Wednesday, May 27, 2009
A Tale Of Two Protests
"Don't wonder why people go crazy. Wonder why they don't. In face of what we can lose in a day, in an instant, wonder what the hell it is that make us hold it together." — character Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) in Grey's Anatomy
It's been interesting watching the two different protests in the greater Queer community over the past week: the APA protest over the categorization of trans people as a disorder, and the protests around the country after California's Supreme Court upheld Prop 8, removing the right to marry for same-sex couples.
Last week we saw the reports on the trans community's protest of the American Psychological Association's meeting to discuss reforms to the DSM-V (Fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual dealing with mental disorders). At issue is the concern over how the DSM-V will categorize trans people going forth. It's bad enough to have had the pathologizing over the years. To continue the same after a full review would be devastating.
That said, they do have some folks on the committee considering the new version of the DSM who tend to favor keeping trans people pathologized. I won't go into the details on this as I know a number of other sources have covered it already, and have been dealing with it much more closely.
My one concern, which I haven't seen addressed yet, is when the DSM removes transsexualism specifically from the manual, then what? Over the years, I've understood the need to have something diagnosable in order to receive hormone replacement therapy. We need specific diagnostic categorizing in the Medical Association standards of care as soon as DSM is removed or sooner. As such, simply removing us from the DSM is only half the task.
"I have great confidence that our efforts are so crucial and colossal that we will render it impossible for our adversaries to reverse the direction of our socio-cultural transformations. As the great Reverend Martin Luther King said: “Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”  As we speak our truths, we must remember to love ourselves and our community members, and hold fast to the strength of our convictions." — trans activist and scholar, Joelle Ruby Ryan from the presentation "The Tipping Point"
The problem I see is that a condition such as ours which requires prescribed medication to assist and correct will need something to refer to. Physicians typically don't just write elective prescriptions upon patients' request (at least the reputable ones don't.) If we're removed from the DSM, without a psych's letter and without any standard of treatment in the medical journals, from where do we get our HRT?
Don't get me wrong: I firmly oppose our categorizing in the DSM. In fact, I felt so strongly about automatically being "disordered" (and the employment and insurance ramifications with it) that I circumvented the HBIGDA Standards and avoided counseling altogether, going straight to one of those less-than-reputable doctors back in 1995. Once on hormones, it was easy enough to move to another doctor more reputable and simply continue what was already started. But considering the prospects of everyone having to seek hormones through back channels is harrowing, considering black market medications coming over from China and elsewhere.
We need to be working on placement as a treatable medical condition in the AMA now (hint, hint).
But I digress. The protest drew 150 participants from around the country and speeches at the rally from those who've been deeply involved in this for some time, such as Andrea James and Kelley Winters.
Even Mara Keisling from NCTE was speaking and protesting, and it was good for her to be out there. The irony of Keisling, the self-appointed Washington insider, being in San Fran protesting can't be overlooked. She used to chide NTAC over our membership and lobbying for the LGBT Health Coalition, saying we weren't focusing on our primary issue: lobbying. In her words to me, we needed to "figure out what it is [we] want to be when we grow up." To her, I countered that we were lobbying with the Health Coalition, it did deal with legislation that would eventually be our primary purview (once ENDA and Hate Crimes passed), and we were right (as she herself later joined and lobbied with the Health Coalition).
However, protesting and working on GID reform with the APA which affects international standards of care for trans people is great work – but not going to affect legislation in DC one iota. When the Washington insider is in San Fran, who's minding the store? Maybe time for Mara to hear her own words and "figure out what it is you want to be when we grow up."
While the APA protest was successful in drawing a lot of participation, there was one thing the attendees and the rest of us noted. There was a collective yawn by the media. There was also wasn't much of any support from the gay and lesbian community or organizations, save for (ironically) HRC putting out a statement. Nevertheless, it registered nary a ripple outside our own community.
"I think heterosexuality and homosexuality are a kind of psychosis, and the truth is somewhere in the middle." — out lesbian, British novelist Jeanette Winterson
This week saw the same-sex marriage decision coming down from the California Supreme Court. Note the difference in attention level in the media. Also note the fact that even the trans community was awaiting and chattering about the "Decision Moment" and awaiting action. Sure enough, the Supreme Court upheld Prop 8 which was voted in last year. And sure enough, the protests began on both sides and even trans people were there front-and-center for the opposition to Prop 8 – even including APA protest organizer Danielle Askini in San Francisco.
Since then, the protest has been ubiquitous on all gay media and widely publicized on national mainstream news across the country – even though the law affects only one state. It's a pretty impressive media blitz on behalf of the gay and lesbian community, of which we should take note.
What gets me is how we're also seeing a number of trans folks around the country publicizing and working hard to pull support for Prop 8 protests in their states like Texas and Michigan! Michigan of course used to allow transsexual marriage until the year following the Massachusetts decision when that state (along with Kentucky) voted away the rights to same-sex marriage even for trans people. Texas, meanwhile, had the Christie Lee Littleton case where Texas' courts retroactively declared her Kentucky marriage was a same-sex coupling. Littleton's got scant attention from the media and, though proffered to the U.S. Supreme Court, was turned away from consideration by the high court.
Yet even here and other dark-age states where marriage is disallowed now post-Massachusetts and in states where marriage has been declared available to all, trans people are still attending the rallies, helping get the word out, expressing their outrage. Sometimes we don't even attend our own trans community protests in similar numbers!
Meanwhile, note the variance of participation and attention from the gay and lesbian community between issues key to gay and lesbians (marriage) and issues key to trans people (employment non discrimination vis a vis HRC, de-pathologizing trans in the DSM). No, I'm not the only one to notice this stark disparity.
"Marriage, n: the state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two." — American satirist and journalist, Ambrose Bierce
"More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse." — British Olympic athlete, Doug Larson
Even while we still have the criticisms of the gay and lesbian defenders of Barney Frank and HRC ringing in our ears after our attempts to raise our voice, we are now seeing protests and even public disobedience put forth by the gay and lesbian leaders. Our critics all but called us in words the "shrill" "crazy trannies" "protesting", and acknowledging that while we need employment, we also needed to wait. Now we have interviews on TV where protesters in California cry "not allowing us to marry is wrong! It's shameful that in this country I can be denied equal treatment just because I'm gay!"
(After New Hampshire's Senate vote last month, the dual standards of this entire scenario can't be missed.)
One blog even tagged it that "Gays and Lesbians are now 2nd and 3rd class citizens." It makes you wonder what class trans people are if we're somewhere well below 3rd class!
One out of state protester, Louis Thompson from Colorado, said "It's taxation without representation. It certainly is taxation without equal rights." And they even have elected officials that are gay. Trans people have none anywhere save for Silverton, Oregon. It seems the intensities of discrimination have somehow been flattened out all while marriage has moved front and center and supplanted the focus.
"We wish we shared the same rights you have, but we have to stand here until we have the same rights you do," said Kate Burns, another Denver protester who was arrested for their civil disobedience. "We don't feel that business should go as usual when all citizens aren't granted the same benefits and rights...."
There are even suggestions on the web to begin protesting President Barack Obama on his silence regarding Prop 8. And it's funny to think back that it was the Trans community who's long been portrayed as the screaming protesters, stirring up shit and living up to our "shrill" stereotype! Really?
One point of note is that these protests by the gay and lesbian community have had their effect. The media on the marriage issue has far eclipsed even employment non discrimination and hate crimes campaigns! Even on other recent subject, while being heavy supporters of Obama's rival Hillary Clinton's campaign, gays and lesbians even managed to draw media attention and use pressure on the Obama Administration to strive for out gays and lesbians in his cabinet and White House staff with at least a measure of success. After all the trans people working against Hillary and busting butt for Obama, how many have we seen? Zero?
The coordinated pressure, protests and media work! Especially in light of 2007, this is something the trans community must take note of!
Meanwhile, it becomes clearer every day that while the gay and lesbian community and the trans community are on similar quests, we're also on vastly different tracks – more so by the day. They're making gains. We're losing ground. We throw our effort into our issues and issues important to them. And how much are they supporting back? If you want to see what life is like once the gay and lesbian slate of issues on their agenda has been met, take a look at the Massachusetts example where trans people still have no hate crime protections, no employment non discrimination, virtually no rights at all and an Equality Federation group that helps their neighboring states win marriage rights and gives scant funding or assistance to the trans jobless or hate victims.
The one right trans people have is the right to marry! They can do so immediately. It must also be noted that even after employment non discrimination goes into effect, it may well be years afterwards before trans folk like me or Massachusetts residents like Ethan St. Pierre could ever be employed even in gay or lesbian workplaces or organizations.
So are our collective priorities set appropriately? It leads many of us to wonder....
"My advice to you is get married: if you find a good wife you'll be happy; if not, you'll become a philosopher." — Socrates
"You play. You win. You play. You lose. You play." — out lesbian British novelist, Jeanette Winterson