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 V.19 No.4 | January 28 - February 3, 2010 

Ain't I a Woman?

Transgender Politics

Amanda Simpson
Amanda Simpson

Tall and slim with natural blond hair, the young lady walking by us exuded a confidence that belied the struggles she must have gone through to be where she was. I gestured toward her. "No matter what I do, I'll never be able to look like that," I complained.

"Me neither," said the middle-aged woman across from me. "Lots of women would love to look like Amanda." It was 2002, and we were at a gender conference in Tucson's Sentinel Building. In addition to her successful career at Raytheon and her activism with the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, the lovely Amanda Simpson was serving on the City of Tucson Commission on LGBT Issues.

Yet none of her qualifications have prevented a stream of invective from being directed her way since President Obama appointed her as a special adviser to the Department of Commerce. There was the silly, contrived television skit with Alan Kalter running from the room after David Letterman's announcement about Simpson. But that’s minor compared with the remarks of people like Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality: "This is a manand by the way he is a man; he's not a womanwho is one of the leaders in crusading for so-called 'civil rights' based on gender-confused behavior," he claims.

Obviously, LaBarbera has never met Simpson. Far from being gender-confused, she displays an innate femininity that makes it hard to believe she's ever been anything but female. Indeed, were she not so open about her past, no one would ever guess. LaBarbera, who evidently doesn't even understand the crucial distinction between transsexuality and homosexuality, is the one who's gender-confused.

Equally confused is Peter J. Smith of Life Site News: "Amanda, formerly known as Mitchell, is a man who worked for Raytheon Missile Systems in Arizona, during which time he made the transition from 'male' to 'female.' Simpson was a major homosexual activist ... ." I knew Simpson from 2001 to 2008, and never saw her concern herself particularly with "homosexual" rights. Her identity has been as a transsexual woman, and that's the direction her activism has taken.

The vitriol continues online as bigots are able to spew their venom about a woman they, too, have never met. Here's one from someone called "njjoe": "Well, no one can accuse BHO this time of appointing a weak leader without balls." Hello? Simpson had sex reassignment surgery 10 years ago. That means ... well, "njjoe," get your mind out of your drawers and connect the dots if you're capable of rational thought. Really, if these people weren't terrified of the fact that gender isn't necessarily dependent on the sex assigned at birth, couldn't they find better things to do with their time?

This is the "Don't-confuse-me-with-facts" mindset. Show them proof of global warming and they'll still say it doesn't exist. Show them Obama's birth certificate and they'll still deny he was born in Hawaii. Show them a picture of a pretty woman, and they'll claim she isn't really a woman despite the evidence right before their eyes. And no matter how brilliant and well-qualified that woman may be, some narrow-minded people will never accept her if she happens to be transsexual.

Simpson isn't the first transsexual appointee in the Obama Administration. Shortly before her appointment, Dylan Orr was appointed as a special assistant to the Labor Department. And it's been more than a year since Congressman Barney Frank brought Diego Sanchez onto his staff. But Orr and Sanchez are transsexual men, and thus don't create the kind of weird fantasies in the minds of bigots that transsexual women like Simpson do. Why is this?

As Julia Serano points out in her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, "... the media tends not to noticeor to outright ignoretrans men because they are unable to sensationalize them the way they do trans women without bringing masculinity itself into question. ... Since most people cannot fathom why someone would give up male privilege and power in order to become a relatively disempowered female, they assume that trans women transition primarily as a way of obtaining the one type to power that women are perceived to have in our society: the ability to express femininity and attract men."

The day may come when a strong, successful woman like Simpson will be valued for all those qualities rather than maligned for irrelevant details from her past. And should such a woman receive a high-level appointment as Simpson has, people will be able to keep their minds out of their underwear long enough to accept the fact that she's suited for the position. Unfortunately, some folks still haven't grown up enough to reach that level of understanding.

A freelance writer and therapist since 1985, Joni Kay Rose has been published in local and national periodicals. She wrote The Joy Beyond Craving in 2003; and a second book, Over the Gender Rainbow , will come out later this year.

 
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