Talia Mae Bettcher’s Essay, Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers brings up a variety of points about transphobia and subsequent anti-transgender violence based on the perceived link between biological materiality and gender identity, identity enforcement and the concept of “gender deception,” intersectionality, and homophobia. After reading the article, it occured to me that a great deal of the violence against transgender individuals is probably due to limited knowledge about the transgender experience, especially in lower-class areas. According to Bettcher, “the thesis that degree of transphobia will be higher in geographical areas that already involve a higher degree of violence and that the likelihood of transphobic discrimination (and severity thereof) will be greater in lower-paying jobs is a plausible one” (284). Further, she discusses at length the (incorrect) concept of gender essentialism that gender is inherently (essentially) tied to one’s genitalia, and the resulting misconceptions that lead to transphobia and homophobia.
These issues are addressed in a series of workshops that were held at two Syracuse, NY Catholic churches this month.
Starting on February 25, St. Lucy’s and All Saints Catholic Churches hosted events in which transgender individuals, their parents, and professionals in the social justice field discuss what it means to be transgender, and how to become “an effective ally for trans rights.” Their hope is to educate members of the community on the realities of the transgender experience (including the violence inflicted upon these individuals), as well as overcome misconceptions of gender essentialism and gender identity in general.
According to syracuse.com (http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2013/03/mathews_priest_st_lucys_syracu.html), St. Lucy’s is located amongst public housing projects in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Syracuse. They have always leaned more towards the liberal side of politics, and now they believe they can better their community by opening discussions on the topics of transphobia and transgender rights in a location where such topics are not part of daily discourse.
Two of the workshops include presentations from an oranization called “Think Again,” which aims to “develop critical consciousness about issues of oppression and social justice,” such as gender and transgender issues, in workplaces, schools, and communities. According to their website, the first of their workshops provides an overview of gender and trans* identities:
“For groups with little previous exposure to transgender issues, this workshop provides a foundation to start the conversation. The facilitator will debunk myths and provide information about the range of trans* identities and experiences. Participants will gain comfort talking about trans* issues, and have a chance to explore how these issues are relevant to them in their communities.”
The second workshop includes more about oppression and violence:
“Transgender people face systemic exclusion and are often targets of misunderstanding and violence from individuals as well as institutions. Similar to racism, sexism, and many other systems of oppression, transgender oppression may be difficult to recognize because it is woven so deeply into society – and interwoven with these other systems.
In this workshop the facilitator provides a framework for understanding and identifying transgender oppression on the interpersonal, cultural and institutional levels. Participants explore examples of how transgender oppression can affect individuals and communities, and identify similarities and differences between transgender oppression and other systems of oppression. Participants will leave the workshop with plans to confront transgender oppression in at least one area of their lives where they have influence.”
The goal of this series of workshops seems to be to educate communities that have little to no knowledge about what it means to be transgender, in order to combat misconceptions of “deceiving” and “pretending.” Other Catholic groups have condemned St. Lucy’s and All Saints’ for “normaliz[ing] a severe perversion/mental disorder and undermin[ing] Catholic Doctrine,” though others have thanked them for their inclusiveness.