The walls between us

When I was in college, I went with three of my best friends to a queer student conference at the University of Delaware, three states away from our university. We were happy to meet up with other student activists, but it was arguable that we were more delighted to get a break from the snowy winter of Central New York. Once we were there, reality swept over us; some of the workshops seemed more than a mite problematic. One panel discussion on finding common ground between lesbians and bisexual women failed almost from the outset, with the facilitator asking rather loaded questions, like “So, what do you fear, Patty, about dating Marcy, because she’s bi?” After putting pressure on the facilitator for exaggerating the “danger” of bisexual people in relationships—for surely, it hurts just as much to be dumped for another woman as it would for a man—we walked out of the workshop, trying to figure out how to regroup. And within ten minutes a friend of ours came into the lounge where we were, with tears in his eyes. I asked him what was wrong. He said nothing, he’d just never been in a space before where everyone was gay and black, and he didn’t have to listen to anyone’s racism or homophobia. And realizing how often he’d been ducking between those things, well, now he was frustrated and angry.

In this 2010 midterm election season I’ve been struck by all of the assaults, left and right, that zing at us on a daily basis. In the midst of what feels like a violent, national food fight, I’ve learned to let a lot of things go, mostly for my own sanity. But one issue I don’t think I can dodge anymore is the transphobia within my own beloved LGBT community. There it is. LGBT. All together like we’re bonded by love or purpose or political affiliation. We’re not. We have the lefties, and we have the Log Cabin Republicans, and now there’s a group even to the right of them, GOPride. We have all ethnicities and races of people who individually may or may not like those other ethnicities or races. We straddle all class divisions, and we know how the classes feel about each other. We have people who are terrified to come out of the closet, and others who would out them just to make a statement. We have the queers into the leather scene and the folks who decry bondage as an act of violence. And there are the folks who are all about fighting on the same-sex marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell fronts, and others who would rather our movement push for anything other than those two issues.

LGBT, as a solid brick of letters is about as close as we actually come to each other, outside of our own chosen subcultures and friend sets. I’ve known lovely people from every stripe of this ragtag group of people, and I’ve seen a hell of a lot of division. For someone who came out 19 years ago now, first as a lesbian and later as a transgender man, I will say I’ve encountered most everything a person can run into, much of it within community. I’ve been called every name in the book, but when one is uttered from the lips of a gay man I think of as my brother, or a lesbian I’ve known for years, those words sting more.

Dan Savage went on the radio recently to tout his “It Gets Better” program, and not once did he talk about trans youth suicide. Gay and lesbian, gay and lesbian, that was his talking point. Bullying shouldn’t be acceptable behavior toward gay and lesbian youth. I guess if a kid is bisexual, then he or she just needs to decide already, because Savage has said more than once in his column that bi people don’t exist. And he certainly didn’t mention transgender youth; that’s just right out. Savage has, as I’ve already noted in this blog, used an assumption that everyone’s transphobic to mock elected officials he doesn’t like. But hey, we’re all supposed to give our love to his project, right?

Earlier this week, Lambda Literary pulled a book review by Thom Nickels off its Web site because it was so egregiously transphobic. One wonders if their editors read the reviews before they post them. In a Google cache of the page—god bless Google—the review of Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in the Jewish Community reads, in part:

The transgender issue became a reality for me sometime in the 1970s, when I met a guy in a Philadelphia public library. After going for coffee, we went to my place to become intimately acquainted. Almost immediately after disrobing and settling in under a number of quilts (it was a cold February), I noticed that George had what resembled emerging breasts. Since some male breasts contain excess fatty tissue which gives them the appearance of the female bust, I assumed that George had the fatty “gene” and left it at that. No sooner did I think this then George looked at me and asked, “Would you mind calling me Becky?” His body stiffened at the question, as if he expected me to make a mad dash for the door. I lied and told George that I didn’t mind, while inside I did somersaults: I wanted a George and not a Becky.

I’m not sure why readers were made privy to his sexcapades of the 1970s, but I guess that was his touchpoint for writing the review. Lambda Literary posted an apology in response, which was the right thing to do, but frankly, this was not an article that should have been on their site in the first place.

When I was in the DC Trans Coalition, we purposefully worked under the media’s radar as we prepared to get legal protections for transgender and gender variant people from the city government. It makes sense that we wanted to shore up support from the City Council without right-wing people to scream that we’d unleash an army of men in dresses to invade women’s public rest rooms (that’s the argument I hear most often about these things, anyway). But we didn’t want the queer press to know, either. And when queer people in the community heard what we were working on, there was pushback from some of them, namely that we’d be setting back their fight to get same-sex marriage by a decade. Well, I’m happy to say that today is October 30, 2010, and DC has both antidiscrimination provisions based on gender identity or expression and same-sex marriage. So presumably that fight is over.

Nationally, however, it isn’t. Barney Frank pulled gender identity or expression language out of the ENDA bill, with the blessing of the head of the Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solmonese. Trans people were told to wait for another day when revisions to the law could be made, but let’s just get the law now.

I don’t want to keep waiting. I don’t want to continue to be left out. I’ve personally done a lot of agitating for gay people, lesbian people, bisexual people, transgender people, intersex people, and straight people, because hey, I love people people. But as a movement that set priorities, that markets a message and tells people to click “like” on Facebook like it’s some kind of feel good activism, I have a message for you.

I’m not going to write LGBT or GLBT anymore. Not doing it. It’s not a real thing. I’m going to write what I see. And what I see is this:

LGB/t

I hope others start using it, too. Or that we can have some honest dialogue about who we include and exclude in our agenda. And how we can remedy those deficiencies.

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3 Comments on “The walls between us”

  1. November 18, 2010 at 11:44 pm #

    Thank you. The transphobia in the “LGBT” community is much more harmful, in my experience, than the attitudes of straight people. My roommate is openly Transgender, and when we go to LGB/t events,she gets comments like, “Don’t you know you’re really a man?” and “You were so hot as a man, you should have stayed that way.” on a regular basis. I’ve even seen some blogs recently claiming that gays and transgender people have nothing in common because “Transgender women are all straight.”

    I honestly think there is more transphobia in the LGB/t (or LG/bt because people don’t seem to want to acknowledge that Bisexuality actually exists) community than in the heterosexual community. That seems like an odd thing to say, but we have had more bad experiences with people who are supposedly “LBGT supporters” or non-heterosexual themselves than with anyone else.

    • evmaroon
      November 19, 2010 at 12:09 pm #

      I don’t care for transphobia no matter who is dishing it out, but I think there’s a specific harm added when it happens in the midst of what is supposed to be this big happy family of LGBTQI. Pretending we’re working with and for each other when we’re not is not only a waste of time and energy, but a crazy-making process that exacerbates the power inequities among us. And I don’t have any energy to keep working around other people’s baggage anymore. So I know how you feel, and hang in there. There are strong allies and friends out there.

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