Tuesday, November 27, 2007


When I was coming out, a tattoo and a doubly-pierced right ear was a sign of being a lesbian. This seems silly now, I admit, but at twenty and twenty-one these were important identity expressions to my peer group and me along with Birkenstocks, thick wool socks (I came out in Michigan), and large army fatigues held up with wide leather belts. To this day, when I wear that uniform, I feel like a real lesbian.

Each generation defines itself with physical and external markers of identity. All have profound meaning to the people who are marked and to the people who create the marks. I welcome new generational markers – even if I don’t always understand them. (I admit, tongue piercing and navel piercing were initially uncomfortable and foreign to me; though I remember the way some recoiled from my large, comfortable shoes.) I only become concerned when the markers of identity result in permanent and unchangeable actions to our bodies.

I’ve taken those actions. One tattoo and three holes between my two earlobes. Do I regret either? No. Would I do it again? Perhaps not.

Part of my discomfort comes from feminism. As a feminist, I want to embrace my body as it is – and I want other people to do that. As a feminist, I’m uncomfortable with breast augmentation. I don’t think that permanent body alterations are something to support or celebrate. I hold this philosophy to a pretty strict standard in my life. Sure, I’ve shaven my legs on occasion (and the wifey wishes I would do it more, truth be told), but I’ve not done much that permanently alters my body.

This brings me to my concern: increasing people – and particularly young people, which to me still means under thirty-five or forty – are chosing to transition from one sex to another. On one hand, I support people’s ability to have control over their bodies and to express gender in whatever way that they wish. On the other hand, I’m concerned about permanent body alterations.

I worry about the increasing medicalization of our bodies and of gender. Women and queers have never been served by the medical establishment and yet increasing it seems we turn to doctors to give us bodies to help navigate a world in which gender roles are narrow prescribed and offer little fluidity and flexibility for a moment or a lifetime.

Our experience of gender and gender roles is related not only to how we understand the world personally but also to how other around us understand and interpret the world. Lots of the butch women I came out with twenty years ago embraced their butchness because of a feminist analysis which said that gender roles weren’t working – for women or for men, but that it was fine to be gender non-conforming. Today these same women might be told by prevailing analyses that their identity is transgender. That’s fine—if it is an identity that works, I support people’s ability to self-identify. Today, however, more is at stake than self-identity. People are changing their bodies and their sex through medical intervention.

That concerns me. I’m worried about a construction of gender that requires permanent body alteration. My body isn’t perfect as it is and I do things to change it – I change my clothes, I work out, I use lotions and lots of little potions from small pots, but all of that can be undone in a short amount of time – none of it is permanent. Are we sure that surgery and hormone therapy to permanently alter the body is an essential expression of gender identity?

Many won’t be happy that I’ve asked the question, but I think it must be asked. We need dialogue about the costs and benefits of medical interventions and the constructions of sex and gender in our queer community.

Meanwhile, I’ve dispensed with the second earring in my ear. I loved it for the years that I wore it. Today it doesn’t serve me. I’m glad that I could just stop wearing it when I wanted. I want for all of the other young queers to have the same choices as their lives change and evolve.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet. She lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work, including her blog, at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #16 dated November 27, 2007 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 698

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed out of the House of Representatives on November 7, 2007 with a vote of 235-184. In order to become law, it must of course also pass the Senate and be signed by the President. Most anticipate that those two things will not happen this legislative cycle. The version of ENDA that was voted out of the House is one that many advocates object to because it excluded gender identity language, which would have provided workplace protections to transgender people.

There has been an entire brouhaha surrounding ENDA that’s been mostly documented in the blogosphere though The New York Times article provided a good summary of it as well. I’ve watched these events unfold with astonishment. First, I am incredibly proud of the GLBT movement for standing on principle. The actions of United ENDA and the nearly four hundred organizations that worked to preserve gender identity in the bill are awe inspiring to me. I have never in my twenty years of being a participant / observer seen the queer community speak with such a united and clear voice. I am inspired by the number of organizations who have taken a stand in support of a transgender inclusive ENDA and called on their members to do the same. This is the movement about which I dreamed; I am proud to be a part of it.

I was amazed and slightly baffled by Representative Barney Frank’s actions. It seems that he had the opportunity to demonstrate the perfect “object lesson” about the value of Democrats to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, but that it has now been botched. Generally, yes, queers vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Lately, however, people like me—and others—question that loyalty in light of the waffling of Democrats on marriage. The script that could have played out is this: ENDA passes in the Senate and the House and then is vetoed by the President. The House and Senate are run by Democrats; the President is a Republican. Who will you vote for in 2008? The answer would have been obvious.

Instead, we were embroiled in wrangling with politicians about pragmatism and principle. It seems to me that politics should be about both, and politicians should find ways to hold onto both pragmatism and principle at all times. Ironically, one of the politicians who first introduced the law to protect gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination, in 1974 on the fifth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, was Representative Bella Abzug, the gentlewoman from New York. She was a politician with vision able to be both pragmatic and rooted in principle.

Instead of a transcendent political moment, or even an instructive political moment, the passage of ENDA was a divisive political moment. Certainly, the opposition to excluding gender identity from the bill was inspiring, to me and others, but the outcome was disheartening.

An important “object lesson” could still emerge from ENDA in 2007. That lesson may be more enlightening and may, in the long run, catapult queer liberation forward. I don’t think that it is going to be one that strengthens or stabilizes queer support for a Democratic candidate for President. Rather the lesson may be about unity, loyalty, and commitment. I hope that we are able to see it and learn it.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet. She lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work, including her blog, at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #15 dated November 13, 2007 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 552