I know I’ve posted before about weak or disingenuous arguments that writers create, articles that take issue with people in the LGB/t community. One one level, I want to know why we’re so willing to cannibalize ourselves before or instead of people like the Koch Brothers, who unraveled collective bargaining in Wisconsin, Glenn Beck and the incendiary statements he makes from his Internet war room, Ryan Rhodes, who considers himself the Obama Heckler Premier, or any number of other figures currently at work destroying reproductive rights, civil rights, and advances in ecology. Is it really the “celebrity” trans men who are to blame for the trials of trans women?
Let me pull back a minute and think about Stonewall. Anyone my age or younger who is writing about the Stonewall riots, by chronology, was not there. We did not grow up living through regular police raids. We did not grow up with homosexuality carved into the DSM as a listed mental illness. We did not grow up in a world with code words for gay parties because our hometown bars couldn’t exist. Before anyone claims I’m saying being queer or trans in the US is a cakewalk, I’m not. Decade after decade, we have increased rates of alcoholism and drug abuse, suicide, and depression, and lower graduation rates. While white gay men make slightly above average for household income, nearly all of the rest of us are under the average mark, especially as we add vectors of oppression to those households.
The extreme, fundamentalist Christian right will not let up on GLBT people because it’s invested too much in our scapegoating, even though there is no evidence whatsoever that we have any capability for bringing down social institutions or morality itself. (Damn it; too bad.) This constant push of hatred, however, has set up a culture wherein making grossly negative statements about queer and transfolk is acceptable (within limits), tolerated, and expected. And it is in this context that even people in the queer and trans communities will justify more scapegoating, only they’ll call it critique. But let me make a few “generalizations” of my own:
- Previous historical accounts erasing the trans aspects of the Stonewall riots were wrong, impoverished, and hurtful.
- Swinging the pendulum all the way to the other side and claiming Stonewall as primarily or only a trans event, are also inaccurate. Nobody can lay claim to Stonewall as their own, in part because there were all kinds of people there and we don’t know how each of them identified. Some of the bodies in dresses were transvestites or drag queens and not transsexual women; some of the people wearing traditionally masculine clothing were female-identified butches, and all of them fought along with gay men against police ridicule and harassment. To conveniently forget that transmasculine people were also involved in the Stonewall riots and then blame trans men as stealing trans women’s spotlight without having helped move the activism along is the weakest possible way to make a generalization.
- Setting up trans women versus trans men, or transsexuals against transgender people is anathema to a progressive politics of liberation, period. Critique specific statements (“now that I’ve transitioned, I can’t stand women gossiping”) or specific behavior (e.g. writing a column saying people should oppose a political figure because he’s trans), and relate those behaviors back to the systems that engender them, yes. But again, to say that the only celebrity trans people are FTM is to erase the work of Kate Bornstein, Jennifer Flynn Boyle, and Sophie Wilson. It’s to forget the celebrity of Calpernia Addams, who had her own series on Logo, or of Alexis Arquette, and it’s hurtfully silencing to trans women who couldn’t make it through the celebrity gaze, like the late Christine Penner, sportswriter for the LA Times. I think at this nascent moment of trans in popular culture there is more than enough room for people all along the gender spectrum to write books, make television, and sing music. Please. Let’s not tell people not to support each other right out of the gate.
- Few things are black and white. Anyone who thinks that trans men automatically have male privilege have not watched the push-pull of transition from female to male. Male privilege is predicated on being read a certain way, and there are long swaths of time where all manner of pronouns, responses, and comments come flying at the transitioning man. We ought not write off vocal trans women as holding the vestiges of their male privilege, either. It should be a red flag to us when we feel capable of dismissing people, as a sign that we don’t have a nuanced understanding on the situation or person.