Sunday, March 9, 2008

What Fresh Hell Is This?

“So immoral, working on the thing can drive you mad. That's what happened to this friend of mine. So he had a lobotomy. Now he's well again.” — Fox Harris as J. Frank Parnell, from the movie Repo Man

There was an interesting article from New York’s Gay City News that made the rounds recently. They reported on Mara Keisling’s American Tour date in the Big Apple (following on the heels of the recent HRC banquet protest – opportune timing), beginning with a bit of what impressed them as “a Las Vegas comedy act from the '60s.”

The article then noted, “Keisling gave HRC and the House Democratic leadership their due.” From that it sounds as if they were treated to more of the same press she’s given the past few months.

They then reported that Keisling, “commended HRC and Congressman Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat and ENDA champion, for advancing transgender issues. Last fall, Frank was widely criticized for "throwing trans people under the bus."

"Congressman Frank really, really wants to protect transgendered people," Keisling said per the Gay City News article.

I had to re-read that again to make sure I was reading it correctly.

It was just a couple weeks ago that the tit-for-tat press battle from just a couple weeks ago was reported in this same Gay City News. Now they’re being commended? What exactly changed recently? Regarding HRC, there’s been no change between them and the trans community specifically, unless there was something behind-the-scenes. Either way, this is a stark departure between the words of NCTE’s board members, specifically Steve Glassman and Donna Cartwright’s open letter and board chair Meredith Bacon’s stunning takedown of HRC.

Lest we forget, it was Barney Frank who bolted from the original inclusive bill and began pushing separate bills (obviously one bill much more eagerly than the other – you can imagine which one). Not only was Barney Frank pushing for separation and by extension abandonment of employment rights on the House ENDA bill, but also was its prime cheerleader in the gay press.

It makes all the more astonishing the comment from Keisling that Rep. Barney Frank “really, really wants to protect transgendered people.” Eternal skeptic that I am, there’s been far too much history to be so quick to forgive and easy to forget. When it comes to the rank-and-file ground-level trans folks who’ve kept a wary distance, there’s been no such forgiveness or amnesia from any of the above parties: HRC, Barney Frank or NCTE.

“First she’s up, then she’s down. Can’t decide … Merry-go-round.
First she’s in, then she’s out. Can’t decide ….” — Merry-Go-Round, the Producers

So why this sudden about face from Barney Frank?

Perhaps there’s been a bit of scrambling around for damage control on Ol’ Barn’s behalf: I’ll call it the Shame Factor. While Barney’s been giving a mighty push equality (for gays and lesbians only), but he hails from Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the union which has any amount of rights for gays and lesbians – even marriage! – and yet no protections whatsoever for transgenders.

To that end, the gay and lesbian orgs in the state of Mass. is trying to wipe egg off of face and play catch up, and Barney just recently deigned the state effort with his ever-important (at least in Mass. and GLBT circles) endorsement. That’s a huge departure for Barney. However, does this seem like something of Barney’s own volition, or more akin to Gov. George Wallace going back and apologizing for his all-too-obvious-and-glaringly-antipathic history? Having dealt with his pomposity once before and watching it unfold in recent months in the media against all our supporters in the gay and lesbian community outside of HRC, my money’s on the latter.

The recent scuttlebutt says that Barney’s coordinating a hearing before Congress on transgender employment issues with HRC leading the effort, and Mara Keisling serving as the transgender coordinator lining up the participants. So where does this leave us on the current marketing message that Barney’s suddenly our friend and hero again?

“The most intense of burning hells,
Blasting expectations into smithereens.” — 59 Times The Pain, Husker Du

On face value, it sounds positive. But something sounds too cosmetic, too quickly arranged, too contrived. It feels too much like buying a suspiciously clean looking vehicle from a dirt-lot used car dealer in poor-town offering E-Z Term financing (spelled with two letters to pander to those simple dupes they hope to draw in and capitalize upon). And like all the other working stiffs standing around looking at the gleaming paint job, kicking the tires and scratching my head, my gut is screaming “caveat emptor!”

We’ve been down the road with all three parties – Frank, Solmonese (et. al.) and Keisling (previously Wilchins) – and we in Trans America still remember the previous deals we bought. There were great expectations, a really attractive product pushed and a great sales pitch proffered with a wide smile. But the only thing that ever came from it was disappointment and the distinct feeling of being burned. When all came to light, Frank and Solmonese began pointing fingers at each other, and Keisling jumped out and pointing fingers at both with loud claims that she was burned and we shouldn’t trust them. In the article Mara even managed to insert: “"Some are still afraid of the gay thing" – a nice little Barney-esque dig. Maybe repayment for the “people with transgender” comments? Touché.

"We have to show Barney Frank 220 votes. If we show him 220 votes, nobody is going to work harder on this. The same with HRC... It's going to happen again next year." — Mara Keisling, Exec. Dir. of NCTE in Gay City, 3/6/08

So here we find ourselves walking down the same road, and lo, here’s Keisling with the advertised message above on the NCTE billboard. Nobody is going to work harder than Barney Frank … apparently including folks like Rush Holt or Jerry Nadler, et. al. if this is to be believed. And the same goes for HRC, and it’ll happen again next year.

From my skeptic’s mind, I look at the wording and immediately wonder what “it” is that’s going to “happen again next year.” It comes from standing here on the outside looking at the “product” that’s packaged and sold to the masses from “inside.” Never knowing what’s being constructed in there means you’re always scrutinous if you’re experientially wise.

And if not, well … for every sheep there’s always a willing market for a fleece. Enjoy your shearing!

“There’s no fool like an old fool” — saying first published in John Heywood’s proverb collection, 1546

1 comment:

Polar said...

Well, lessee. We know Barney's going to screw us, he's done it before. We know HRC is a pack of liars, Joe Solmonese proved that at SCC. And NCTE doesn't seem to have a strategy that is discernable, other than to try to destroy NTAC - despite their recent statement, they are not the only TG rights organization.

Seems like the best thing to do is to be GDI - as in god-damn independent. I know who the missing votes are, anyway. They can be lobbied over the next few months.