Guest post by Christine Simone; read more by her at Trans Feminist.
There has been quite a bit written about ENDA in the last few weeks. But probably the most troubling articles have been written against trans-inclusion.
There is an underlying misogynistic and transphobic subtext to nearly every article justifying the exclusion of gender identity from ENDA, that either suggests that we do not deserve rights because we have not earned societal acceptance or that suggests trans people role in the queer community is limited because most trans people identify as straight (despite the fact that statistics regarding transwomen suggest that over 50% identify as lesbian or bisexual).
This attitude is not only incorrect, but reflects an underlying misogyny that has existed in parts of the queer community, especially amoung older white gay men who part of the power elite, that trans people are not even part of the “community” and are closer to cousins at best, when the reality speaks otherwise. This has been highlighted by the commentary of blogger John Aravosis, former Washington Blade editor Chris Crain, and the justification of stripping the trans provisions by Rep. Barney Frank. The truth is they justify with one hand and insult and reveal their own bigotry and misogyny with the other.
Just because we do not represent as substantial a population as gays and lesbians, or the fact that we are significantly misunderstood does not mean that transgender people are any less deserving of rights under the law. In fact that is what they are arguing for, is the continued discrimination of transgender people, and reveal their own discriminatory attitudes, in the fact that they want to push us out of the way based on their own biases, be it we are not members of the community anyway and mostly straight (Aravosis) or worse yet, trans-jacking the movement (Crain).
This attitude that trans people are not part of the queer community despite an extensive history of trans activism that dates back directly to Stonewall and even beforehand. Of course these power elites who claim ownership of the community and call us the fringe often have a selective memory of who had a major role in starting Stonewall: an immigrant transsexual woman named Sylvia Rivera.
So to say that we are not part of the community or the LGBT civil rights movement is off base, we (being trans people) STARTED the movement and were pushed aside by the transphobic and transmisogynistic, gender conforming members of the community who were in positions of power. They pushed us out and we had to FIGHT our way back into the civil rights movement we started, and the outrage of more than 300 LGBT organizations reflects this history and reaffirms our place in the community.
This has been an ongoing situation in the community, and it does not strictly apply to just trans issues, it reflects of the ongoing devaluation of those who act straight of femininity, or of women. Basically remnants of the patriarchy that exist amongst a certain power elite of gender conforming gay males who are steeped in anti-trans perspectives from the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Their primary fear about pushing forward a trans-inclusive ENDA is a house floor debate where stereotypes of transwomen a placed out on the debate floor. It underlines their own trans-misogyny, and honestly a not so subtle swipe at femininity in general, including within the queer community. It is not the trans-male stereotypes that is being implied when one talks about the justifications for excluding gender identity, its the stereotypes of transwomen, who are often the ones most likely to face explicit and ongoing discrimination.
Chris Crain, Aravosis, and Rep. Barney Frank are all arguing against ENDA inclusion because of their fear of feminine stereotypes thrust onto transwomen. Sometimes this is said explicitly, but more often than not their is that ongoing subtext.
Probably the best example of this was found in the Aravosis Salon article:
“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.”
Basically it is the “all hail the mighty penis” attitude that is often at the heart of all misogynistic attitudes. He reveals that the real attitudes on this issue is really about transwomen and how some of us do NOT identify with our genitals that he focuses on, and not the common story of job discrimination that happens throughout the queer community, but happens most frequently to trans people. Or the fact that both gays and trans people are frequently targets of harassment and abuse for who they are.
However, he seems completely out of touch with the shared experiences that link ENDA and the Hate Crimes laws necessity for both trans people and gays and lesbians together. Instead he focuses on his own perceptions of separation within the community, which are in fact as misogynistic as those who discriminate against both trans people and homosexual individuals.
I could go on about how the issues of a transman might face might be very similar to that of a gay male in terms of discrimination, since that may be closer in reality. But it seems like he has done the typical misogynistic and transphobic thing and has completely ignored them altogether. Instead he is transfixed on the process of MtF transition, and largely the physical transition.
Also it may be hard for him to see the connection or relate to transwomen is because fundamentally we are not MALE, we are women, and when it gets down to it our issues are rooted in peoples assumptions regarding femininity. It is the typical privileged white gay male centric viewpoint that is causing him to have a hard time contemplating the relation to the queer community with gender identity and expression. Basically while Aravosis (as well as Frank and Crain) are gay, they are the queer equivalent of the patriarchy, and have all the anti-feminine attitudes of it, including devaluing a female experience in a not so subtle swipe at transwomen.
Notice how I have been stressing OLDER gay WHITE MEN. Which may not be alone in throwing trans-people out of the queer movement in the 70’s and 80’s, but they had their part. I will not go into the history of this, but lets put it this way we have heard this all before, Monica Roberts covers it all pretty well in the division of trans people, the HRC, and well…lets call them the older white gay male elite.
Julia Serano has been writing about the lesbian communities problems with transwomen for several years, however, this has largely been an issue with white gay men this time around.
There have been shifts in recent years regarding that part of the queer community because of issues regarding gender expression have been coming up frequently and as well as the frequency of transmen transitioning out of the lesbian community has resulted in a greater understanding of transgender issues within the lesbian community itself. Or maybe it is butch women getting harassed for going into womens rest rooms which makes them understand why gender identity and expression provisions are so important.
I am lucky enough to work in DC which has an entire Human Rights act that protects trans people in not just employment but also services and housing.
The truth is an ENDA without gender identity and expression is an ENDA that does not achieve the goal of equal rights. Those advocating for stripping the bill of gender identity and expression provisions do so at the cost of not only trans people, but butch lesbians, femme gay males, and everything in between. They are expressing in their attitudes their own underlying misogyny and bigotry while advocating for the equal rights of some, at the expense of the ones who are in need of protections the most.
EDIT: I would like to mention I am a little shocked how Rep. Barney Frank is considered such a great voice for the queer community when he is the individual behind the concept of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. As far as the queer voice in congress…I have too state outright it is Rep. Tammy Baldwin, not Rep. Barney Frank. Rep. Baldwin takes principled stands that reflect the diversity of the LGBT community, instead of throwing part of it under the bus for the sake of political expediency.
Christine is a Washington, DC based activist, researcher, and musician. Christine is an intersex transwoman.