Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Trans Rights Movement Is Disappearing Before Our Eyes

“It was that simple. With the vote on Proposition 8 (in California) the GLBT community lost the right to marry. And we immediately disappeared from our rights movement as we used to know it.”

This above was a quote by a transgender friend of mine, former-activist, later burned out in frustration and now closeted, and who wishes to remain anonymous. It’s a sentiment I gravitated to shortly after.


“Say I'm crying,
I'm looking at what's on TV.
Pain and suffering
and the struggle to be free.
It can't ever be denied and I
Never will ignore.” — Disappear, Inxs


For years, another trans activist from Houston, attorney Katrina Rose, had warned us all that the gay and lesbian movement (personified by HRC) was going to win their rights, then move to marriage and other issues while incrementally leaving trans people behind. Initially I was even skeptical of that, especially circa 2000. Something that brazen, that pointedly self-expedient seemed too unconscionable to be possible. The collective hue and cry that would draw would be deafening. At least then.

Two years hence, we had a new leader in the trans community put forth a bold idea that working with those historically incrementalist, gay-centric organizations like HRC would provide us a watershed of support and integration into the GLBT movement. Two years after, we saw the first public signs that this concept was failing. Five years after that new shift, the new GLBT world order was discovered to be an obvious ruse, with the concept now fully in the hands of, and exploited by HRC.

Those who proposed the new world order, suddenly became the negativity propagators they once belittled and marginalized. Yet there have been, and will always be new trans people that are either desperate, starry-eyed, or with what Helen Boyd (of My Husband Betty) termed as having “a messianic complex.” As a result, we’ll have pro-HRC pitted against the rest of us. Meanwhile we all stand on the shore and wave goodbye as “The New Civil Rights Movement: Gay Marriage and Gay Rights” (as the name of a new blog by David Badash accurately termed it) sails off into the sunset. Without us.

Even the recent messaging has attempted to sublimely imprint this in America’s collective psyche, as well as in Trans America. Just recently I and others have heard more than a couple comments at Prop 8 rallies that marriage equality’s passage would produce a domino effect, whereby all other rights like ENDA and hate crimes would then be won. Get it? Employment will have to wait until we can all marry first, so they’re instructing us.

The first time we heard it was in what seemed like a preposterous statement by NGLTF’s Lisa Mottet at a Transgender Leadership Roundtable in early 2004. Now it seems it’s become a knee-jerk talking point to force-feed the trannies.

The Advocate’s issue last week had a rather stark, eye-popping cover story title. “Gay Is The New Black: The Last Great Civil Rights Movement.” Note the last half of that title … the “last great civil rights movement.” They’re not even covering for that “domino effect” story. Last. As in “no más!”

“Because weddings are bliss, ignorance is not.” — David Badash, slogan from New Civil Rights Movement blog.


Actually the story by Michael Gross was inspired writing. But if you’re trans, there were also numerous portions of it that were infuriatingly clueless. Examples:

At present we are the most socially acceptable targets for the kind of casual hatred that American society once approved for habitual use against black people. …
This one’s arguable. True enough gays and lesbians are targeted for hatred pretty frequently, though I might also add that those numbers aren’t quite to the levels seen – nor some of the extreme overkill – exhibited in transgender hate murders.

But it’s more commonly OK to caricature and demean us in politics and the media in ways from which blacks are now largely exempt.
Again another arguable statement that’s probably less true than the previous. There are still more sublime ways the black community is demeaned, mostly with coded wording. Nevertheless, I’ve seen some of the media demeaning of the gay community, though that’s also much more subdued than years past (save for religiopolitical punditry on Faux News shows.) Even when those incidents occur, there is always a high-profile rejoinders, typically from organizations like HRC or GLAAD (Gay Lesbian Alliance for Anti Defamation) that is swift, severe in tone and most often draws contrition.

Compare that to trans people in politics and media. Not only are we demeaned, it’s open, it’s unapologetic, it’s much more blatantly dehumanizing and openly laughed about by the offending parties. Rare is it that GLAAD (who claims coverage over GLB and T defamatory incidents) will chide the offending party.

Some trans folks have been critical of the lethargic responses whenever these organizations do respond, rather than the vigorous and unrelenting defenses they’ll give on gay or lesbian slams. On a rare occasion, we even get some of that defamation from the gay and lesbian community from folks such as Rep. Barney Frank, gay media icons such as Jim Fouratt, Chris Crain, Michael Alvear or Julie Bindel. Even the Gay Comedy Showcase from some years back displayed four of their five comments offering up … tranny jokes. “Where are the tranny hookers? I miss my tranny hookers ….”

Gay people have more resources than blacks had in the 1960s. We are embedded in the power structures of every institution of this society. Almost all gay people have the choice of passing.
This is where the trans movement and the gay and lesbian movement diverge strongly. Pretty clearly the trans community is on the opposite end of that spectrum, and I’d venture without even the resources and community infrastructure of even the black community in the 1960s. Clearly not all trans people have the choice of passing, and of those who do pass, with recent bills such as the Real ID Act, and the advent of the internet search engines, it’s near impossible for even stealth transsexuals to stay hidden forever. Only the most security-conscious and closeted of crossdressers can claim 100% passing in their non-trans selves. And trans people are not embedded in any of the power structures of society, much less elected to office save for rare local instances.

On a deeper level, though, the gay civil rights struggle is about preventing discrimination based on our proclivity to love ... [it’s] unambiguously the heart of the matter.
Again, distinctly different than the trans community’s struggle (even though some of us do additionally share the same fight as above). Our primary struggle is simply being who we are, being allowed to identify as we are without repercussions. For some of us, who we love never even factors into our struggle. We’re simply unemployed or attacked because of our visual presentation.

We are close to winning everything we want. We are so close that we do not have time to rehash the Malcolm/Martin struggle between anger and peace, force and nonviolence…. Whoever you are, it’s time to come out. Because, as I was reminded the morning after the election, it’s faces -- not arguments -- that will close the deal on marriage equality.
“We liken some of the experiences that we have had and will have to the (black) civil rights struggle. We also are enormously respectful of the differences. What we are best served doing is when we take lessons from the civil rights experience and apply them to our work.” — HRC Exec. Dir, Joe Solmonese in AP article, 11/30/08

I’m happy for Mr. Gross and his community, and commend them on taking an issue that wasn’t even part of the struggle six years ago and progressing it this far in lightning fashion. For the gay and lesbian community the struggle will be won and they will be done. The “faces” on the movement will always be the Michael Grosses or other similarly entitled, “made men and women” of the gay and lesbian community. Meanwhile Gross or HRC and whichever trans quislings they may employ to plaster over this will merrily work to bury any unaddressed inequalities from public view – all the better to cleanse their legacies.

However, the trans community’s movement – simply the essential desire of being able to survive and earn a living – is currently being overwritten, completely occluded from public sight and vanishing before our very eyes.

[W]e are angry, probably not least at ourselves for our own complacency and cowardice, for not working as hard as we could, for not giving as much as we could, and for letting so much slip from our grasp.
Nearly forty years after the late Marsha P. Johnson, former NTAC member Sylvia Rivera and others created this current popular movement’s flashpoint at Stonewall, the trans community anger will not be quelled, nor will we be sated. Will we simply allow ourselves to disappear? Those of us who’ve had virtually nothing to begin with will not relinquish our grasp on what little we do have. There are far too many of us that remember, far too many of us that are still left out.

We will not go quietly into that dark night. Enter the Retributive Era.

“All of the problems …
All the fears …
And the world seems to disappear.” — Disappear, Inxs

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself.” — actor, Harvey Fierstein

34 comments:

Zack said...

Thank you. Here in Maine, a local GLBT organization, Equality Maine, promised the T community over six months ago at a meeting that they would be making us one of their top priorities. None of us have heard anything since and Equality Maine has (surprise!) moved on to same sex marriage. Goes to show that everyone always acts in their own interests, whatever they say.

Marlene said...

On Monday, Dec 8th, Equality Ohio's going to be having a session to start working on an ENDA-style bill for the city of Bowling Green.

And EO has held lobby days for a statewide ENDA, and have included transfolk as part of the bill's language and over a dozen of us lobbied.

KatRose said...

Zack said: "None of us have heard anything since and Equality Maine has (surprise!) moved on to same sex marriage."

I thought that Maine (unlike Massa-gay-marriage-before-trans-rights-chusetts and Connecti-gay-marriage-before-trans-rights-cut) already had a trans-inclusive civil rights law.

While I do think its politically unwise to push same-sex marriage at all right now, and though I wish they'd move forward with a transsexual birth certificate statute before same-sex marriage, once a state enacts a real ENDA statute, its at least not completely illegitimate to move on to same-sex marriage.

Zack said...

It's not the civil rights law we're worried about. It's that there is no process to change gender on a drivers license or other state documentation, and you have to show a birth certificate now to renew a license. Our anti-discrimination law is fairly toothless, anyway, requiring you to litigate through a panel first that finds discrimination or not before you can file a suit. That's for all discrimination, though, not just GLBT discrimination. I don't think we'd care about the focus on marriage had we not been promised that we were the priority.

Cat Kisser said...

It gives me no pleasure at all to say "I told you so years ago"

John Fitzgerald said...

I think it makes very little sense to try to pose gay and lesbian rights with trans rights. Sadly the shift in consciousness required to recognize the significance of transgenderism is not adequately present in our current society, it is important that these ideals of equality are kept intact and further elaborated.

My only wish is that the energy spent discussing these issues is reflected by actual movements and organizations which are currently and potentially developing to serve this progressive function.

John Fitzgerald said...

I think it makes very little sense to try to pose gay and lesbian rights with trans rights. Sadly the shift in consciousness required to recognize the significance of transgenderism is not adequately present in our current society, it is important that these ideals of equality are kept intact and further elaborated.

My only wish is that the energy spent discussing these issues is reflected by actual movements and organizations which are currently and potentially developing to serve this progressive function.

John Fitzgerald said...

I think it makes very little sense to try to pose gay and lesbian rights with trans rights. Sadly the shift in consciousness required to recognize the significance of transgenderism is not adequately present in our current society, it is important that these ideals of equality are kept intact and further elaborated.

My only wish is that the energy spent discussing these issues is reflected by actual movements and organizations which are currently and potentially developing to serve this progressive function.

Vanessa Edwards Foster said...

"My only wish is that the energy spent discussing these issues is reflected by actual movements and organizations which are currently and potentially developing to serve this progressive function."

John Fitzgerald ... when we did expend the energy, created our own organization independently, doing our best to stand alone with no requests from gay/lesbian organizations, the answer to this from the most prominent gay/lesbian organization was to discredit, work with media to shut us out, and then find an individual and a new start-up organization to supplant and superimpose this more accommodating (sycophantic) person as the "new (officially sanctioned) transgender leader."

This individual and her organization have taken this as opportunity to divide and fracture the trans community, and continue undermining our own (with the blessings of the "kingmaker" gay/lesbian org. This org and their fickle but currently-feigningly loyal smaller orgs will continue pushing forth their strategy to get GLB rights, and worry (if a profit motive exists after) about "coming back" for the hapless trannies later.

Would that it were as simple as expending the time, effort, money. Unfortunately, when there's money at stake (and make no mistake, this era's advocacy is all about money, furthering individual ambitions and controlling message), it's easy to simply utter "you need to get busy" and self-satisfy without even bothering with fact. The bottom line is that many in Congress are not happy with either Barney Frank or the GL(bt) movement and how they've proceeded with "equality." Like much of Washington, it's become simply another part of the "sham" of "rights" ... a caricature of what it's really supposed to be about.

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