From Trans-Ponder‘s Episode 134 – Show me yours and I’ll not show you mine! comes an interview of Kate Lynn Blatt, the person who was asked to have a photo taken of her genitalia to work for Manpower, Inc.
A partial transcript (of the somewhat slow loading audio — emphasis added):
Kate Lynn Blatt: [Irene Kudziela, branch manager of Manpower’s Pottsville, Pennsylvania office] goes I talked to the lady at SAPA the HR person there. She goes they really want to hire you back. She goes all you needed to do was take your physical and you will get your start date. You know I would hired into the company. They want benefits, you know 150% pay raise. I would have made more than double what I was making. She says so all they asking is when you go and get your physical taken the doctor takes a picture of your genitals and we can put this all behind us and you can start work there as early as Monday next week.
Then she says to me she goes well it’s a liability issue she goes and the only people that are going to see this picture, she’s been assured, I have her assurances, that the only other people that will see this picture is every female employee on the shift that I work with. That’s all, that’s it, that’s the only people who will see it.
Jayna L-Pavlin: Do they have to show you their’s?
Kate Lynn Blatt: No, no. Because they are not trans, why would they have to?
Mila Pavlin: Right. So they are going to put on display in the women’s locker room a photo of your genitals for every woman employee to see.
Kate Lynn Blatt: No no. They would have a special meeting see and explain to them that oh you know I’m trans and this is proof that I have transitioned.
Jayna L-Pavlin: It’s the equivalent of posting your picture up in the women’s locker room.
Kate Lynn Blatt: Sure!
I’ve seen where some actually question the veracity of Ms. Blatt’s story, saying it’s unbelievable. I’d disagree. While it’s true that no one should have to show a picture of one’s genitalia to one’s employers to be eligible for a job, I would argue — as Ms. Blatt seems to also be arguing — that only women suspected of being trans (or intersexed) would be asked to show pictures of their genitalia as a condition of employment.
[I]t is common to see or hear demands for detailed reasons behind the actions of marginalized groups. How often do cis people insist that trans people fully explain what it means to have a gendered identity (as if cis folk like me don’t have one) as a prerequisite to being treated with respect? (Though of course it’s rarely spelled out like that.)
Ultimately, this dichotomy has its roots in the nature of normativity. If you do not fit the norm, you are expected to strive to become like the norm unless you can plead your case for why your deviations should be considered acceptable. It may seem as if it should then be acceptable for someone to ask about what is considered the norm. The reason it is not is that when the norm is described, it becomes subject to discourse and inquiry. It loses its power to function invisibly, and the people who fit inside its boundaries face the risk of losing their privilege.
In fact, all women who have a masculine edge to their look have the potential for the same issues coming up. Caster Semenya is a South African runner who has had to submit to gender verification tests after posting some excellent 800-meter times this summer. It appears she looks too masculine and appears too athletic for a female. The New York Times fills in on what the two non-medal winning athletes in a recent race stated:
These kind of people should not run with us,” Elisa Cusma of Italy, who finished sixth, said in a postrace interview with Italian journalists. “For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”
Mariya Savinova, a Russian who finished fifth, told Russian journalists that she did not believe Semenya would be able to pass a test. “Just look at her,” Savinova said.
Had to pull down your pants or lift up your skirt to prove to other women you’re a woman lately? Have you received dirty looks in the public locker room or bathroom lately for looking too masculine? Ever had to have a genetic test to determine whether you’re male, female, or intersexed?
By the way, I’m personally awaiting the results for a genetic test I had done at the VA. The test is mostly to determine if I have Klinefelter’s Syndrome (XXY instead of the “standard” XY or XX) — I have many of the symptoms of the syndrome. One of my medical providers suggested I have testing for it because should I have the syndrome, there are secondary health concerns. No matter how the test comes back though, it won’t change how I see my gender identity, but it may change how others perceive me. Basically, many will consider me as going from being transsexual to being intersexed if I should have Klinefelter’s Syndrome, and many would not consider me to be transgender at all.
So what is my sex? What is my gender? What is (or are) my identity (or identities)? I find I’m far from the only trans, and/or intersexed person who has to ask these questions of themselves. And too, I have “the pleasure” of watching cissexual/cisgender others ask these questions about about the sex and gender of my trans and intersex peers and me, as if what what my trans and intersex peers, as well as myself, find true about ourselves doesn’t matter at all. We are instead defined by our genetics, or the shape of our genitalia.
So, I leave you with a thought of Eric Vilain, the chief of medical genetics at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, regarding sex and gender:
Sex should be easily definable, but it’s not. Our gender identity our profound sense of being male or female is independent from our anatomy.
Special thanks to Sheila Sha’lo and her pet dragon for creating the basis for the transcript.
* Fight For The Family blog: Kmart Confusion (Opposition piece)
* The Guardian: Think before you say ‘she’s a man; ‘We must question our readiness to rely on surface clues to interrogate a young athlete like Caster Semenya on her sex
* Feministing: Sex-Determination Testing in Track and Field