It’s Wednesday Night: Do You Know Where Your Community Is? A Modest Proposal for the Ingersoll Gender Center Support Group

Like a lot of thirty-something trans women, I have no offline community of trans women to speak of, though I have a community of queers, many of whom are pretty awesome trans men. But when it comes to trans women, I have people I speak to online, who are all in other cities. I live in Seattle, a place where there’s allegedly a thriving and involved trans community, but it’s all well-hidden, and a well-hidden community shelters itself from outsiders.

Trouble is, the space you’re expected to become known is is the one, the only, the Ingersoll Gender Center’s  quite dreadful support group. Similarly, any questions about medical access in Seattle tend to get punted with “go ask at Ingersoll” online, which is a kind of useless answer for those of us the support group works to exclude, and they don’t respond to contact about seeking information about doctors, electrologists, etc. if you email them to ask, though I have been told I can find out more by coming to a meeting.  I’ve had my words about Ingersoll before, which have incurred the wrath of at least one of their core group in ranting about what a horribly bad person I must be. I’m not really sure why the mere presence of criticism of a group leads to this sort of reaction, but it seems somewhat telling. People have scathing things to say about how much Ingersoll sucks when you’re a trans woman who doesn’t meet with HBSer approval in private, but nobody says this in public.

I’ve had some long conversations with other trans folks and they agree with me that the situation with Ingersoll is presently just not workable for someone like me. There’s too much enforcement of the cosmetic side of the HBSer standard for trans women: I’m not white enough, too fat, way too disabled, etc...HBS standards are the patriarchal expectation of how a white woman is ‘supposed to be and behave’. I mean, yeah, I get that that’s patriarchal society and all, but enforcing that by harassing women is kind of not okay, and it amounts to the most exclusionary of activities: punching down. I shouldn’t be harassed for my looks and expected to either change them or hate myself for them, and the fact that this is part and parcel of the Ingersoll experience through the proffering of unwanted “passing tips” is a piece of the way the support group works to be exclusionary. Me and my “masculine eye folds”, y’all.

So I have a question: does Ingersoll intend to not serve trans women who aren’t “good enough” under HBSer standards and just consider us acceptible losses?

I really want to believe the answer is no. So knowing that the group has in the past had “breakout groups”, I suggest a special theme meeting every two months, a judgment-free environment for sharing information and featuring educational programming useful to the whole community. That’s 6 out of the 52 meetings a year. These are my, and by extension our, requests:

  • No “passing tips”, ableist/sizest comments, homophobic BS, etc. That means NO BODY POLICING. Persons who cannot or will not comply may not remain; they have the other 46 meetings a year.
  • No door policing …if you haven’t been 86ed from Ingersoll for violent or creeptacular behavior (the latter of which has been IME perfectly accepted, but I’m just saying) you’re allowed in. There is no judgment of who is or isn’t trans enough, and no “why are you here?”
  • No passing the hat for donations or any minimum “suggested donation.” Put a box by the door. The approach of making an issue of who does or doesn’t donate is highly excluding of poorer people.
  • A moderator who is a person of color. My three previous tragically bad forays to Ingersoll meetings came with white trans woman moderators, one of whom was so vicious that I left in tears after being given a withering evaluation of how I’d need “$37,000 of facial surgery to pass.” Ingersoll is inaccessible for Seattle’s large queer community of color because of people like her and because of the inherently white nature of HBSer appearance policing.
  • Informative topics for the whole community. Listen, folks, I’m pretty sure that some trans women and most trans men don’t really need to know how to use blush. If you’re not clear, every Nordstrom M-A-C counter from Lynnwood to Tacoma will be happy to help you with fashion-forward advice…hell, my Walgreens in the hood has a Beauty Advisor. (Alternately, ask me! My blush game is so strong it’s illegal in 43 countries.)  This kind of thing is othering for a lot of people because it’s not something everyone needs to learn about, nor is it something that appeals to all trans people. And yet, it’s what the topic of presentation was one night that I was there. Again, you’ve got the other 46 meetings a year to do this, and should feel free to do so. It’s one meeting every two months…so very two months, cover topics like:
  1.  The Affordable Care Act and Getting Healthcare when You’re Trans under the ACA
  2. What You Need To Know When Dealing With The Seattle/King County/ Etc. Cops (and why the SPD has some of the most bass-ackwards policies toward trans people in the country and why Ingersoll isn’t making political hay over this?)
  3. Your Rights Under The Law in Washington as a Trans Person in Employment, Housing, etc.
  4. Self-Defense for Trans People (maybe get the Home Alive people in on this?)
    (All this is allegedly, according to some people, “on the internet.” Trouble is it isn’t, and not everyone has a safe place to read trans-related stuff on the internet anyhow. It’s not exactly something where I wouldn’t be scared if the dude next to me at the library looked over and saw on my screen that I was reading about that...and while we’re at it, here’s a killer how to do blush primer, which unlike the things cited above, is on the internet. I don’t want to seem down on blush, y’all, I’m just up on serving the community, not just some of the community.)
  • No misgendering. That means when I tell you to stop calling me “it”, you stop calling me “it.” When I tell the facilitator I’m not a “he”, there’s not 11 more “he”s. Name tags with preferred pronouns would help, but when you don’t stop and keep going, you can get the hell out.
  • Be helpful and share information. If the deal is you have to attend to have access to information like safe doctors, good electrologists/laser techs, etc…share information at these meetings. Help your fellow men, women, and non-gendered people. Listen to what they’re asking for and do your best to be helpful.  This is part of respect, part of community, part of caring for others. This is part of how we build community, and how maybe new people could show up without the risk of 20 minutes of “passing tips” they don’t want or need. Information is power, as Emily pointed out to me tonight, and withholding information or making it impossible for some people to get without withstanding an hour of verbal abuse is a tool of control, whether intentional or not.

So it’s another Wednesday night, and the trans girl I take care of, her brother, and I are sitting on a couch at the library reading about the misadventures of Junie B. Jones. I propose this so I can take nights like this off and go somewhere and find information, communication, and community. Ingersoll openly fails at this right now, so I’m hoping y’all care enough to consider attempting change.

Because in 10 more years, this little girl next to me is gonna be an adult. I want a trans community right here in Seattle where she won’t be eaten alive for who or what she is no matter who she is. It’s time to create this, so here’s my modest proposal.

Let’s talk.