History Rewritten

Kate Bornstein and Barbara CarrellasI 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.
Heidegger said that philosophy is its era expressed. So too, is history, and so too, is gender, even if we feel a steel-strong connection to our identities. We should feel connected to ourselves—it’s the starting point for being able to support others around us. But that also means it’s important that we always be willing to take a step back and let those people we know (or don’t know) find their own identity, and not leap to judge them.
Those people in the Stonewall Inn needed each other to get through days of resistance. So too, do we need each other now, in 2011, maybe more than ever.

Categories: LGBT Civil Rights, ponderings, Pop Culture


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

8 Comments on “History Rewritten”

  1. Kramer
    August 23, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    So I’m out of the loop. I’m feeling like something happened that triggered this post. What was is?

    • evmaroon
      August 23, 2011 at 10:54 am #

      I just hear statements bandied about all the time, so it’s really about the general malaise. But there was an article in the most recent issue of Bitch Magazine (the print magazine, not the blog) that brought me to my keys.

  2. Kramer
    August 23, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    Thanks for the info! I was going to say that I’d go check the article out… but then you know what? I’m already stressed enough being in escrow and my mother in law being in the hospital. Maybe I’ll just let you take this one for the team.

    • evmaroon
      August 23, 2011 at 11:39 am #

      All my best to you and your family, Kramer!

  3. mandudebroden
    August 23, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    First have you seen:

    Dude, seriously?
    We could argue about trans men “automatically” having male privilege (I would never argue automatically–but I think in general we do)–but we can do so without demonizing trans women with the highly transphobic idea that here is some “vestige” of male privilege that they hold–or well, apparently the “vocal” ones who deign to criticize a trans man.

    Seriously, this:
    “We ought not write off vocal trans women as holding the vestiges of their male privilege, either.”
    is Janice Raymond or Mary Daly or dirtywhiteboi level fucked up. It is HARMFUL to our communities to malign trans women this way. Think of what a convenient argument you made:
    trans men cannot be criticized as having male privilege, because our privilege is always compromised in some way
    but vocal trans women who criticize the statements of gays or trans men DEFINITELY hold some ‘vestige’ of male privilege, and this is a factual statement

    Julia Serano’s book has been out for like almost four years at this point. It has its weaknesses, but it does a pretty damn good job spelling this shit out.

    And male privilege…you ain’t seen nothing till you are in a ‘ftm support group’ (or was it an MRA group?) where ten other balding, bearded, masculine trans men decide that it isn’t possible they can receive male privilege at all, because of transphobia–
    I don’t know about you, but I hardly have to deal with my trans status anymore, and I’m hardly ever read as queer either, If getting assumed to be a straight cis male isn’t privilege, I’m not sure what is. And many trans men double dip–getting perceived as straight and cis in general life while whooping it up as the darlings of the queer crowd–where, as Morgan writes in that linked article, trans women are often marginalized.

    • evmaroon
      August 23, 2011 at 11:44 am #

      I think you and I agree that writing that trans women have vestigal male privilege is bunk. I think you’re misunderstanding what I wrote. I think people write off vocal trans women and dismiss them because of their former socialization as men. This is a problematic thing, unhelpful, and yes, marginalizing to trans women. I have read Julia Serano’s book.

      As for my personal life, I come into contact with my trans status on a daily basis, but I also carry a shit ton of male privilege, too. It’s murky territory, for sure.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • mandudebroden
        August 23, 2011 at 11:51 am #

        I see how I misread your comment about vestiges of male privilege and I apologize for that. I wish trans people wouldn’t be assumed to have any specific socialization–at least for myself, I can’t make assumptions about socialization (which often are predicated on the idea trans people can’t exist) dovetail with my actual lived experience.

      • evmaroon
        August 23, 2011 at 11:56 am #

        I would love to see people explore socialization more fully! There’s a generational aspect to transition, in terms of what era one begins, but also how old a person is when they start to make a transition. There are socialization effects based on how “much” one transitions, or to what end point, and there are of course all kinds of intersections based on race, class, and the like. I’ve had people respond to my gender differently if they know I’m Arab or not, or if I’m in the middle of Idaho versus Seattle. If transition itself gave me some initial insight to the fluidity of gender, coming through transition on the other “side” has really brought home that its always in flux, at least for most of us, whether we recognize that in our lives or not.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: