Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Rant on Transfolk Exclusion

Watch the film and let's break it down. Please add comments if you’ve got thoughts on the topic.

For reference: LGBTQIAA refers to “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally...” There are some more letters in the alphabet soup… but I think this should suffice for the moment.

First the speaker, Bruce, wants to make sure we're not offended. "I'm not being prejudiced." Ok... how many times have we heard this phrase? "I'm not prejudiced, but I just don't think interracial marriages are good for society.... but I just don't think women are capable of taking on leadership roles in government... but I just don't like the idea of poor people living next door..." That's totally fair, right? We shouldn't be offended by anything as long as it follows a direction not to be. "Don't be offended, I just don't think straight people should be allowed to reproduce and indoctrinate their children in their 'breeder' ways. They're overpopulating the planet! Destroying our environment!" Really? “Don’t be offended.” Does Bruce think that's a rational preface?

We've also heard the "I'm not racist... my best friend in fourth grade was black," from white people trying to assert their "openness." These feeble justifications are always directed from those groups with privilege to those without. You never hear, "I don't hate people of other religions, I work with a guy who's Christian." It's the same thing with Bruce, " I've had many transgendered friends."

Just because people have the same identity-marker, doesn't mean they share the same opinions. When you say transgender, I'm not sure what you mean. Do you mean anyone who doesn't identify as "man" or "woman" including genderqueer, intersex, transexual, etc. Or are you referring to a specific segment of non-binary-identified individuals? In Bruce's case, he is talking about MTFs and FTMs and telling everyone else they can't use the label transgender.

That's not cool. It's not your identity (from what I gather). You can't tell people how they can and cannot label themselves. You don't get to decide when someone is or isn't "transitioned." People get to decide that for themselves. Transitioning is a process that only the person going though it can understand. It's like college. My parents say I won't be done until I finish my pre-med classes, whereas, for me, I know that my liberal arts degree will be just enough for what I want to do with my life. I'm not being lazy or trying to avoid the expenses of an extra semester, I just don't think I'll enjoy it, ever use it, or feel comfortable in physics. Just like a trans person might not need that extra surgery, hormone, or behavior change. It's not for them. (As a cisgender person, I would appreciate feedback on this argument from transfolk....)

Breaking the binary isn't solely about fitting back into it. In general, trans identities are about being born into the wrong body or socially assigned identity. Well, what if the body you identify with doesn't fit in either of the gender boxes our society accepts? What if they both feel wrong? Should people's goal be "assimilation," as Bruce suggests?

Next, I want to talk about Bruce's suggestion to break up socio-political movements for change.

Split up? Break into smaller identity-based groups? Why are gender identity issues (QTI) and sexual orientation issues (LGBA) lumped into the same acronym? Because they're both dealing with society's perceptions of who individuals should be based on gender stereotypes. Our greatest gender socialization is to be attracted to someone of the "opposite sex." So there is definitely overlap in the issues these identity groups face.

In struggles for women’s equality, lesbian women were integral to progress. However, their needs were often swept under the rug in an effort to encourage assimilative acceptance from those in power- straight men. They had to jump one hurdle at a time. Same here- Bruce says that Lesbians and Gays have been fighting for their rights for a long time and deserve them now… Transfolk can wait.

Well I’m pretty sure that the Lesbian activists of the 1960s and 70s didn’t like it when they were told to wait. Why should Transfolk have to wait? Why are their needs inferior to those of the more socially recognized groups? Why have LG and sometimes B rights been fought for longer than the Ts? Because the groups that have been able to fight longer have had more privilege of voice to fight with. That means that Lesbians couldn’t speak up as much during the women’s rights movement because it wasn’t safe. Now, Transfolk can’t fight as openly because it isn’t as safe, as say, for a white man who’s gay.

Let’s look at safety for a sec: This data on murders of Transfolk is from 2004. (These are only the ones that were reported.)

Shot: 128
Stabbed: 70
Beaten: 49
“Murdered” (no cause specified): 45
Strangled: 22.
There are 20 additional causes.
22 individuals died from multiple causes.

The 2007 National School Climate Survey found:
85.1% of transgender students reported being verbally harassed based on their sexual orientation and gender/gender expression

96.1% of students heard negative comments related to students’ gender expression

38.4% of students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression.

From GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey

Transfolk need legal protection now more than ever. No one should get left behind or denied equality, especially from folks struggling for the same recognition. We’re all in it for the same reasons- rights and respect.

Third, Bruce makes the point that if Transfolk are grouped with LGB-identified people, the general public will assume that LGB people all want to transition to another gender. If you really didn’t have any prejudice against transfolk, then why would you see this ignorant assumption as a bad thing? Also, I’m pretty sure he completely ignores bisexuals in his arguments, too.

Then he says the “transgendered” community needs to educate people about the misconceptions of their identity. Let’s break this one down with an example: choose your most valued identity. Got it? Now, what’s one misconception people have about that identity? Now, what Bruce is saying, is that it is your job to go out and educate every person about your most valued identity- one that you are emotionally connected to and tired of defending. This would be exhausting, emotionally draining, and people would probably tell you you’re just flaunting it or pessimistic or angry all the time. Maybe that sounds like a challenge to you, but maybe it sounds scary. Either way, you’ll need people to back you up- allies.

We’ve got to be allies for each other. We can’t just be selfish and have our own interests at heart. Either we’re all equal or we’re not. Splitting up the LGBA and the QTI means that LGBA folks might get to be more equal with straight people, but it certainly doesn’t mean equality for everyone.

Bruce suggests that these communities fight for their rights separately and once they’re equal they can be rejoined into one community, “the human race.” Until then, he says, they need to be separate. Really? How is this logical?

I understand that lumping a bunch of different identities under one umbrella confuses people about the differences between gender identity and sexual orientation. But that just means they need a little education. Separate is not equal and being divisive won’t help anyone in the long run.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for exposing this guy's ignorance and privlege. I say ignorance, but for someone who seems to be somewhat knowlegable about current LGBT politics, it might just be pure exclusion and discrimination. "We need to be separate, and then we can be equal." Sounds pretty familiar. Why is it that people don't want to help others gain equality? If EVERYONE who wanted equal rights fought and supported each other there would be a lot more change and a lot faster. As far as the argument that people who haven't had bottom surgery are not "real" men and women, I'd like to ask Bruce how much money he makes in a year, and if he has any idea how much bottom surgery costs. A good current ballpark for FTM bottom surgery is about $50,000. It would take me about 2 years to make that much money, and it goes without saying that I wouldn't be saving it all in the meantime. How is a the average trans person, who faces housing and employment discrimination on a daily basis (which is completely legal in most places), supposed to save that kind of money? Every post-op trans person was pre-op at one time, and I imagine most of them identified with the same gender before and after surgery. People who aren't "passing" most likely get discriminated against more than fully transitioned, passing individuals. Pre-op trans people have to explain their genitalia to doctors, lovers and sometimes complete strangers. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine being told that being in-between negates your chosen identity? And what a good point about those who do not want to have surgeries or take hormones. If I want to be called something, you have no right to say that I can't. Thank you, thank you, thank you for breaking down this video! And yes Bruce, I am offended and your apology is not accepted.