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The Colleen Francis Affair

A little bit ago I took a shot at the Radfem enthusiasts in the form of an opinion piece and then wandered over to Bugs’ blog to poke around and see what might rise out of the silt. Pure nastiness at the bottom, but nothing to be concerned about, plus I got a few nice tidbits saved for a later date by carefully choosing my words. The one surprise they hit me with was the Colleen Francis affair. Unlike other subjects I played dumb on, this one was news to me. It came up again my very own comments section by a Radfem who spoke well and raised some very salient points. It was a very refreshing turn to be quite honest.

It took a while to cull through all the online outrage and calls to war over this, but I think I finally drilled down to the facts. It wasn’t easy as the current trend in everything is go from zero to outrage in a nanosecond. I found the police report as well as news coverage. Long story short, a transgender woman in Olympia, WA was using the locker room and sauna at her school, which is fully allowable under the state civil rights protections regarding gender. The problem was that Ms Francis wasn’t terribly shy about her current male genitalia being seen, and that the facilities were also used by a girls swim team with members as young as six. Yeah, I think you can see why this became a big deal.

Many will argue that as a transgender woman, she had every right to use the facilities appropriate to her gender. I think most of the readership here would agree on that. She clearly felt that being female, yet stuck with male genitalia, she had every right to use the facility in the manner consistent with other females, including nude use of the sauna. I gave this a lot of thought, and simply can’t draw that conclusion. In fact, I have a whole list of issues with it that made me significantly annoyed with Ms Francis as I’m not super thrilled to have to speak out against one of my own. Here is my list of reasons why I think this was a terrible lapse of judgment on her part.

1. Nobody Wants To See That: Aside from perhaps an unflushed toilet after Mexican Night at the pub, a penis is the least preferable thing that one wishes to encounter with their eyes in a female space. Not only is it a huge trigger for CSA and sex crime survivors (special thanks to Sworddancewarrior for engaging in a calm, informative discussion on the matter), but it is a threatening presence in general for all women in a place of vulnerability. It’s simply not the same thing is a gross deformed leg or third nipple or something. This is the exact reason cis and trans women are bitterly resistant to using a men’s room – no one feels safe peeing or changing there. An accidental flash when changing under a towel would be a little regrettable. Sitting with open legs in a sauna is simply way wrong.

2. Really? With Kids There?: Call me an old fashioned prude, but I just don’t see any need for children of any gender to be exposed to naked adult genitalia, especially that of the opposite sex. Colleen’s identity as a woman does not change the fact that she had male genitalia on display. Yes, yes, the human body is natural and all that, but the presence of an exposed penis is edging dangerously close to the line where sex abuse begins. There is no good reason why early exposure should be argued in the looming shadow of unspeakable harm.

3. We Are Just Not There Yet: There may come a day when society at large understands the transgender condition and that many self identified women will continue to have male genitalia for a short duration, up to a lifetime if the means and physical requirements for GRS are not met. It will also be understood that even so, we pose no threat whatsoever as on hormones, the damn things blessedly don’t work anyway. Yeah, we not even close to that yet. A staggering amount of work still needs to be done before the public at large understands our circumstances. Even after they do, it’s going to require even more work to translate intellectual understanding to compassion. In the mean time, to a significant portion of the population we remain deranged, sexual fetishists, or con artists. Situations like this really don’t help.

4. Totally Screwing the Rest of Us: Yes, it’s wonderful that the state of Washington recognizes and protects transgender rights. If the enjoyment of these rights gives enough cause to question the wisdom of these provisions, generates outraged calls for repeal, and provides a good example of why other states should avoid fiascos like this, it’s just not very good for the rest of us. “So what Michelle, are you saying we should just be good little girls and mind our P’s and Q’s like second class citizens?” Yes, this is exactly what I’m saying. We all know that if a cisgender woman acts like a shithead, she’s an exception, but if a trans woman does the same thing, it’s suddenly indicative of typical trans behavior. It sucks, it’s not right, but it’s the reality of the situation. One incident is enough to give Radfem and religious extremists a pretty potent weapon aimed in our direction. We are a very minor minority and most people simply do not have dozens of first hand positive trans inclusive female space experiences to compare this against. Because of this, every incident is a really big deal.

The moral of the story here is simple. If you are trans and utilizing female segregated space, every precaution should be taken to ensure that all females present continue to feel safe and comfortable. An exposed penis is guaranteed to change that. We can debate this all day, but this simple fact remains at the end. The vast majority of us generally have no problem using female only facilities without incident and generally go unnoticed. Many of us would also rather die than have someone see our genitalia, so there is that as well. I feel very strongly that someday this will no longer be a thing, but today it is, and we need to do everything possible to bring that someday closer to the present.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

33 responses »

  1. This is the shitest article I’ve ever read. The worst parts being

    “Yes, yes, the human body is natural and all that, but the presence of an exposed penis is edging dangerously close to the line where sex abuse begins. There is no good reason why early exposure should be argued in the looming shadow of unspeakable harm.”

    Like wtf the penis somehow is inherently evil. And

    “If you are trans and utilizing female segregated space, every precaution should be taken to ensure that all females present continue to feel safe and comfortable.”

    Wtf? Transgender doesn’t mean women. Implying that transgender is always someone identifying as a female, and that females should be afforded extra attention to be assured they don’t feel uncomfortable is sexist as hell. What fucktard wrote this?

    • Awesome post Kevin! Are you the coolest kid in your home room? Or are you a troll trying to stir up a mess? And I don’t think the author was “Implying that transgender is always someone identifying as a female” because she is saying that anyone who is trans and in women’s spaces should be cautious. A trans man in the women’s sauna should be cautious also, regardless of external genitalia.

    • Yay! My first troll! Thanks for stopping by, but apparently you neglected to read my other articles – they are much shittier. I’m glad to see you used the secret word “fucktard” and educated us to the swift and rapier like wit that exudes from your pores. Since you asked, I wrote this, and clearly didn’t spell it out clearly in the blog name, banner, and various ‘About Michellelianna’ blurbs above, to one side of, and below this post. Have a super evening!

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  3. The question is, did s/he do it deliberately? It appears so, which begs the question: why?

    I mentioned co-morbidity in a previous response on this really ugly subject. What I’ve seen so far from public reports, self-testimony (dear me, s/he has a bit of a martyr complex, doesn’t s/he?),etc, doesn’t contradict that. Francis is, regrettably, socially maladjusted. A responsible, sane person would have foreseen this situation and would have taken steps to prevent it. It would appear that Francis is a bit of a provocateur and that’s not good at all. I agree completely with Michellelianna’s four points. This is a PR disaster and the basis for a really damaging lawsuit.

    I cannot imagine why any pre-op trans woman would allow her “junk” to be observed by total strangers (children! O jeez, children!) for ANY reason other than to deliberately shock the observers. For that reason alone, I feel justified in labeling her as “maladjusted”.

    No one has the “right’ to publicly expose his/her genitalia in this society. It’s not that kind of society. We don’t live in Polynesia or New Guinea. S/he did it to provoke and for that, s/he has my pity and my enmity.

    Just for the record, I’m pre-op, but legally female (in the State of Oregon, at least) and may have to remain this way because I have progressive cardiopulmonary disease. (An artificial valve in my heart which means lots of blood thinners which also means no GRS for me, folks) I would NEVER consider for one moment letting anyone except my SO and a certified medical professional see my genitalia. Colleen Francis obviously feels differently, but s/he does not and never will speak for me. Nor can I consider Francis an ally if his/her actions bring suspicion upon me and others like me.

  4. Yes it totally screws the rest of us.
    Any civil rights movement has one negative public scandal kinda makes the whole thing like a house of cards.
    People will automatically brand transpeople “Jerry Springer” rejects or something.
    Thank you for posting!

  5. As my Grandmother told me once… just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

    This entire story has bothered me on a number of levels ever since I first heard about it. Did she seriously think this wasn’t going to be an issue? Really? I know being pre-op or even non-op is something which bothers me to the point I don’t want to see “that” and I sure don’t want anyone else to either.

    Never mind the fact we are talking about a place where there are children present… I don’t care if any of them claimed it wasn’t a problem, they’re children.

    And of course I agree that women should feel safe in a women’s only space. That they shouldn’t have to worry about being confronted with something like this. If nothing else, it was highly insensitive to everyone.

    To say this was a total lack of judgment is an understatement.
    Maybe this thought isn’t going to be popular, but it might be better if she were to find other accommodations.

  6. Call me old fashioned, but how many cis women would sit in a sauna with legs spread showing all that Nature gave them with young children around? I know this choice of words is Fraught With Peril, but be a lady for goodness sake!

    My mother is rolling in her grave…

    • I think you, and a lot of other people, are letting your imaginations run away with you. Where did you ever see a reliable source state that she sat in the sauna with her legs spread apart? It’s rumor mongering like this that grows a mole hill into a mountain. She was in a sauna. A woman clocked her as being trans and told her to leave based on nothing more than her sense of cis-privilege that told her that she had a right to order the “lesser” person around. She was completely wrong, legally and morally. When she didn’t get her way that same privilege led her to believe that raising a stink over it would allow her to get her way. The law is not based on the most close-minded, ignorant views. It’s based on reality and it is in Colleen’s favor.

      • Didn’t mean to offend Miranda, I read this copy of the police report;

        But I must have misinterpreted the Tiffany person’s quote on page 3. I try to not comment without finding something substantial so I read a bit about it.

        • And I do think that she has a legal right to use the facility. I’m just also painfully aware of the unfortunate need we have as trans people to exercise an abundance of caution in sensitive situations. I am pre-op and I wear very tight “underthings” when i wear a swimsuit to make sure nothing could possibly show. I also have a chat with the masseuse before getting a massage to make sure no one is uncomfortable. But i use the private dressing rooms at stores with complete confidence and not one shred of concern. I constantly think of the trans person who will come along behind me and make sure I leave nothing but positive experiences even if it limits my behavior. But those are my choices.

        • I have not spoken to Colleen since this incident. I can say with surety that she wasn’t exposing herself for a cheap thrill or to purposely offend anyone. There is a very specific reason that I believe this to be true, but won’t say it here for the protection of innocent people that have no part in this fiasco of injustice. I am just glad that Colleen wasn’t harassed further than she was and that cooler heads prevailed and the issue was resolved appropriately. The only issue I know of at this point is that people go on the Internet and blame the victim in this case, calling her horrible insults, and talking about horrible things they would like to do to her. It’s a complete lynch mob mentality and uncalled for. Colleen and I are very different people but we both have given up large portions of our lives helping and defending others. She is a good person and deserves respect. The part that bothers me the most are the Uncle Tom types among the trans community that jump on the cis-bandwagon without direct knowledge of Colleen or the incident.

      • Miranda, I completely understand your defending your friend. From the news report and the police report, it seems that she wasn’t denying what happened. Yes, we can speculate endlessly on what she was thinking and her motivations. Occam’s Razor tells me she got a little too comfortable and screwed up. Beyond that, I won’t bother to make further conjecture.I really, really wish she would have just come right out and said that.

        The point is that we still live in a society where we are looked on with great suspicion. In addition, there are many who appear very committed to curbing our rights under the argument that our advances come at a loss to a greater majority and not at all a positive sum gain. It seems now whenever one of us argues our case in social media, or even to state senators, Colleen is tossed right back in our face as a prime example of why this is such a terrible idea. The fact that she came off as kind of an asshole in her TV interview about it and painted herself as a Rosa Parks also didn’t help at all.

        You did mention that you haven’t spoken to her since the incident? If that is the case, I think the picture you are painting of a domineering transphobic mom overreacting as a hate crime is pure conjecture. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, if my daughter came out of the locker room and complained that someone was flashing around a penis in there, I would have marched in there in a fit of fury as well. People are protective over their kids and simply cannot be blamed for that.

        I truly don’t think anyone is creating a lynch mob for Colleen. We just feel what happened is very regrettable and set us back considerably. Calling out bad behavior that as negative repercussions on the overall community is also not ‘Uncle Tom’. This all comes down to safety. We seek to guarantee the right to our own personal safety, but need to do so in a way that doesn’t impinge upon the feeling of safety of cisgender women. This can be accomplished if we keep in mind where the nation is in regards to our demographic and work diligently to consistently disprove we pose a risk. I maintain my position that this incident really went in the exact opposite direction.

  7. Regardless of what kind of transgender person a girl clams to be, we need to understand that a penis IS a Male Sex Organ and will always be, so if we are still wearing one keep it to yourself.
    Acceptance of walking into a women restroom or locker room and sporting a Penis just would’t produce anything good and than to protest under the umbrella of transgenderisum is just plain stupid. We give the public at large ammunition to use against us all to often.
    I find it depressing to deal with some of our sisters for the simple fact they don’t seem to be happy with themselves, I Know How Hard this can be. We need to understand that there is the big picture, we are different.

  8. I put her more in the category of cross dresser. From what I’ve read, she has no intention of seeking Grs and states she enjoys her male genitals. I think she’s an exhibitionist and was trying to provoke a reaction.

    • I know Colleen personally. This is not an accurate description of her.

      • I don’t want to start a blog fight, but as others have expressed my opinion is based on her own presence on the Internet. Not to mention the numerous legal documents that exist in this case.

        I’m not passing judgement on her. I’m just expressing what I believe to be true. Maybe that she sought to provoke a reaction is overstepping a bit, but she clearly failed to take appropriate steps given the high risk nature of her behavior. And that makes all of us look bad.

        • You called her a cross dresser. You stated that as though it is something less than a trans woman. Colleen is not a crossdresser. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Colleen lives her life as a woman 24/7. It is the whole HBSer attitude that is so off putting. “Trannier Than Thou” has no place in our community. Some women are non-op, that doesn’t make them less of a woman. People don’t put themselves through what Colleen has been through so that they can expose themselves to teenage girls. The readiness of our community to think she did something wrong is very upsetting. It shows the mIndset that she is somehow less than a woman.

        • Yes a Cross Dresser, this doesn’t make her less anything except maybe common sense, I’m starting to wonder why you are going over board defending her, she screwed up get use to it:)

        • You apparently don’t know what a crossdresser is. I’m not going overboard, I defend each accusation on its own merits or lack there of. She didn’t “mess up.” She was treated badly by bigots and then attacked by the very community that’s supposed to defend her when she’s done nothing wrong. She violated no law, regulation, or policy.

      • “She violated no law, regulation, or policy.”

        This is a very narrow view of right and wrong. She violated basic human decency in the form of RESPECT for children’s comfort and safety. I think the vast, VAST majority of trans*, crossdressers and others would not and do not behave this way.

        • So, what should she have done. Not use the facilities that she paid for? Keep a towel wrapped around her? Then she would have been accused of voyeurism. She had a reasonable expectation to be able to use the facilities. If you don’t want to see her nude, come back later. I’ve never used a sauna because I don’t want to see other nude people or have people see me nude. Does that give me the right to tell other people they can’t use it so I can use one and feel comfortable. If it makes you uncomfortable, don’t go in there. Problem solved.

        • I think the reasonable thing to do would have been for Colleen to use the smaller facility instead of the school herding the girls into it. If she really was insistent on using the same space, she should have used a towel to cover her genitals and stayed as far away from the girls as possible, perhaps using a closed/curtained space to change. But why insist on using the same space given the sensitivity of the situation, which she *should* have acknowledged before ever going in, or recognized it when she saw the change room full of young girls. A reasonable person in Colleen’s shoes would have thought “ohhkay, me being here does NOT look good, I better do whatever I can to show some Respect to these girls.”

          As for the sauna, again, because there were minor girls there, and because we live in a rape culture, Colleen should have shown some Respect to the sensitivity of the situation and perhaps come back another day to use the sauna when adults were using it.

          That said, I am an adult biological woman, and I probably wouldn’t feel 100% comfortable in a sauna alone with a naked man/person with a penis *because* I live in a rape culture, so I don’t know the short term solution to this so that well-intentioned trans* people don’t get the short end of the stick and put in harms way. I only know we need to change the rape culture so that women don’t get upset, triggered or scared when they see male genitals or are in a shared space with male-bodied people. Male-bodied people have done and continue to do immense damage to female-bodied people, so male-bodied people need to acknowledge this and practice extra caution and Respect.

        • Thank you! The exact points I was going for clearly conveyed. I believe most trans* people get this, but as with any demographic, there are going to be exceptions. Unfortunately, with a micro population, each exception becomes a seminal event.

          I really appreciate your open commentary and participation. Based on the reading I’ve done at your blog, I think you have a very keen intellect and ability to see both sides of a situation, but still remaining true to your own convictions. So, thank you for saying what I wanted to say, and saying it far better. 🙂

        • Thanks Michelle! I really like your Speak too and like conversing with you. 🙂

          “with a micro population, each exception becomes a seminal event.”

          This is so true, and something we must always keep in mind when such events come up. It’s so important not to paint people or groups with the same brush, especially marginalized groups. The post on my blog about Houria Bouteldja talks about solidarity in the context of Decolonization and I really this quote from one article I shared in that post:

          “Solidarity in relationship to decolonization is about challenging the very idea of what it means to be human, and by extension, the logics of inclusion and exclusion that enforce social boundaries, including notions of social, political, and civic solidarity. It is about imagining human relations that are premised on the relationship between difference and interdependency, rather than similarity and a rational calculation of self-interests.”

          We need to stop working in the name of self-interests and start thinking more in terms of our inter-dependence because like it or not, we’re ALL inter-dependent, and the sooner we accept and work WITH this, the better off we’ll all be. Such a perspective makes no room for predatory or disrespectful, boundary-trampling behavior; it demands Respect from and for ALL.

  9. I was Colleen’s housemate for almost a year. We shared a bathroom in a clothing optional house. I never saw her nude even once during that year. She is not an exhibitionist. She is not afraid of nudity but only in certain appropriate confines. She was enjoying the facilities that she paid for by defending our country during her long military career. The question I have always had is what were any of those girls doing in the sauna? They are there to swim. It seems to me that a transphobic mom saw an opportunity to make a freak show out of what she considered to be a freak. The saddest part is when other trans people jump on the bandwagon and bash one of our own by twisting facts and blaming the true victim in all of this. She has done nothing wrong or she surely would have suffered repercussions of a more severe nature than a bunch of gossip and insults. Even the girls that were using the facilities stated they had no issue with it and felt perfectly comfortable with Colleen using them as well. This is all much ado about nothing. Methinks the liars doth protest too much.

    • The “true victims” were the female athletes forced to be relocated to secondary facilities as a result of the whims of a middle-aged person born male. Female athletes seem perhaps the only ones who appreciate what Title IX meant as far as access to equal facilities means. Those female athletes, all minor children, had a contractual right of access by virtue of the agreement between the school and the swim program.

      The police report (certainly you remember THAT document, an official record taken under penalties of law had it been deemed a false report, which it was NOT) certainly belies your claims regarding how Francis may have acted in a home environment, as did the numerous screen-caps of Francis’ own internet postings. And the bottom line is that it was WHOLLY inappropriate to claim that it was a ‘learning experience.’ As I previously wrote, that is PRECISELY the sort of crap spewed from sex offenders in their grooming processes of minor victims.

      Females wanting sex-segregated space that remains free from the presence of male genitalia is NOT ‘transphobic.’ Rather, it is common sense that is understood by those who were born and raised female. I have to give props to the blog owner for seemingly been one of the very few M2T to have spoken up on the realities of the situation and recognizing WHY it is a problem.

  10. Kristine Hollander

    Totally spot on! I could’t agree more. Our acceptance and freedoms at ant level should be used wisely and not squandered just because the law says we can. Its like taking a mile when given an inch. You don’t drive a motor cycle 100 miles an hour when you first learn to ride. Wake up sisters!!!!

    • Writing things like “M2T” lets me know exactly where a person stands. Writing things like that allows me to discount and ignore every other point they attempt to make because I consider the source prejudiced and biased, and therefore unreliable.

      Since this incident I have become a student at a school that has an agreement with Evergreen for shared use of these very same facilities. I do not use the facilities out of fear that I will be vilified and have my motives questioned nationally just like Colleen. I have been effectively denied services and facilities that I have paid for. This was the primary goal of those that attacked Colleen and I am embarrassed to say that it worked. I wish I had the courage to stand up for myself and use the facilities just to demonstrate that I will not be bullied, but I don’t. It is an injustice to me and every trans person that such horrible insinuations and comments can be made without legal recourse to stop the bullies from winning. Maybe someday I will be in a position financially to stand up against them, until then I will have to hide in shame with only my words in comments sections of blogs to defend myself and those like me.


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