Sunday, January 13, 2008

Using Us To Beat Us

Always obtain things honestly; never use crooked means. — Chinese proverb

Another buzz has arisen surrounding an interview by Susan Stanton. She did an interview with the Washington Blade, and the reception it’s getting is as welcome as an outhouse breeze in the trans community. Déjà vu all over again, right Yogi? “Right you are, Boo-Boo boy!”

Wrong Yogi, I know. Berra notwithstanding, we could probably use Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for a tips on transcendental meditation techniques. Lord knows we’re stressed and at odds just as much as we’ve ever been.

One of the respondents (a friend) who read my previous blog on Susan Stanton (Desperately Seeking Susan, from openly questioned that Stanton’s comments reflect, “folks like you and me” and added that she hopes Stanton “learns how to zip it.” Monica Helms, Exec. Dir. of the Transgender American Veterans Assn. (TAVA) also did an editorial in much more bruising fashion, comparing Stanton to “Uncle Tom” (the fictional character in the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe).

Helms and other similar comments aren’t intended as circumspect as much as they’re counterbalances, intended to grab attention and pull in the opposite direction.

It’s agreed that Stanton, for all the high-visibility that HRC and Barney Frank wish to afford to her, has very parochial worldview of the trans community and its issues. She also appears blithely unaware of the history of trans and GLBT politics, and of the role she fulfills for those who wish to place her views prominently for mass consumption. She, as others before her and others who will follow, are tools. These tools are to be used to keep us distracted, divided and at odds with each other even to the point of comprehensive community fracture.

So why would Barney Frank, HRC and any other pertinent players in GLB politics foment such fractiousness? It helps provide political cover to achieve their incremental goals, it keeps us from focusing publicly on them (thus not disrupting the fundraising activities nor causing questions from aware politicos), and … once they have all on their agenda, they can come back and begin the cottage industry all over again by retooling it to focus on our issues.

So who cares if they aren’t us and don’t know our issues? That’s just more time to learn, more funds to raises, more paychecks until they can get it right …. They’re not in a hurry, and I’m sure they wonder “why the big rush from these transgenders?”

“I think we need to do a whole lot more educating before we’re going to be able to realistically have the support on the national level to get this passed.” That was Susan Stanton during the Blade interview that published Jan. 12, 2008. Clearly with as little time and exposure to trans people as she’s had, she wouldn’t be aware of much of any previous “educating” we’ve done in political offices.

Actually, I said virtually the same thing she said in the office of HRC in early March of 2000. NTAC’s early board members had a sit down with HRC staffers Nancy Buermeyer, Tony Varona and Kevin Layton. One thing I’d noticed from the previous lobby days in DC with both ICTLEP and GenderPAC is that there wasn’t a consistent approach to educated legislators, there was no comprehensive handout material left (most everything at that point was more organizationally autobiographical and thin on basic Trans 101) and we were in constant need of retraining every year.

Additionally, I explained that I didn’t care that they didn’t have transgender in their mission statement (this was before addition of transgender into the HRC mission statement) – it was unimportant. Just as gays and lesbians experientially knew their issues and needed their voice, we also knew our issues first-hand, could speak to them, and we also needed our voice as well. If you ask Buermeyer, Varona or Layton today, I believe they will still recall and agree that the concept was right.

With history, we know now they went in a different direction. HRC and NTAC stopped communication, HRC added transgender to their mission, decided on their own agenda and hired folks their own to be “our” voice, and advertised prominently as the eminent voice for gay and lesbian as well as transgender issues. Now we find ourselves eight years later, with a trans person of HRC’s own choosing, saying the same thing.

One needs to ask HRC: so what the hell’s happened all these past seven years where “your” educational efforts should’ve been taking place? Lots of money goes to HRC, lots of flash, lots of glitz … why so little educational result? We did better than that, even without any money – and did it with much less self-promotion!

Later in the Blade interview, Stanton almost reverses course with the quote, “I personally don’t feel denying the rights of one group should be perpetuated unless everybody has those rights.” That’s a quote I can agree with. The problem is Barney Frank and Rep. Nancy Pelosi have been using Stanton’s quote, where she believed the sexual orientation only version of ENDA would be a helpful “first step” to open the way for passing a trans-inclusive bill.

Stanton also notes the following: “The politics changed,” she said. “I know people want to take their ball and bat off the ball field. I think that’s a mistake. I do understand the anger with the Human Rights Campaign. But I also understand that, as someone who used to have to be responsible for making those types of decisions, sometimes you’ve got to be pragmatic and sometimes the importance of being at the table is in conflict with the need to have a sense of community.”

This wouldn’t be so difficult to agree to had the gay and lesbian community been similarly pragmatic about marriage. As we’ve seen since the Massachusetts court ruling, they’re more than willing to throw incremental approaches and pragmatism out the window when it’s an issue they crave. If gay and lesbian America were so concerned with pragmatism, you’d see nothing but intersexed and trans people staffed and leading all of the marriage equality organizations as you see in major GLBT organizations.

Stanton noted that the St. Petersburg Times article “is not an accurate representation of my beliefs … or my experiences as a transgender person.” On the statement that brought the biggest heat for Stanton, she claimed the quote was “I do feel there is a fundamental misunderstanding by the general public that being transgender is simply a matter of men wanting to ‘dress up as women.’” Admittedly her restatement has a much different meaning than the same statement in the article. The Times stands by their version of the quote, however I will say that it’s conceivable they could’ve well misquoted her.

“Since the publication of this story, I have received hundreds of e-mails from people all over the nation expressing their disappointment and anger for the hurtful and insensitive statements that have been attributed to me,” Stanton wrote. Even though she showed her relative naiveté, I still feel Stanton is taking an unfair burden of the blame.

Again, who is placing such a brand-new, fresh-out-of-the-box transgender as a celebrity, leader and savior for transgender rights? The very people who wish to exploit her for their own political cover and to protect their own fundraising without questions about “leaving transgenders out of legislation.” Sure, they’ll get their plausible deniability on the cheap. They’ll also get some great PR face time in front of a media cameras and possibly even a bit of fundraising out of her name and story.

The Susan Stanton is just the latest, most blatant example of the same pattern of exploitation of a cash-poor and opportunity-bereft transgender community. All the while, these opportunists hold nothing but contemptible dispassion for the very same community they capitalize on.

Stanton finished up by saying “it’s up to us and our supporters to educate the people about who we really are. Until that happens, it will be difficult to persuade Congress to pass a transgender rights bill.”

If only there was a way to reach out to Susan and let her know I agree with the last statement, as well as the first. The problem she will never know as long as HRC insulates her is that we’ve been trying to do this for a decade and more, but the very same HRC and Rep. Barney Frank have been our biggest obstacles.

At some point Susan Stanton must understand what’s behind the sentiment she sees only on a surface level. After more than a decade, we’re tired. We’re tired of being undermined. We’re tired of being diminished. We’re tired of all our efforts and those we hold as devoted leaders in our community being dismissed. We’re tired of being silenced via either social intimidation or outright censorship. We’re tired of being seen as nothing more than a boost to their statistical numbers and to their fundraising numbers, and realizing we’re never going to be part of their peer set or their contemporaries. We’re tired of not even having chance to enjoy what they take for granted.

There’s no hate for Susan Stanton here – just disappointment. But I do hold some very extreme animus towards those manipulators who put her up to this.

“I might as well go up and talk to a wall
'cause all the words are having no effect at all
It's a funny thing am I all alone” — What Are Words For, Missing Persons

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