by: Lindsey Dietzler
I grew up watching your television show. In fact, I have probably seen every episode of Roseanne, at least three times, no joke. Your politics really resonated with me as a queer, lower-middle class, bullied youth. You stood up for worker’s rights, never let anybody walk over you and you put a face to feminism in the mainstream media.
You also showed me what it means to be a good ally and to call people out when they are doing something harmful to a community that they may not have all of the information about. One episode in particular I am recalling is, “The Last Thursday in November” in which you educated some misguided parents about the real history of Thanksgiving and invited Native American folks into your home to educate your family about their histories, customs and traditions.
As I read your recent Twitter feed regarding transfeminine bodies, I can’t help but wonder, what happened to that Roseanne? What happened to the Roseanne who was filled with compassion, knowledge and understanding? What happened to the Roseanne who was willing to open up her heart and her home to dialogue, education and enlightenment?
I ask you Roseanne, as someone who feels passionately about the morals you have instilled in me and someone who feels passionately about the wonderfully diverse and colorful transgender community that I am honored to be a part of. I ask you Roseanne, because your words are causing a lot of harm to the transgender community and the work that we are all individually, socially and culturally trying to do to create body positive awareness for all transgender and intersex bodies. I ask you Roseanne, because if people like you, with such socialist and culturally liberal views are not going to be allies to the transgender community, then who is?
One of the questions I asked myself while exploring my trans identity was, “Am I considering any kind of surgical body modification?” The cost of a double mastectomy is roughly $10,000 and there really aren’t any great surgeries to construct a working penis and certainly not without high risk of losing all sensation. And, because testosterone has stopped my menstrual cycle, a hysterectomy is temporarily off the table.
Each of these decisions is different for every transgender person and their experience of their own trans* identity and body. One thing that can be difficult, is sometimes feeling pressured, whether it be by other trans* folks or by society to assimilate as much as possible to one binary gender or the other. This may not be one’s actual gender identity or representation but how could one not feel pressured into such identities and surgeries when you say, “I won’t call a person with a penis a woman, tho I will call someone who had a sex change and no penis a woman.” But all of this of course, is even assuming that someone can first get access to healthcare and second afford to pay for the medical bills.
Additionally, when you say things like, “transgender folks should have their own safe bathrooms-they should not be FORCED into bathrooms with young girls who hate them there,” you are “othering” us. And while I agree with you wholeheartedly that trans* folks do need safe bathrooms, I do not agree that it should be through segregation, but through the implementation of gender neutral restrooms.
To further address your comment, I am curious why you think young girls hate transgender folks? I can tell you, it is not because at their core they just hate transgender people, it is because of disparaging and damaging rhetoric like this. I spent 28 years using women’s restrooms and I never once saw or came into contact with another person’s genetalia. In which case, two even bigger questions arise-
1. Would you have transmen using women’s restrooms, since in many cases (or at least in mine) we have vaginas, even though most little girls would see us as men using the restroom?
2. Do you think it is less safe for little girls to share a women’s restroom with transwomen than it is for transwomen to share a restroom with cisgender men?
Ultimately, there is a bigger theme that is at work here, which is the shaming of the body, in particular the penis. When you say, “they should not be sitting in women’s saunas if they are making women uncomfortable in there, sorry,” I wonder why the question is not, how do we make people feel more comfortable and safe with not only their own bodies, but with other’s as well?
As a transman who leans more toward gender non-conforming than anything, it has taken me a lot of time to come to a place with feeling okay in my body. Not because I ever felt like I was trapped in the wrong body, but because there is so much emphasis in our culture placed on favoring certain kinds of bodies. I struggled with how I viewed my weight long before I struggled with whether or not I wanted to keep my tits. And my tits don’t make me a woman any more than a penis makes somebody a man. We are not the sum of our parts. Our identities are far more complex than that.
I ask you Roseanne, as a lifetime fan and someone who has been informed and inspired by your work, to take a look at what you are actually saying and see how harmful it is to the transgender and body positive movements in this country. And how it goes against everything I believed you to stand for, as a woman, as a cultural author, as a presidential candidate.
When you say you won’t call someone a woman who has a penis, you are erasing her identity. It is not up to you or anyone else to determine how another person identifies or what they do with their body, just as it is not the right of conservatives to decide what a woman can and cannot do with her body.
When you say transgender folks should have their own separate bathrooms, you are talking about segregation. Should transgender people also have their own drinking fountains, locker rooms, separate place at the counter, sit at the back of the bus? As long as people do not understand what it means to be trans*, we will always make (transphobic) people uncomfortable anywhere we go.
When you say that little girls hate transgender people, you are talking about violence. The word “hate” evokes images of war, rape, murder, anger, hostility, enemies. It does not only evoke these images, it is often used to justify these actions and words against women, queer folks, people of color, people of certain religious denominations, people of certain economic classes, the list goes on and on and on.
These are all forms of oppression.
I ask you Roseanne, to consider listening with the open and compassionate heart you wrote into your character two decades ago that encouraged me to do the same. I ask you Roseanne, to consider how your words are perpetuating the oppression of transgender folks and justifying transphobia to all those that support you. I ask you Roseanne, to consider how you might react if someone you loved were transgender, how hearing someone else speak your words about your loved one might make you feel.
At the end of the day, I am writing you this letter not to call you transphobic, not to shame you, not to attack you, but because I believe intervention is possible. Because I believe that at your core, you do not actually believe the words that you are saying. That they stem from a place of hurt, anger or resentment that you are more than capable of working through. That much like the parents at the Thanksgiving pageant believed the pilgrims to be courageous, you are misinformed about transgender identities. That if you sat down to dinner with me and my transgender family, you might come out with an entirely different frame of reference and understanding.
Lindsey Dietzler is a trans/queer rights activist and community organizer. He is a co-founder of Subject to Change and founder of CAMP: A Queer Sports League. Dietzler recived his Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Studies from Colombia College Chicago and is one of the 2012 Queer Top Chef champions. He is currently working on organizing a gender neutral bathroom project in Logan Square. Dietzler enjoys dancing, riding his bike and snuggling with his cat.