October 07, 2007

Op-ed: "I respect transgendered people but..."

There is an op-ed by John Aravosis on Salon.com today, entitled "How did the T get in LGBT?" I think that it reveals several interesting things. The article contains some of the "gradualism" arguments we have been hearing related to the exclusion of transgender people from the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA), but also inadvertently reveals the transphobia underlying many of these statements.

First, he writes:

If we waited until society was ready to accept each and every member of the civil rights community before passing any civil rights legislation, we'd have no civil rights laws at all. Someone is always left behind, at least temporarily. It stinks, but it's the way it's always worked, and it's the way you win.

He continues:

It's a fair question, but one we know we dare not ask. It is simply not p.c. in the gay community to question how and why the T got added on to the LGB, let alone ask what I as a gay man have in common with a man who wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become a woman. I'm not passing judgment, I respect transgendered people and sympathize with their cause, but I simply don't get how I am just as closely related to a transsexual (who is often not gay) as I am to a lesbian (who is).

I think that the second quote illustrates the lack of education about trans issues that is part of the reason for the current situation. Aravosis also ignores the fact that non-trans people who don't conform to certain forms of gender expression would also benefit from an inclusive ENDA.

What are your thoughts?

Update: Susan Stryker has written a response editorial, entitled "Why the T in LGBT is here to stay."


Anonymous said...

For folks asking questions like "how/why did the T get added to LGBT," I've been recommending this history piece written by Susan Striker and posted at UnitedENDA.org for some background.

WTTO, who is trying to assume that people just need more education and perhaps it is not all hopeless.

The Mirrorball Man said...

WTTO, don't lose hope! Education is the best tool out there; you yourself are largely responsible for helping me learn a lot during undergrad. I guess you can say that I was very transphobic way back when, but I've come a long way and am learning more and more every year. I think it's changed my view a lot and hopefully I can be a better ally toward making a truly inclusive ENDA, and a more inclusive world as a whole.

As for the article:

1) His statement that we should pass legislation bits and pieces at a time is intended as an evaluative statement, but it is actually a normative statement in disguise. He claims that the only way we had civil rights laws is by purposely leaving behind groups and settling on what we can gain, and therefore we should do that in the future. That is false; the history of social movements is that they have often incidentally come in waves. Civil rights preceded a concerted women's rights movement; women's rights preceded a concerted gay rights movement, etc. This is a function of identity groups trying to achieve something that only benefits themselves. Black leaders were less concerned with women's rights, so they did not expend the energy and the effort to help them, meaning they had to do it themselves and so they were a little behind in timing.

Therefore, in this case, he is basically saying "I am concerned only with myself" and is choosing not to go out of his way to help the T population. But this necessitates viewing T as a separate movement from the LGB one, which is clearly what is intended by his second statement.

The problem si that LGBT is one large movement, and he is focusing too much on himself to think about the broader factors at stake.

"A man who wants to cut off his penis and become a woman": Would that be a "woman trapped in a man's body"? Isn't that how gay men used to be described?

Isn't this all about gender, gender norms, and gender subversion?

If a biological male is in a relationship with another biological male, and the former one is MTF, "wants to cut off his penis, [and] surgically construct a vagina" like he says, is this person a gay man who becomes a straight woman?

Considering the fact that society views an MTF or an FTM person as "switching" from one sex to the other, wouldn't that necessarily mandate that if that person were in a relationship, they would switch from gay to straight or vice versa?

The issues flow on. I don't raise these questions as if to say what I imply is right, as I am still learning more, trying to learn about how to properly use pronouns and understand what trans people go through. But I want to show that trans people are CLEARLY allies to the LGB side of the movement, and viewing it any other way is abdicating our social responsibility to stand up for people who share our plight. They might have slightly different circumstances, but we're ALL fighting against the same gender-related barriers.

So, as it is clear that they are our allies, we cannot just snub them because we want to give ourselves benefits. As people have previously shown, they are not doing anything for the trans community. Once John Aravosis gets his ENDA, he's not going to start tomorrow with helping trans people; he's going to say "my work is done, let's move on to another gay issue".

I would rather keep this bill open, and make people keep saying to themselves "Men, women, gays, lesbians, etc. are all suffering...we need to do something" while we say "Not until you help EVERYBODY." That will force them to, or at least educate them as to what is going on.

If LGB people abandon the T, who will fight for them? Clearly nobody, and that is just plain wrong.

P.S. Going to see Dean Spade speak later today in a talk entitled: Documenting Gender Idnetity: Incoherence and Rulemaking. I know some quenchistas have taken courses with Dean Spade before, so I am very much looking forward to this talk. I'll report back if there is anything I can add to this conversation after that.

Anonymous said...

Mirrorball man

Please do report back! I am not even sure if Dean Spade thinks that a legislative strategy like this one is a useful way to solve problems of un(der)employment for trans folks so I would be interested to hear what he says, if anything, on the topic.

It sounds like you know something about history (which I clearly do not). I wonder to what extent some of the past movements you discuss had the same questions about who is in and who is out of the movement. It seems to me like part of the problem is the whole idea that there is one unified movement that one can be "in" or "out of." On the other hand, with these national pushes, there is some incentive to display ourselves as "one movement." So is "one movement" just a giant illusion that we try to set up to get legislators on our side or do we even convince ourselves it exists?

icarus said...

Mirrorball Man - your comment was way awesome, and really insightful. and i have an inkling you might know a bit about history, ya? ;-)

emily2 said...

the "bits and pieces" argument is disingenuous and flat out wrong. take, for example, the most well-known civil rights legislation - the 1964 civil rights act.

how 'bout some history?

the 1964 civil rights act protects against gender discrimination as well as its original intended purpose - protection against racial discrimination. protection against gender discrimination was included in the legislation by a southern segregationist, thinking it would be a poison pill and would help to defeat the bill.

it passed.