November 11, 2007
More voices in 'T' dissent
Posted by: Chris
I've known Rex Wockner for a decade and for more than twice that length of time he's been one of the most respected journalists within the gay press. Our politics are quite different and we've disagreed plenty over the years, but always respectfully. I offer that background to make the point that he's anything but "conservative," a label I reject for myself as well, but look at what he's written in response to the "trans or bust" ENDA fiasco:
I maintain my position that gay people and transgender people are two different things. Most of the transgender people I personally know have had a sex-change operation and paired off with someone of the opposite sex. That is a very different reality from the gay bear circles I travel in -- in those uncommon instances in which I engage with the gay scene. It's a very different reality from the reality of most gay people. It's even significantly different from the venerable gay tradition of drag-queenery (which I've never done and don't "get," but that's beside the point). …
I've been sitting here sort of picking my own brain and asking myself if gay and trans people do in fact have some crucial thing in common. … What do I have in common with a guy who wants to remove his willy, grow breasts, become a woman and get married to a man? From where did this relatively new concept of "the LGBT community" come?
Andrew Sullivan echoed the same sentiments in a post headlined "The LGBTQRSTZ 'Community'":
The Croatian-sounding acronym only makes sense from the perspective of the pomo-left, whose control of the major gay groups allows them to dictate what is and what is not kosher for gay people. I support enthusiastically the right of transgender people to live their lives as they wish and to be free from government discrimination. But that question is logically separate from gay rights, and always has been. Many transgender people are heterosexual; most gay people have no internal conflict with their own gender. It remains important to insist that, just because so many in the gay world have been browbeaten into repeating the concept of an "LGBT community", that doesn't mean it exists.
John Aravosis, a blue-dog Democrat partisan, has written similarly in Salon, "How Did the T Get in LGBT?":
I have a sense that over the past decade the trans revolution was imposed on the gay community from outside, or at least above, and thus it never stuck with a large number of gays who weren't running national organizations, weren't activists, or weren't living in liberal gay enclaves like San Francisco and New York. Sure, many of the rest of us accepted de facto that transgendered people were members of the community, but only because our leaders kept telling us it was so. A lot of gays have been scratching their heads for 10 years trying to figure out what they have in common with transsexuals, or at the very least why transgendered people qualify as our siblings rather than our cousins.
I've been asking similar questions for years, ever since trans activists browbeat LGB organizations to add transgender to their mission statements. I didn't object to that idea, in and of itself, but I was deeply troubled by the idea that it was somehow "exclusionary" for gay people to have some organizations just for us. Trans folks do, so why shouldn't we?
I also worried, unfortunately prophetically, that including "T" in the mission statement would become a huge distraction for resource-strapped gay groups, as if our own battles weren't consuming enough. The deepest disappointment has been Lambda Legal, an organization for which I have a great deal of respect, which has so confused including T in its mission that now it feels obliged to argue that GLBs shouldn't receive any legislative protection until the political will is there for Ts to receive the same.
Then transgender activists and their allies pressed their "trans or bust" strategy for hate crimes and workplace rights. It was the crowning achievement of their leveraging of the gay rights movement, and so brazen that I labeled it "the transjacking" of the movement. Provocative yes, but accurate nonetheless.
Now all that has blown up in their face, and by overreaching their attempt at forced "unity" has brought to the surface deep divisions within our "community." The form the debate has taken hasn't helped. While some have been respectful, most trans activists I've seen have been incredibly aggressive and personal and mean-spirited, always questioning motives and rarely addressing points of view actually expressed.
The question now is whether trans activists and their allies will realize their misstep and correct it going forward. The Nation is reporting that Ted Kennedy will introduce ENDA as a gay-only measure. I think they're reading a bit too much into his statement over House passage, but regardless the issue will present itself again.
There's no reason why we can't all lobby for a trans-inclusive ENDA and yet support a compromise measure if the votes aren't there for "gender identity." It's the right thing to do for millions of GLB Americans.
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