Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Congratulations Diane Schroer

Friday was a historic day for Trans people in the United States.  Diane Schroer won her her discrimination suit against the Library of Congress.  She had applied for a job and been hired,  but when she revealed to her supervisor over lunch that she intended to have sex reassignment surgery, the offer of employment was rescinded.  The Library had defended its discrimination claiming that  transgender people are not covered under federal anti-discrimination laws.

"It is especially gratifying that the court has ruled that discriminating against someone for transitioning is illegal," said Schroer in a statement from the ACLU, which represented her in court, as reported by CNN.

"I knew all along that the 25 years of experience I gained defending our country didn't disappear when I transitioned, so it was hard to understand why I was being turned down for a job doing what I do best just because I'm transgender. It is tremendously gratifying to have your faith in this country, and what is fundamentally right and fair, be reaffirmed."

Even as I read this report, feeling great joy and relief that she had received justice through the court system, I could not help but notice the language in the story released by CNN. Since language controls discourse, how we speak about an event, person, or concept, has  real significance to our culture.

At the time of the job interview for a position as a senior terrorism research analyst, David Schroer was a male. He had been a onetime Army Special Forces commander.

No David presented as male but she was always a she.  She had once been a Army Special Forces Commander. Once you know the correct pronoun to use, you should always refer to the person by that pronoun.

Even the wording from U.S. District Court Judge James Robinson was problematic.

"The evidence established that the Library was enthusiastic about hiring David Schroer -- until she disclosed her transsexuality," Robinson wrote. "The Library revoked the offer when it learned that a man named David intended to become, legally, culturally and physically, a woman named Diane. This was discrimination 'because of ... sex.' "

Until she disclosed her transgender status is how that should read.  The library revoked the offer when it learned a transwoman formerly named David intended to have her body realigned to match her gender.   Just a few small changes but they make such a difference to how this is understood.  Even though Judge Robinson was affirming her legal rights he still fell prey to cis privilege.

The language we use is the embodiment of not only our privileges but our unchecked discriminations.  It takes time and effort to learn to speak about bodies differently, but this is an attempt that we should all make.  The transgender members of our society are worthy of the same respect as anyone else.  Though this article attempted to remain free of transphobic language, it still made some critical errors.

Someone very close to me asked me a few months ago, "Why do you care about those freaks?"  The answer is quite simple, they are not freaks and I see no difference between myself and someone who is transgender.  We feel the same pain, we both suffer from discrimination and we are all just doing the best we can to get through this life.  Respecting someone even though they may appear to be different from you is the mark of someone who realizes that these so called differences only exist to maintain some bodies as privileged and some bodies as marginalized and disposable.

Congratulations Diane Schroer.  Even with this victory as a society we still have so far to go.  If you are interested in learning more about transgender rights please check out TransGriot and Questioning Transphobia.  They have been excellent resources for me in terms of recognizing my own cis privilege, as well as learning the day to day struggles that a trans person must go through in this life.


AR said...

The only problem I have with things like "...have her body realigned to match her gender" is that it seems to reify gender.

I guess it doesn't really matter for most practical concerns. Transgender individuals exist, even if gender does not, and that's enough to protect them under the law, in the same way that racism exists, while race does not.

Anonymous said...

@AR: http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/2008/08/30/abolishing-gender/

FTGarcia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AR said...

That is an interesting point, Anon2, but it doesn't particularly address my position because I don't believe a lot of what is being argued against. Namely, I don't think that transitioning wouldn't happen in a genderless society.

As far as I'm concerned, it is enough to know that transitioning is as important to transgender people as it is to accept everything about them, but not necessarily to accept their claims about the nature of the problem, because to speak of something as complex as gender-identity in such terms as one would use to describe matching blood types oversteps the bounds of science, which in questions of a medical nature is a dangerous thing to do. All we know is that there exist people who are helped by transitioning. Everything else is philosophy.