15 February 2012

On Transwomen and Self-Determination

I've come across an excellent article:  Sexual Rights of HIV-Positive Transwomen by Dee Barrego.  She covers many of the dilemmas faced by HIV-positive transwomen, and transwomen generally.  However, the real point of the article--and what makes it something more than a manifesto or a collection of information--is that transwomen have the same rights to self-determination when it comes to their bodies, but that too many health-care and social service providers, not to mention law enforcement officials, act as if this were not true.

I find myself thinking about a conversation I had with two friends of mine.  They are young, attractive African-American professional women who have had their share of adventures, shall we say, in the dating world.    One of their complaints is that too many men--mainly white, but of other races as well--don't want to bring home a black woman to their family, or simply don't want to be in a committed relationship with one.  However, those same men seem to believe that black women should always be sexually available to them.  Also, those same men seem to think that they have the right not to discuss anything they'd prefer not to, while black women's sexuality, as well as their sexual and medical history, should be completely open books.

In many ways, what they say about their experience parallels something I--and, I suspect, other trans women--have experienced.  Other people seem to think that they have the right to decide what and when, or whether, we will disclose, and with whom or whether we can have sex.  They ask us questions about our genitalia and other body parts they would never ask anyone else, and they seem to think they have a right to know about our HIV, relationship and even employment status, even when such information is completely irrelevant to them.  

And then there is the man with whom I was involved--and whom I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog--who told me that if he were HIV-positive, he would not disclose that before having sex with me.  Yet he felt entitled to pry into any and all areas of my life, looking for anything, however innocuous, he could twist and use against me when it suited him.  When he couldn't find such things, he made them up.  Plus, no matter how much I could prove to him that I was who and what I told him I am, it was never good enough.  Even a notarized letter from my doctor stating that I am HIV-negative wasn't enough for him.

(Since ending my relationship with him, I've come to realize that his openly homophobic and transphobic relatives actually have more integrity, at least in relation to the things I've mentioned, than he did.  But that's another story!)

Now, I am willing to talk about my experiences because I hope they will allow some people to understand me, and other trans women, better.  But neither I nor anyone else should be forced to discuss, for example, our sexual practices or our medical histories.  And if someone asks and we answer, what we say shouldn't be used against us.  There's nothing worse than the person who's always asking about "what it's like," then uses the fact that you've talked about it to discredit you, end a friendship or even try to terminate your employment or a professional relationship.  I've heard too many stories of such things from other trans women!

The experience of women--cisgender, trans, straight, lesbian, bisexual or any other--has shown that when we don't have control over our bodies, minds and histories, other people take it upon themselves to make decisions about them for us.  And those decisions are rarely in our best interest, let alone to our benefit.