IWW member Fey on Trans issues in the labour movement. Originally appeared here.

Hello again! In the last two posts in the Trans 101 series, which hopefully you’ve read (here’s part 1 and part 2 if you haven’t), some basics of trans identification were covered, along with addressing certain myths about trans communities. Now that we’ve gotten through that, we can start looking at how this all fits into the big picture of trans workers’ lives. Please bear in mind that this post will make direct reference to sexual violence, which may be triggering to some readers.

Part 3: Awareness of widespread problems

Generally speaking, a trans life is a shitty life. Even when we have support from families and friends, transphobia and cissexism still run rampant through society in general, affecting everyone from our bosses to our supposed allies in the queer community. It means we have to deal with the following issues at some absolutely egregious rates. These statistics reflect mostly US demographics except where indicated, and are probably worse in many other countries.

1. Homelessness. Approximately 20% of trans people in the US experience homelessness at some point. That is 1 out of every 5. We are routinely kicked out of our homes, we run away from abusive scenarios, we lose our jobs, and the special houses and shelters that ought to take us in still discriminate against us instead. Statistics are especially high amongst trans people of color.

2. Poverty. Trans people here are 4 times more likely to be poor than cis people, and frequently earn less than $10,000 per year. Statistics are again especially high amongst trans people of color.

3. Unemployment & workplace discrimination. At least 50% of trans people in the US have reported harassment in their workplace, and 25% have been fired (essentially, even if not explicitly, for being trans). I also do not have the exact figures but there have been studies indicating some absolutely abysmal percentages of openly/visibly trans people who get hired versus “stealth” trans people or cis people. There is barely any labor law that defends us against all of these issues. We have been hoping that something like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act could finally pass in Congress and give us some nominal legal protection, but most “LGBT” rights groups and even gay Congress members have largely concerned themselves with “marriage equality” advocacy (which still does nothing to provide monetary assistance to unmarried people in need) or repealing things like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (the repeal of which now allows queer folk into the military, but not trans people, and in the meantime, the last thing we really need is a new way for trans people to get killed). Meanwhile, even if ENDA does get passed someday, it’s only legal protection— not union protection. And just to reiterate, our unemployment problems are highest amongst people of color.

4. Unsafe sex work. This is primarily an issue for trans women (again, especially women of color) but not exclusively, and in any case, what many women and others in our communities have to deal with… is simply terrifying, devastating, and sickening. As many know, sex work is already very dangerous simply because of what it is. It becomes all the worse when the near-impossibility of ever having “safer” work in someone’s life will push them to perform riskier acts for absurdly low prices, when pimps have even more avenues of exploitation, and when someone’s dual societal status as a fetish and an abomination mean johns have a high likelihood of killing them after services are rendered— whether or not he knew he was buying sex from a trans person in the first place.

5. Domestic violence. 80% of trans people in Scotland have reported abuse from their current partner or their ex(es). Statistics are no doubt similar over here. That is 4 out of 5 people. I myself am a survivor of emotional & sexual abuse from a now-ex. These figures are so astronomically above the average that it should easily be nauseating to consider.

6. Rape and murder. Worldwide in the last 4 years, there have been 800 reported murders of trans people. Who knows how many unreported ones there have been. Even assuming “only” 800, that means that pretty much every 2 days since 2008, a trans person has been killed somewhere. These murders are frequently brutal to a degree that normally is only witnessed with serial killers— dismemberments, mutilation, burning, sexual violence. The trans body appears to “provoke” some of the most sickening responses from cis people. And given these murder statistics, the rape statistics are not clear, but given the domestic violence rate, I personally prefer to assume that if 50-60% of trans people worldwide are rape survivors or will be at some point, this figure might still be low. Famous murder or rape-murder cases such as that of Gwen Araujo (trans woman, beaten and strangled after sex), Angie Zapata (trans woman, beaten to death after sex), and Brandon Teena (trans man, raped, then shot & stabbed to death) are purely the tip of the iceberg. And race is, as always, an exacerbating factor.

7. Police brutality and/or apathy. This needs no detailed explanation to Wobblies.

8. Suicide. Studies indicate that approximately 40% of trans people in the US attempt suicide at some point in their lives, versus 1.6% of cis people. I will let this speak for itself as well.

Sources for statistics without links are from the National Center for Transgender Equality, 2011. Exception is domestic violence statistic, which is from a survey by the Scottish Transgender Alliance and LGBT Domestic Abuse Project.

Trans 101 for Wobblies, part 4: Common complaints about radical environments

Part 4 of the series on Trans issues by Fey of the Boston IWW. Part one, part two, part three. Originally appeared here.

Part 4: Common complaints about radical environments

Many trans people are politically radical in some way. It would be impossible to say whether radical trans folk are the majority, but the fact remains that it’s largely in our best interest to support movements in favor of workers, poor people, queer people, people of color, and other marginalized groups— we at least largely fall into some of those categories, and our oppression is often compounded by additional parts of our identities. Even amongst non-radicals, I’d say it’s pretty safe to estimate that trans people are often progressive, liberal, or what have you, and in other cases just apathetic— pretty infrequently conservative.

However, those are just my own guesses, and the problem for many politically-minded trans people is that few political spaces are really safe for us. Whether the problems we encounter are deliberately discriminatory or simply unthinking, it is sometimes more comfortable and pragmatic for us to stay out of activism altogether. This applies for any political ideology. I’d like to highlight some specific issues that trans people encounter in radical environments, though; these are often not exclusive to radical groups, but if they’re more general, I’m still mentioning them in a radical context.

1. The “T” in LGBT gets left out.

Cis people, straight and queer alike, are prone to the fallacy that trans people are simply “so gay that they’ve switched genders.” As has already been demonstrated, sexual orientation does not automatically determine sexual/gender identity, or vice versa. Unfortunately, many cis people still tend to assume otherwise, and even if they don’t, they may assume that addressing issues of queer liberation will necessarily cause trans liberation. Cis-dominated radical spaces are often very quick to address queer concerns, while ignoring those same concerns if trans people raise them, and trans-specific concerns are given short shrift even in otherwise “accepting” places. For instance, at plenty of cis-dominated events, including those that address queerness, there is no opportunity to preempt incorrect pronoun usage. Either nobody organizing the event actually has thought about this, or a trans person or ally has requested something like nametags with a space for pronoun preference, only to be rebuffed on the grounds that, “Nobody’s going to have problems with that,” or, “That’s kind of a side issue, don’t you think?” It’s not a side issue, though. And meanwhile, in mainstream “LGBT rights” discourse, the focus from liberal groups like Human Rights Campaign is almost entirely on gay marriage (which only benefits some trans people) and advertisements focused around white, cis, monogamous couples.

2. Trans issues in anti-racist discourse are ignored.

Similar to the above. Many people seem to forget that trans people of color do exist and experience their own unique set of difficulties.

3. Trans women are shunned from feminist discourse (primarily Second Wave, but not always); trans men are considered gender traitors.

This is a particularly serious problem. As important as many radical feminists have been to general left-wing understanding of patriarchy, there’s nothing radical about denying safety and acceptance to women who happen to not fit a cissexist standard of womanhood— which is, not incidentally, a patriarchal standard in and of itself. Likewise, there’s nothing radical about shaming and attacking men who maybe aren’t so enamored of having magical, sacred uteri. Sadly, radical spaces as a whole can be informed by this way of thinking. This means that just as trans women are turned away from shelters for women escaping domestic violence, they are also turned away from environments for fellow thinkers & activists, all generally on the ludicrous grounds that trans women are penis-wielding infiltrators who join radical/feminist organizations to assault cis women or ruin their fun. By and large, no cis women are at risk of attack by trans women. On the contrary— an enormous number of trans women (and men) are in danger thanks to cis feminists who do things like maintain blogs “investigating” trans people and publicly outing us, putting us at risk of losing our livelihoods and support networks.

4. Non-binary trans people are erased even within trans activism itself.

It’s not too much to ask that radical spaces use language like “people” instead of “men and women,” provide fill-in-the-blank options for gender on forms, and respect non-binary pronouns, but this escapes the minds of many, even of trans people.

5. Because sex work is highly prevalent in the trans community, it is in their interest to have greater activism by and on behalf of sex workers.

Whether you regard sex work as an inherently bad profession from which all should be liberated, or you regard it as a potentially positive and life-affirming career choice, either viewpoint can cause problems for radicals. There are dual, competing tendencies to speak condescendingly & pityingly about sex workers vs. to fetishize them. Neither tendency is likely to help sex workers who actively want assistance in changing their lives, nor to provide support to sex workers who enjoy their jobs but want, say, safer conditions. It behooves activists to lend genuine solidarity to sex workers instead. Many trans people would appreciate this, in turn.

6. Trans issues are positioned and belittled as “identity politics” within the labor movement, instead of being handled as labor issues, which many are at their core, even though they do involve identity.

I needn’t go into the entire saga of defining and sidelining “identity politics” right here— I think Wobblies, in general, have some sense of the meaninglessness of distinguishing between “identity” vs. “labor” politics. However, it bears saying that not only should trans issues be supported on their own basis, they very often directly intertwine with labor issues, due to our poverty, our difficulties finding & sustaining good work, etc. In other words, if you don’t have solidarity with a trans coworker who’s experiencing trans-specific harassment from the boss, you’re not sticking to “more important problems,” you’re actively ignoring some of the most important ones.

7. Trans women are misogynistically treated by fellow activists as pathetic or strange, even though trans men are accepted more easily.

In the game of patriarchy, there is considerable pressure on men to successfully perform masculinity, but the true onus is always, of course, on women to successfully perform femininity. It should thus come as no surprise that when sexism replicates itself in radical activist spaces, it still hits women the hardest. Femininine gender performance is maligned, both out of outright misogyny and out of the misguided attitude that gender liberation requires anti-femininity. So trans men— if they’re accepted— can often receive a certain social boost, developing a reputation as daring gender rebels, because they do not perform traditional femininity. Meanwhile, trans women may not receive that sentiment from their radical peers, getting questions like, “But why would you WANT to wear makeup?” The best suggestion I can give to you if you do have that reaction to a trans woman is: think about what’s really the problem with someone wearing makeup. Is it the makeup itself, or is it being forced to wear it in order to have people find you attractive? The latter is obviously the real issue. It’s your body— put on as much makeup as you want. It’s just unfortunate that this is a default expectation of traditional femininity, and that some trans women actually do wear makeup under duress.

Trans 101 for Wobblies, part 5: FAQs

Another part the ongoing series by Boston IWW member Fey on Trans issues. Originally appeared here.

Another weekend, another post. (For the rest of the Trans 101 for Wobblies series, go here, here, here, and here.) After running through some of the information that you may not have realized you needed to know about trans people, we can get to some of the information that you might have wanted to know all along. Please note this post has some relatively frank discussion of sex.

Part 5: FAQs

1. Trans sex lives & relationships

This depends on lots of things. Surgical status, sexual history, a preference for penetrating or being penetrated, and sexual orientation can all make a difference in who trans people have sex with and how they do so. Everyone is different, and it is very, very important to understand that because trans women are not gay men and trans men are not gay women, and because people of non-binary identities have a wide array of sexual preferences, the same array of orientations is available to trans people as to cis people. Even a trans woman who’s “post-op” and now has a surgically constructed vagina may still use a strap-on to have sex with her partner, who might be any gender or sex. I myself am in a monogamous marriage with another guy and I still prefer being the penetrated partner, just only anally or orally.

Legally speaking, nothing is illegal about relationships with trans people or between them, but trans people may or may not be able to legally marry their partner, depending on the state/country and the legal gender of the parties involved. One horrifying example is the UK, where for example a trans woman married to a cis woman would have to divorce her wife to complete gender transition and then get the inferior civil union instead. Yes, this is legally required— and a sick joke.

2. How trans people are gendered on paper

It varies by where you are and what documents you’re looking at. Birth certificates in different places are typically very hard to change, but this doesn’t rule out lots of difficulties and red tape for other documents. US federal law now says you can change the gender marker on your passport with a specific type of doctor’s note; everything else is a roll of the dice. Right now, my driver’s license and passport say I’m male and use my correct name, whereas my Social Security and insurance do use the right name but say I’m female, and meanwhile my birth certificate still has all the old information because my state of birth is notoriously difficult about this issue. I could potentially get my gender marker switched with my insurance, but I choose not to; if I’m listed as male then they might choose not to cover my eventual hysterectomy, even if it were to become an emergency, because a man “can’t possibly” have a uterus. The sacrifice I make for this is that they now don’t cover my hormone treatments because no “female” could need testosterone shots. More on that below!

3. The transitional process

If someone decides they would like to change their body, there are several general ways to do so. You can change enough to “pass” as cis with the public, or you can change more intimate body parts.

A common starting point for many people is hormone replacement therapy. Different hormones are taken according to what you want to change about your body, e.g. grow breasts, redistribute body fat, increase body hair, change bone mass, lower voice. Effects are different for everyone and not all changes are reversible, plus what some trans men can change by hormones is not something that can be changed by trans women, and vice versa. Hormones for trans men will lower their voices, but hormones for trans women won’t raise theirs, for example. Also, some of these same people, or different people, will have cosmetic surgery performed; trans women may get breast implants or adjustments to their faces to have finer features, while trans men may get double mastectomies and chest reconstruction. Trans women sometimes get laser hair removal.

Sex reassignment surgery (SRS) is often what people generally think of as “a sex change,” but many people who transition from living as their assigned gender to their real gender never alter their sex. However, among those who do, for trans women and similar people this process usually involves having the penis and testicles removed surgically and the tissue of the penis used to create a vagina; for trans men and similar people this process can involve having the testosterone-enlarged clitoris freed from surrounding tissue to hang more freely from the body and optionally redirect the urethra through it, or alternately using a skin graft to lengthen the clitoris much more significantly than hormones will do.

All of the transitional activities described are complicated and expensive, so some people choose not to do it for financial reasons. Others simply don’t find it relevant. Some of these practices are also available to— or forced upon— intersex people, who may or may not consider themselves trans. I personally am on hormones as mentioned, and I plan to get a hysterectomy, but I don’t plan on getting a mastectomy or any form of SRS. The hormones themselves address most of the problems I have with my own body.

Trans 101 for Wobblies, part 6: Trans issues as labor issues

The final part in Fey's series on Trans issues, originally appeared on the website of the Boston branch of the Industrial Workers of the World.

Preceding posts in this series are linked here: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Part 6: Trans issues as labor issues

Because wealthy white queer people are given the most visibility within the “LGBT” community, straight working people are often given the false idea that being queer is a pursuit of the idle rich. This is an unfortunate misconception but a classic example of the way that capitalism divides and conquers. It is also a phenomenon that repeats itself with trans people. We get mixed up with queer people (even though we do overlap sometimes) and then our costly hormones & surgeries are piled on to create the impression that we’re only “changing sexes” because we’re bored rich wankers passing time. On the rare chance that someone remembers there are poor trans people (often of color), of course, then class-based bigotry deploys itself in a patriarchal vein— the wide swath of destitute trans folk gets swept aside for being sex workers, because fuck, who wants to help out a sex worker? Eyeroll…

Anyway, if you are a cis working person and you are hoping to actually involve trans people in your labor struggles, this is good, because you should be doing this. This is not simply to make labor movements “more inclusive,” although that sentiment is noble, but because many trans issues are labor issues. We are discriminated against in hiring, in promotions, and in raises. We are fired or laid off unjustly. We have to do risky jobs to survive, often. So think about the way you currently relate to trans people, the language you use that can feed systemic transphobia, and how you can personally make your labor activism more appealing to trans workers.

Here is a lengthy collection of suggestions for cis allies with a radical labor mindset.


DO help respect trans friends, coworkers, and fellow activists by correcting people who use the wrong name or pronouns for those individuals, rather than making those individuals constantly self-advocate.

DO make sure you always use the right name and pronouns for any trans person, if you know their preference; when you get in the habit, it becomes easy… she has a shadow? he has boobs? Shouldn’t matter. If you want to be treated with respect you have to show it. You’ve gotta start thinking of people as the gender they are, not the one they were born into. Otherwise we’re not gonna want to be around you. Talking to a trans guy shouldn’t be different from talking to a cis guy, and likewise for girls.

DO respect people’s requests about distinguishing terms like “female-to-male,” “male-to-female,” “FTM,” “MTF,” “trans man,” “trans woman,” “transman,” and “transwoman.” To some of us, different terms like those are great and others are offensive. These days, usually “trans man” and “trans woman” are the safest default.

DO in a radical, “safe” environment, politely ask someone, “Could you please tell me your preferred pronouns?” if you’d like to make sure, not, “Hey, are you a man or a woman?”

DO in a more questionably safe environment, make the best guess on pronouns that you can, and if you’re corrected explicitly, apologize quickly, and use the correct pronouns, then move on.

DO honor requests for specific gender-neutral pronouns like ze/hir.

DO apply what you may already know about feminist gender theory to your daily discussions; using sexist language with trans people easily makes us uncomfortable, and even if we’re not around, that language feeds the vicious cycle of misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.

DO call out others’ transphobia when you see it, monitor it in the workplace, and be prepared to respond with direct action to workplace discrimination.

DO use trans-inclusive speech in general political discussion, e.g. don’t say abortion is a women’s issue, because it is an issue for anyone who can become pregnant.

DO give compliments on a trans person’s appearance like you would for anyone else, such as, “I love your jacket,” or, “You look pretty today!”— not stuff like “in that outfit I would never guess you were trans!” And don’t be too overbearing with any comments if you don’t want to get a rep as a tr*nny chaser.

DO listen to grievances that trans people raise in any setting, and trust their experiences; no one knows what they’re going through better than them.

DO politely, privately offer to advocate for trans people who have a grievance they’re too intimidated to raise on their own.

DO be aware that context makes a huge difference in any of these described situations.

DO be ready to accept correction.

DO own your cis privilege.

DO offer trans-specific aid in outreach to poor/working communities, such as medical services or routes to obtaining them, legal aid for discrimination cases, housing assistance, and so forth.

DO consider having a genderqueer dance party or another social event— maybe a drag costume party, something fun to break the ice; let people know that you’re not all about work and still let people know you’re on their side.

DO relax! We don’t want to spook you. The reality is you won’t get along with every trans person to the extent that you won’t get along with everyone period. But it’s important to give respect. Most importantly we’re people just like you, with tastes and preferences, histories and hopes, strengths and defects, trust and mistrust, greed and generosity; we’re afraid of being awkward but usually very sociable and fun loving and have the same desires to be happy and comfortable in our skin as everyone else.


DON’T “out” anyone you know who’s trans to anyone this person has not specifically said you could out them to. If you can tell then you can tell, but other times you won’t be able to. If you’re gay then you’ve been in situations with your straight friends that are like, “My friend is gay. Yeah, that’s right, I love my friend Ingrid even if she is gay and I don’t care who knows, isn’t that right, Ingrid?” We don’t like being outed either and frankly whether someone’s a boy or a girl is none of someone’s business in the end. Getting to know a person is central when it comes to such personal details, and you don’t necessarily know the depths of how much you could be hurting someone even if you’re trying to help.

DON’T use phrases or language that implicitly invalidate someone’s stated and/or expressed gender.

DON’T use any names or pronouns for a trans person besides what they have asked you to use, unless they’ve given exceptions for what to use around people from their past whom they’re not out with, etc.

DON’T ask a trans person to explain why they are their gender without an invitation.

DON’T ask a trans person about their surgical or hormonal status without an invitation.

DON’T assume that someone else’s name or pronoun “slip-up” is benign; it could have been a passive-aggressive, even threatening attack, and no matter how accidental, it could still have produced a dangerous emotional or material effect.

DON’T grope a trans person, not even in humor. In fact, just don’t grope anyone, but it can take on particular dangerous connotations with us.

DON’T make jokes about trans people or about people who clearly exhibit trans traits.

DON’T force your assistance on a trans person, even if they might objectively need it. It’s patronizing.

DON’T assume you can apply everything about one trans person’s life to another’s.

DON’T assume it’s safe to say words/phrases like “tr*nny,” “ladyboy,” “chick with a dick,” “boy with boobs,” even if you have trans friends who are okay with those terms.

DON’T exclude trans women from women-only spaces or trans men from men-only spaces, no matter how progressive those spaces’ intent or what rationale you’ve invented, whether this is a concert, a support group, a domestic violence shelter, ANYTHING.

DON’T make every conversation like a Gender Studies program. It’s not like this stuff isn’t an issue but sometimes we just wanna talk about regular stuff. Earrings, cute boys, celebrities, anything except “when did you know?, what are you?, are you out to your parents? are you out to your boy/girlfriend?” etc. Remember we’re PEOPLE who are transgender, not just transgender people.

… If you follow these kinds of guidelines, you are much more likely to make your collective, event, union, organization, etc. feel welcoming to trans people, and in your efforts to organize the working class as a whole, it is much more likely that trans people will see you understand the issues they deal with.


Kate Bornstein: Gender Outlaw
Riki Anne Wilkins: Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender
Julia Serano: Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity
Leslie Feinberg: Drag King Dreams


Questioning Transphobia
bird of paradox
Whipping Girl (Julia Serano)

This concludes my trans 101 for Wobblies series, but I just wanted to add that last but not least, if you are a Fellow Worker questioning your gender and you think you want to talk it over with someone, I’m always glad to talk. You can find me via the private Boston IWW e-mail list.