Saturday, January 5, 2008

Desperately Seeking Susan (Stanton)

“I traveled round the world looking for a home.
I found myself in crowded rooms feeling so alone.” — Substitute For Love, Madonna

“Baby, although I chose this lonely life it seems it's stranglin' me now.
All the wild men, big cigars, gigantic cars; they're all laughin' at the lie.
Oh, I've been used Ooo-ooh. I've been a fool – oh, what a fool!
I broke all the rules – oh, yeah! But I must let the show go on” — The Show Must Go On, Three Dog Night

There’s been a rather loud and angry din that been dogging the instantaneous prominence and similarly instantaneous departure of Susan Stanton from the Transgender Community. Some of this had been going on for the past month as trans folk were upset with Rep. Barney Frank’s attempts at creating an ad-hoc group (maybe a replacement for an NCTE?) from a “short list” of transgenders who were less “critical” toward the recent ENDA maneuvers than even NCTE.

In one of my previous blogs on this subject (“Looking for Mr. Or Ms. Goodbar”), I didn’t intend to foist blame on the transgender players in this scenario – witting or unwitting as they may be. More to the point, I was concerned primarily with the manipulation that these non-trans kingmakers were attempting to pull on our community.

Most of the latest blares on Stanton, though, were concerning comments published in a new article from the St. Petersburg Times (, which admittedly were not comments that were helpful towards the trans community in the least. In fact, much of what I’d read in the article was almost right out of a Human Rights Campaign playbook. Stanton’s quote, “most Americans aren't ready for [transgenders] yet” were virtually word for word what I’d heard from the likes of Elizabeth Birch and Winnie Stachelberg (former HRC policy director) at the turn of the millennium.

“Baby, there's an enormous crowd of people, they're all after my blood.
I wish maybe they'd tear down the walls of this theater, let me out, let me out!” — The Show Must Go On, Three Dog Night

Perhaps it’s just coincidence … considering how she’s been recently courted by the likes of the same HRC to speak and re-validate (at least in HRC’s mind) that they are transgender-inclusive, especially in the absence of NCTE from their fold.

Again, it gets back to what I’d written earlier on the subject from the above-mentioned blog. Somehow, folks such as Rep. Barney Frank and HRC have assumed countenance over decisions for the transgender community. Where did they presume this conservatorship? When one looks at their track record on trans issues, on trans inclusion, on even taking any consideration of trans sentiment, trans history or its own leaders (as viewed and chosen by our own community) into account, we’d have been flat out of our minds to appoint that responsibility to them.

As for Susan Stanton, in some senses I truly feel sorry for her. She’s had a meteoric transition and rise to being tapped as a leader, through no real effort of her own. Stanton was a high-profile discrimination, not unlike some others such as Peter Oiler, J’Noel Gardiner, Christie Lee Littleton or Dana Rivers. Incidents such as this shove their discriminated prey into the harsh glare of media, which oftentimes is not as sympathetic as they initially present themselves to be.

In fact, occasionally the media gets it wrong. There’s a possibility of author’s bias, though more likely a culprit might be time constraints and an inattentiveness to detail, or even “literary license” to create more of a story than was there initially. It’s possible the St. Petersburg Times could’ve taken the quotes out of context. Indeed, I myself have been misquoted by the same paper (though a different writer) in response to one of NTAC’s press releases. It happens.

Some of the quotes from Stanton though showed a lack of depth of understanding of the trans community on the whole. True, for someone in a position of leadership or responsibility, this is bad.

However, we have to keep one thing in mind: how long has Susan Stanton been “out” and part of the transgender community? Not even a year yet! Her story hit just this past Spring. A scant month later, she was speaking and lobbying with NCTE (National Center for Transgender Equality) on Capitol Hill. Is this enough time for Trans America to groom a leader?

Fast-forward another four months: HRC and Barney Frank have announced their decision to pursue ENDA without gender identity and the entire trans community – including NCTE and Mara Keisling are publicly up in arms critical of the hypocrisy. Not only that, but the movement is gaining ground to isolate and erode the prominence of both Frank and HRC.

So HRC decides to conceive “Project Win-Back” and find new trans leaders to help validate themselves once again. Additionally, to help keep their hands clean, they turn the coordination of this effort over to Rep. Frank. As mentioned in my “Ms. Goodbar” blog, they needed someone with little or no knowledge of HRC and Barney, and with an unawareness or disdain for history.

Even at the National Banquet protest in DC, trans attorney Shannon Minter of Natl. Center for Lesbian Rights mentioned to me that HRC was already “sniffing around” and attempting to wrangle Susan Stanton. Well, they corralled their girl, and managed to have her speak at a few of their engagements (Angela Brightfeather would be proud). Then they introduced her to the venerable Barney Frank.

After all their bedazzling star-power, their proficient salesmanship, the message that Susan could be doing ‘important work’ for the trans community – ‘heroic work’ – and even attain instant ‘leadership’ for the trans community. Their pitch appeals to both selflessness and ego, to ambitions and worries of an uncertain future, to an exciting challenge and even to an avenue for income again. Remember Susan’s recent job-loss and concerns for future income? If the quotes attributed to her in the article: “If I have no more professional existence, I will end it. I couldn't live like that," are accurate, that’s troubling. It should be easy to see how one from her perspective would agree with such a proposition, especially if they didn’t know better.

For the trans community at large who’ve never been similarly wooed by the HRC machine, the Stanton example is the same thing they’ve been playing with different players for the past decade plus. They’ve seduced many, and left the same number at the altar. And always, it’s HRC, Barney Frank and their ilk that strut proudly, while the transgender community always ends up batter, bruised and beguiled.

It’s quite likely, even with her brief appearance at NCTE in May that Stanton was completely unaware of what HRC and Frank were about. In fact, in such a short time “out”, she truly hasn’t had exposure to much of any of the transgender community – certainly not enough to be considered a well-versed trans community leader. Yet, here she found herself, offered up as potential trans community “leader” by the likes of a professional organization such as the Human Rights Campaign, and an experienced veteran politician such as Rep. Barney Frank. Who would dare argue with that?

On Pam’s House Blend Blog, one of the respondents who went simply by the name of “Zeke,” reported on some of the pre-transition background of then City Manager, Steve Stanton (

“They [City of Largo FL] weren't firing Steve because of poor job performance but simply because he had revealed that he was a transgender person. I spoke on the record, on behalf of my United Church of Christ congregation in support of transgender rights and fairness. This IN SPITE of the fact that I knew for a fact that Steve was a COMPLETE asshole, right-wing conservative and homophobe. I have two very close personal friends, who are openly gay, who had the misfortune of working under him. Gay people were denied advancement opportunities and were treated very poorly as were others who didn't fit into his very narrow world view.”

At this writing, I have no way to ascertain and thus can’t support his opinion personally. If indeed there was veracity to this, it’s quite telling of HRC and Barney Frank’s desperation to grasp at whatever they can for political cover while they seek a convenient way to steer transgenders right down the primrose path to Hell. If there’s fallout from it? “Let the trannies eat their own! We’re free and clear from that piranha pool!”

One must ask: is this desperation grasp to save face the type of professionalism expected from an organization such as this; one that readily pans trans activists’ lack of same, thus inferring wiser decision-making capability? For that matter, is this what we should expect from a long-tenured politician such as Rep. Barney Frank who’s eagerly willing to display his own intelligence while dismissively belittling any who would dare question his acuity? Would they sit tight with similar disconnectedly “wise” decisions made for them?

Apparently the St. Petersburg Times expedited the plan a bit too fast for them to take advantage. The net result is the same for Susan Stanton, though: discredited, reviled and savaged by her own community. Doubtlessly, some of those friends she’s made in gay and lesbian circles will tell her the typical: “this is what your community does to itself – it eats its own.”

However, I’ve also noted a number of the same incidents where the gay and lesbian community has eaten its own as well when they haven’t toed the loyalists’ party line. The only difference is that the Trans Community doesn’t have a star-powered, flush-with-cash organization flashing green and promising dreams to a cash-poor, opportunity-bereft gay and lesbian community in search of separable types to play wedge games. The playing fields aren’t exactly level.

Nevertheless, Stanton will go back to tending to her own life and career. She was surely not someone sufficiently ready for leadership on transgender civil rights. Could she have ever been a good leader? Perhaps she’d have overcome her past, maybe she possibly could’ve decided to contact the trans community and learn about the history of our movement and HRC’s place in this. Or maybe not. Either way, we’ll never know now.

Baby, I wish you'd help me escape. Help me get away.
Leave me outside my address, far away from this masquerade.
'Cause I've been blind – oh, so blind.
I wasted time – wasted, wasted, all too much time
Walkin' on the wire – high wire.
But I must let the show go on.” — The Show Must Go On, Three Dog Night

One thing is certain: the marionette show will continue. The handlers will continue searching for candidates to places their strings upon, and pull to their whims and (hopefully for them) to the entertainment of the transgender audience. And after the trans spectators tire of the show, and in anger cut the strings, dismantle and shred the marionettes into splinters, sawdust and bits of cloth, then what? The handlers, untouched by the ravaging horde inconspicuously slip behind the curtain and drop down another marionette.

Yeah, the marionettes mock and aggravate us. But if we’re tired of this show, shouldn’t we be going after the puppeteers and dismantling and shredding their hands and limbs? Maybe it’s just my Texas take on things, but it seems to make more sense to me.

“If one is not willing to invest psychic energy in the internal reality of consciousness, and instead squanders it in chasing external rewards, one loses mastery of one's life, and ends up becoming a puppet of circumstances.” — Author and professor of psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“I tried to be a boy,
I tried to be a girl
I tried to be a mess,
I tried to be the best
I tried to find a friend,
I tried to stay ahead
I tried to stay on top...
Fuck it.…” — American Life, Madonna

1 comment:

AC said...

First of all, I thought I was the only one who still actually listens to Three Dog Night. Perfect analogy for the Stanton affair. I had a blog posting I was going to put on my own that used the exact same quotation, but withheld it for rewriting after Stanton withdrew.
From what I knew of her stay in Berea, KY, as manager there, good riddance to her. Suffice to say that Zeke's probably on the right track.

It's, unfortunately, quite obvious that HRC intends to tell us what we can and cannot have and believe, and
also intends to dictate how we can protest them. I suppose that they must have hired Karl Rove to handle dirty tricks for them. I think most of us know that it won't be acceptable. It should be a very interesting few years indeed.