The Last Stall On the Right: An Open Letter To Roseanne Barr

by: Lindsey Dietzler

Dear Roseanne,

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.

Queerly,
Dietzler

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.

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13 responses to “The Last Stall On the Right: An Open Letter To Roseanne Barr

  1. I don’t really have a problem with transpeople using whatever bathroom they feel comfortable in. Like you, genitalia doesn’t come up in bathrooms in my experience (well, that’s because women’s bathrooms don’t have urinals, I guess). I think there’s always a divide between how you perceive yourself, how you’d like others to perceive you, and how they do perceive you – the only one you can control is the first.

  2. I was saddened by Rosanne’s outbursts in an unfortunately tired way. Ignorance and knee jerk reactions to people that are (perceived as) transgressively gendered is just rote at this point. This was a wonderfully written and positive piece, I can only hope it somehow reaches her, and if not, then others who will grow from it.

  3. As a queer (cis gendered) woman, I still proclaim that Roseanne is my role model so as Shelby said above me, I also hope it somehow reaches her because I think she’d reconsider her words and could potentially be an awesome trans* celeb ally. #optimism

    It seems that trans* movements are more popular than ever now, just my perspective… Thanks Joe Biden (?)

    Now all we gotta do is get people to get people to stop asking expecting parents if their future child is a boy or a girl.

  4. I have a question: Why are we putting stock in what a celebrity has to say about anything? Why do we elevate these people to be the moral compass of our society? Roseanne is a person out of touch with the real world. Why should we care that Roseanne wants to segregate us from the rest of America when RuPaul and Neal Patrick Harris feel it is okay to make us the butt of their jokes on National TV? I will give these people consideration in my thoughts when and only when they live my life and face the ignorance and bigotry we face everyday of my life, even that ignorance in the LGBT.

      • I watched the tonight show the night she announced her candidacy. Had a great laugh then and I do now when members of the transcommunity think anything she says bares weight for a modern society. I put more stock in the total disrespect shown to us by members of LGBT It is those “people” that we have hitched our wagon to and just as the HRC did with the first ENDA in congress, they throw us under the bus for a convenience of a laugh. I cringe each time a Gay man or a Lesbian woman calls us family.

      • I so-o-o understand your bitterness about the umbrella of convenience we all huddle under, Tammy. I quit one group in protest at the way they treated the “T” part of LGBT. But I do see signs that things are slowly getting better. I want it to be a darn sight faster in occurring, and I hold out hope that as the current generation takes over from the old school LGB that acceptance will continue to grow. Not just for the T people, for the Q and I and any others that come up. Just keep chipping away at the wall, someday we will all be known as “people”, not lesbian people, not gay people, not trans people – People.

  5. Lindsay, I’m afraid the Roseanne you refer to in the first part of your open letter is the Roseanne created by the script writers, and is not an accurate reflection of the person she really is. I’ve seen too many celebs endorse their ’cause of the month’, only to discard it when something else comes along. I don’t put my faith in politicians or “entertainers”, and that usually turns out to be the right decision. A cynical view, but it works very well for the most part and I am seldom disappointed.

  6. although a gender-neutral restroom is a great idea, I hope it would be a third, separate restroom, for the main reason of hygiene.

    As a man, I personally don’t want to subject any women to our disgusting bathroom habits. And if there were only one bathroom, they would have to live with such degenerate conditions. If we men had our own bathroom, I think the filth would mostly stay there. just my take on the subject.

  7. I can not say I am surprised by Miss Bar’s views on the issue. Her views on the show had more to do with Joss Whedon than her, after all he brought up much of the same concerns on Buffy and Angel. Miss Bar has always struck me as an Elitist and a Penis hater from her rhetoric, so not surprised. Sadly however we did lose a good front for making a change, her image was very pro, and today we lost that.

  8. Pingback: On The Observer’s transphobic bullying: This is what the war on trans women … | Dream Something·

  9. Pingback: The Real Invisible Girl « Hand of Ananke·

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