Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Difference Between Trans And Gay

"I'm tired of hearing people talk about me,
Telling me I'm a disgrace to society.
Just look at yourself clearly in the mirror.
I'm not much of a sinner!
I'm just following my feelings." — Gay Pride, Omar Kamo


A recent documentary shown locally here in Houston last week got me to thinking. It was quite well done and really showed the history of the neighborhood well. Local gay and lesbian luminaries, activists, residents and others were the interview subjects, lending local flavor to the film. Something seemed out of place or missing, though. Nearing the end of the documentary it finally started sinking in: there was no transgender participants, perspective or stories (save for the mention of prostitution).


As films, news or documentaries go, it was quite typical. But it got me to thinking: why is it that even in the 21st century, you rarely if ever see any notable trans perspectives on these type shows?

Contrasting that with the documentary done 20 years ago, Remembering Stonewall, it was interesting to note that while there were a number of trans and drag folks interviewed who were primary players, there were also a few more gay and lesbian interviewees. A couple of the gay and lesbian folks were actual participants, but most were just people, gay and lesbian community leaders perhaps, who were just living in other places, or who were elsewhere that night or even avoiding that bar area altogether. They were there to discuss what beneficial impact the riot had on their lives as gay or lesbian Americans – more for flavor or color than anything else.

The percentage was approximately 50-50, with perhaps a slight edge to gay and lesbian interviewees as opposed to the "drag queens" or "transvestites" as they called them then.

Even today, in gay and lesbian subject programs if there are any gender variant images, as a rule drag queens are the only ones shown. However, unless the subject is specifically about female impersonation, the drag characters are used as wallpaper adorning the background or inconsequential scenes, or a rare sentence or two as a comic relief.

It got me to thinking a little more deeply about the differences between trans and gay – and not merely the issue of gender variance as opposed to sexual orientation.

"I tell you one thing!
You are not going to stop me!
I'm going to keep on going on
'Cause I have gay pride!" — Gay Pride, Omar Kamo


Trans people don't have the same type of history that gays and lesbians do. Still to this day we're considered temporary ... transient. As the Montrose documentary brought home, we don't have trans ghettos per se. We're rootless have never had a side of town or a place we could call home.

Like vagabonds, we're always on the edges, seen intermittently on the periphery. Nonetheless, it's never really home.

Trans history or attachment to something fixed for the ages was rare if not altogether non-existent. In popular culture, you never see visible trans participation in history. Many of us have been there in many of these instances, but we're merely the bit players or part of the background casting. On the rare occasion that we are front-line players in history, such as Stonewall, it is quickly co-opted and those trans players like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson are pushed out.

Oddly enough, Sylvia was only revered by gay and lesbian cognoscenti after her death when everyone wanted on the bandwagon. During life, she was not only a pariah to the queer establishment, but most indeed tried to diminish if not altogether write her out of the history of the event – such as author David Carter in his book "Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution" from 2004.

Throughout the decades the leaders of the trans movement as determined by the community members themselves and per their work over the years have absolutely no place at all in LGBT history. If it's something beneficial to the gay and lesbian community alone, it's relevant. But if it's something we in the trans community do, regardless of trans-benefit only or LGBT in scope, it's special interest. The words LGBT are uttered in order to show consideration of all people in the community, but trans people in our collective history are completely invisible.

Much like unicorns, we're mythical creatures that are rarely ever spotted (much less heard) in media or public at large. (Nor for that matter are Bi)

"Please don't say it.
I won't take it anymore.
Why should I run and hide?
We, we are what we are.
We're just like anybody else." — We Are What We Are, the Other Ones



Rare sympathetic media attention paid to the trans community usually circles around hate murder victims. The only other time we rate media is in prostitution stings or some crime that's similaraly salacious.

Even in events or rallies, lack of trans leadership (beyond the one token trans slot) who are allowed to speak and lack of perception of anyone of note only underlines our irrelevance. And it speaks loudly, not only to our community but also to those observing from outside the Queer community.

None will ever know, much less understand what it feels like dealing with the extra obstacles: being the double minority of Queerland (or for ethnic minority trans people, being the triple minority).

They won't know the extra burden of mandatory medical treatment even without promiscuity, along with the psychiatric hurdles (to say nothing of the permanent branding as "disordered" per requirements in order to obtain surgery or even hormone therapy). None of them grasp the ID complications (especially in the era of the Real I.D. Act) and extra costs for even the name and gender consistency. None fathom the job search difficulties, much less the near total absence of professional success in those jobs once transitioned, nor the historical lack of similar connections to power or the abject lack of opportunity even within LGBT environs.

It's relatively rare for them worrying over being read in public, especially for those male at birth. Similarly the constant fear of attack is nowhere near as common, much less the commensurate level of attacks. Even in the 21st century, trans people who attempt to report an attack to law enforcement are nearly always presumed to have brought it upon themselves due to the stereotyped perception of trans person as "street prostitute." There's also nowhere remotely near the level of organizational support, nor the connections with the halls of power for defending our community.

After forty years of this movement begun at Stonewall, the LGBT community is surely on a trip towards equal rights. However we're on distinctly different roads: one a direct super-highway, the other a local road with detours, roadblocks, an uncertain path and a hell of a rough ride all along the way.

"I never asked you to go away.
Didn't want to cause you pain....
Oh, we only want to be ourselves." — We Are What We Are, the Other Ones

1 comment:

radicalbitch said...

During Katrina, only one LGBt fundraising to aid victims was attempted, by Ethan St. Pierre and myself....

It wasn't trans specific, we widened it to LBGt specific....it was an almost invisible effort, unacknowledged for the most part afterwards.

I don't do charity/public helping work for recognition, I do it because it needs to be done but it is beyond annoying never to have one's efforts acknowledged.

Screw Pride....gave it up years ago.