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.

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

  1. When I went to my first Ingersoll event after moving to town, I spent 10 minutes talking with one of the facilitators about hormones and doctors and stuff, then she turns around and introduces me to the other facilitator as ‘he.’ I was so stupified I thought it was more funny than frustrating. But still, when I called her on it she could have easily been, “oops. She’s …” instead she didn’t even apologize and just said “Oh, well it’s because of your genderqueer hat.” wtf? A hat determines my gender? And all genderqueers use male pronouns? Gah, I still laugh about it.

    But bottom line, though, I’ve been seeing you online for a while and like the stuff you’ve written. If you’re wanting more community with trans women we should hang out some time.

  2. Hey there: I totally agree. At Trans Lives Matter, we’re putting together a set of monthly talks about career and business stuff that will start in March. Most of the speakers will be trans, a few will be cis. But it will include information on how they got into their fields, advice on how other people might be able to, and we’re asking each of them to speak to social privileges that helped them get to where they are today.
    In addition, we’re having a social event on February 25th. We got a block of tickets to the 7pm showing of “Riding In Cars with Black People and Other Newly Dangerous Acts” at Seattle University. Folks who want to go just meet us out in front of Piggot auditorium around 6:30 when the doors open. Someone will be holding a sign that says “TLM Ticket Block”. We have 19 tickets left.
    And we have nametags with pronouns on them for our events.

    • That’s what I’m trying at present. Bit daunting for a newcomer, honestly, but sticking with it as long as my people are there to go with me. Thanks for the tip!

  3. I’m glad to see it’s not just me that can’t stand Ingersoll. I’m a white, fairly passable, middle age trans woman who had the same experience. About the only intersection we have is that I’m fat. I went there to help find a shrink so I could get my second letter so I could get my SRS signed off. Ingersoll was about as helpful as a wet noodle in this matter.

    • It’s sort of interesting to hear how often this comes up quietly, but the bullies that Ingersoll has fostered seem to keep that silence well-enforced. I was sort of amused/unamused to discover the gentleman who’s been making vague threats toward me isn’t even on the Ingersoll board anymore, and there was at least one person from the board who seemed interested in working on the structural issues…but time will tell there.

      For now, thanks for checking in with your experiences and here’s hoping something changes…or there’s eventually something built that reduces dependence on Ingersoll altogether.

  4. Welcome back to the blogosphere, and “Hello, long time no see. I hope you are well”. So, I have a question for you… What can or should a white, disabled, poly, queer, trans woman do to help end cultures of bullshite like that? I run an online group on an MMO, and I try to keep in safe and inclusive as possible, though sometimes I get some dude bros who feel they need to tell me about my favoritism and the like. But that’s par for the course, I suppose. I treat people like people, and recognize the differing ways they have to navigate society being who they are. I’m not color blind. I think I do a good job, but it’s always helpful to have more information. I feel some people know it’s wrong, but have no clue how to broach the issue in their groups. Being poor and disabled myself, I can’t do much more than run online community groups that don’t tax either my body or capital. But I can’t help but feel, as a white person, that I can and should do more because I am white. And I guess, beyond what I already do, I don’t know what else I can do.

    But, in the position I am in, I’m curious as to what other things I can do both in the groups I run, and those I don’t to help combat that culture? Also, as a geek and gamer, I try to do the same in those spaces as well. (MMOs being a very geek/gamer friendly space.) But I find it important to do the best I can do to be inclusive, and willing to be critical of my own behaviors to avoid participating it that junk. Also, at times I’m too lenient on behaviors that I shouldn’t be because I have issues with conflict avoidance. So I try to avoid that pitfall. I’m interested in your thoughts, and to see if there is other ways I will not be able to think of because of privilege. I try to be very introspective and critical of my own behavior, but I’m not perfect. But so far, I’ve collected a pretty eclectic group, and I aim to keep it inclusive and safe. Support comes in many forms, even MMO groups! So I guess I just want your insight as to what more can I do, and how do I broach this with people in my group should issues arise? (Especially since I have anxiety disorder, and a strong dislike of conflict, even when I know it must be done). I know I can’t possibly thing of everything.

    • Ack, Reneta, a thousand apologies, this landed in my spam. Good thing I checked spam, and you’re 100% a pre-approved commenter now. Sorry about that!

      Okay so like rule #1: Go with what you have. Your spoons may well be getting used as much as humanly possible, and there’s something to be said for the reality that maybe you are doing enough generally but need to challenge yourself to do more when you *can*.

      As for resolving conflict on MMOs, I might be like the worst person to ask. I have a low tolerance for BS in guild affairs and tend to be the straight-shooter who gets called some names for being that straight-shooter. The base point to make is that no, inclusiveness is not taking a shot at men (or other non minority group) but is about inclusiveness and that has to be a ground rule. If there are group rules, that’s worth stating in the group rules/guild rules, yanno?

      That said, my guild, of which I’m an admin, but not GM, runs by Wheaton’s Law: Don’t Be A Dick. I mean, hell, I had a cis white 17-year-old dude in my guild go off on someone in tradechat over GamerGate the other day when the someone wouldn’t cease their babble. That ground rule can certainly bring in some good souls, and I like, hell love that kid. I even don’t “forget” to heal him.

      Uh, strike the last part. But that’s a good start, because people who wanna grief tend to focus on what the rules allow them to do.

  5. My experience with the group was not that dissimilar, but with some important differences. One group, wherein I stated my perhaps wondering whether I should purchase a firearm after hearing about rising transphobic attacks, the Peer Coordinator accused of victim blaming, which shows not only were they not listening to what I said, but were addressing me in a knee jerk political tone.

    Second time, when I mentioned some trans issue or other that was controversial at the time, I made mistake of bringing it up in the first place, but when I did, an attendee popped off with this little gem “who cares what they think, they’re WHITE!” It was done in a condescending and very hostile manner, and when I called them out on it, saying that I didn’t think a support group was the right place for such blatant racial animosity, I was not only shouted down, but I was told that I was offensive. Offensive, for declaring that my skin color does not reflect my heritage, that I honor all of my ancestors and consider myself not “white” but human, I got a lecture on white privilege about it.

    And the great thing is, I had to apologize to them, just to keep the peace.

    And let me tell you, Having social justice activists around an be educational, and I admire what many of them do to help all people, but to bring such a militant attitude to a support group is unhelpful to the folks who are just there to find some common ground with other trans folks and to seek refuge in our shared struggle.

    Essentially, I want nothing to do with the support group, or with Ingersoll, in any way.

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