Recently, huge fights have spawned between different camps within the LGBT community. The fights are born around the use of certain words, different roles, opinions, outlooks, philosophies of life as an LGBT person, and quite simply wounded egos.
And I have had just about enough of the bullshit.
If half the energy expended on fighting each other within the community was used to fight for medical access, legal equality, marriage rights, and positive media portrayals we would already be considering a transgendered woman for Secretary of the Interior and no one would be even slightly concerned about anything but their professional qualifications. Instead, we have turned on each other like crabs in a pot slowly coming to a boil. As soon as one goes up, the others must pull them down. Instead of creating a chain of effort, we spend our time stabbing each other in the back, screaming at each other, and seeing who can make the biggest splat when we toss them under the bus. This makes ALL OF US look like hysterical lunatics, and merely feeds many of the stereotypes and dislike of us. Our opponents are sitting back laughing, watching us consume each other. And I, and many like me, are just about sick of it. Instead of people trying to understand each other, they are trying to shout each other down in an attempt to claim the moral high ground and declare victory. Well, if you think any of this makes you victorious, I would like to tell you the story of a Greek named Pyrrhus.
Instead of screaming and yelling, how about I try to talk to both sides, like the reasonable adults that I really hope you are. I’m going to go point by point and hopefully explain how you are right or wrong, and how it does not make you a new Hitler, just mistaken, and present an opportunity to be a more understanding and compassionate member of the LGBT community.
1.) NO ONE IS THE LANGUAGE POLICE. NO ONE. You do not get to dictate to anyone how they feel about a word or phrase Sorry. I know that you are not offended, but that does not mean that you should just ignore someone else’s feelings about it. You do not own the word no matter how many years you have used it, how many people have reacted to it either positively or negatively, nor how the context gets interpreted.
Yes, “Tranny” is a word that has a long history in the LGBT community. In my own time in the community I have used it as a compliment and a slur. I have heard trans people use it to describe each other, and for Drag Queens to both insult and praise each other.
The younger generation of transgender activists have taken a dislike to the word. That’s their prerogative. Yes, they can do that. Yes, they can be offended by it. I’m transgendered and I’m fine with it for the most part unless I know the person using it is being malicious. Now will I call any other trans person I meet a ‘tranny’? Nope. Because they might be offended. It’s just the way it is. Just as much as no black person under the age of about 80 wants to be called a ‘negro’ anymore, many younger transpeople don’t want to be called it. It’s not that hard to change the word to ‘trans’ and to go from there. If some drag queen somewhere is looking good, just call her something like, ‘Fish” and move on. If she is looking terrible, then call her whatever is a popular term for looking ugly, just don’t call her a tranny.
If you are that married to using a word, you need to reflect on your own personal priorities. If as many of you say, “it’s just a word,” then it should not be difficult to stop using it. It’s only a word, right?
2.) RU-PAUL. I LOVE YA, BUT YOU SCREWED UP. ACCEPT IT, ASK FOR FORGIVENESS AND MOVE ON.
Ru, I love ya doll. You are glamorous, you took drag into mainstream culture and made it seem less like a campy freakshow and more like a sense of fabulousness that is fun. You are the flipside of the coin that Devine rode in on, and I love that crazy trashy bitch just as much. But, Ru, can I call you Ru? Ru, you done fucked up.
You are a Drag Queen, not a transgendered person. You don’t get to determine what transgender people feel about words like ‘tranny’ or ‘shemale’. I’m as white as they come, and I in no way presume to believe that I can dictate to black people how they feel about words like ‘nigger’, ‘jigaboo’, or ‘negro.’ It’s not my race/community, I don’t have any damn say so in it. For the sake of being a considerate and reasonable person, I only use those words in the sense of quoting someone, a neutral recitative way, or if I’m playing a role in a dialogue of some type. Ru, it’s not your word to decide about. If a white person spent all day calling you words that you found offensive, you would be livid if they told you to ‘toughen up,’ or ‘just deal with it.’ Dictating how a minority feels is not the thing you want to pay forward.
You just need to drop it from your vocabulary and move on. Apologize, promise to do better and move on. It’s not worth tarnishing your reputation just be be able to say a few words.
3.) ANDREA JAMES, CALPURNIA ADAMS, AND OTHERS: YOU DO NOT GET TO DICTATE THE RULES OF BEING TRANSGENDER.
Andrea, Calpurnia. Thank you for all your sacrifices. Thank you for being the ones who have spent years on the forefront of trans visibility and trans acceptance. Calpurnia, I’m sorry you had to deal with the ordeal of your boyfriend being murdered. Your openness about that really has done so much to make visible the identity of transpeople as human beings with feelings and desires of being accepted. Andrea, your work on education, assistance, and advocacy are to be treasured forever.
Now, get over yourselves.
You have blazed trails through the wilderness that have become superhighways that younger transpeople travel on every single day to a better life. You have allowed transpeople to move up from the back of the bus. Now quit telling everyone else how to drive the damn thing.
I myself sit between the younger generation of transitioners and yourselves. I know the struggles you faced. I remember when the only portrayals of trans people in the media were terrible news stories, Jerry Springer, and horrible characters in Silence of the Lambs and The Crying Game. I know that you have been treated like absolute shit. I have seen it myself with other trans people just as recently as 10 years ago, when the popular media portrayals of our community were as traps, prostitutes, drug addicts, mental patients, and freaks in general. The crap you had to put up with, was hard. The crow you had to eat I’m sure sticks in your throats to this day. The bullshit obstacles you overcame make you stand heads taller than few others can claim. In 100 years, you will be remembered as being the ones who helped bring this movement into the 21st Century. You will be our Harvey Milks.
Now remember that because I’m about to tell you something you won’t like to hear.
That world is gone.
Where many older transitioners had to fight their therapists to get treatment. Where many older transitioners had to steal hormones. They had to prostitute themselves to pay the rent. They lost all social status, jobs, money, and family. That world is as far away now as the Jim Crow Era is today. Your struggles are the benefits that younger transitioners take advantage of today. Because of you they don’t have as much fear of losing jobs. They find their families more accepting. They are honestly living the easy life compared to you. And you do have every right to be bitter.
Why shouldn’t they toughen up? Why shouldn’t they learn to shrug it off? Why shouldn’t they quit being “whiney” and “overly sensitive,”? Well, because they don’t have too. And it’s because of people like you. Because you suffered, they don’t have to. The younger generation doesn’t have to put up and shut up. They don’t have to struggle. They don’t have to accept their lot.
I’m reminded of a quote by President John Adams:
“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”
Older transitioners, you studied war. Me, stuck here in the middle at 36, I get to study philosophy. The younger ones; the Parker Malloys, they get to study poetry and music.
Your struggle made that possible. They don’t know what you had to put up with. For that, you should be glad….
4.) BEING LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, OR TRANSGENDER DOES NOT MEAN YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE ANY OF THE OTHERS NECESSARILY.
Not all animals are equal. While that may sound nefariously like a quote from Animal Farm, it’s still the truth. Just because you are a member of the LGBT(Q) community, does not mean that you know what it’s like to be any other letter in the acronym with 100% accuracy, because you are not that. I am white. And while I can fully understand why black people can be offended, comprehend some of their adversity, I will never fully understand what it is like to be black, or Hispanic, or born with a birth defect, or any of these things. I simply do not get to dictate what their experiences should be like and how they should view them. Dan Savage is a great advocate for the LGBT community. He does get shit wrong on occasion, though. Why? He is a white gay man, not a black lesbian. I’m a white transwoman, and I would never tell Jennifer Mock how to feel about being a black transwoman, nor Dan Savage how to feel as a white gay man. It’s not my place. I can give advice and viewpoints gathered from other experiences that are similar, or recite information I have gleaned from talking to those in those demographics, and share it, but I will not experience life as any of those, so my opinion will always come second.
Now, it might seem I have taken the side of the younger, vocal, and outraged half of this equation.
I assure you, any belief along these lines, is terribly mistaken.
5.) ALLY DOES NOT MEAN SYCOPHANT.
In point four, I mentioned how I will never be a black lesbian. Just won’t. I can never fully understand. I’m white. Now that doesn’t mean I’m not the ally of black lesbians. If they say that race still plays an issue, I’ll probably believe them. If they talk about discrimination as lesbians, I’ll give them the benefit of a doubt. But that doesn’t mean I’ll accept anything they say blindly. They might be wrong. Sorry, I know that can sound insensitive and inflammatory, but I assure you, it’s simply practical reasoning, and an attempt to avoid perception biases. If a black person tells me that they are being unfairly targeted by the police, I’ll ask them to provide proof. Not because I’m not on their side. Not because I don’t believe them, but because I want to be sure that I’m being an informed ally and can speak with confidence on their behalf. When it’s apparent that a black person is being discriminated against because of their race, I will stand right next them on the firing line. But if they are being discriminated against because they personally are a bad person, well…they’re on their own.
I will ask questions of them. I will ‘interrogate’ them. Not because I am reluctant and fickle. A fair weather friend. I’m doing it so I can make sure I’m doing the right thing for ALL OF US.
6.) CONGRATULATIONS, YOU HAVE A BLOG/TWITTER/TUMBLR/YOUTUBE CHANNEL. NO ONE REALLY CARES.
So you have a some sort of social media outlet. Big deal. No one cares. Everyone does. It does not make your opinion right, educated, thoughtful, or worthy of consideration. When anyone can write on the walls, it’s all graffiti. If you are going to say something, say something thoughtful. This includes myself.
7.) KNOW YOUR DAMN HISTORY. KNOW WHAT CAME BEFORE YOU. THE WORLD DIDN’T BEGIN WHEN YOU CAME OUT.
I get it. You’re 24, you have been full time transitioned for three years now. Your parents pay for the hormones, and next year you head to Thailand for the surgery. You have a great job doing IT work or something like that. Or you are 19 and openly gay. At prom you were elected King and everyone knew your were gay. No one cared and they all celebrated for you.
When you get to transition early in life with the full support of family and your community, it’s because people like Calpurnia Adam’s got on T.V. and gave transpeople a human face. When you get to be prom king and still be openly gay and cheered for it, it’s because people like Matthew Shepard suffered discrimination in such horrible ways that it revealed the horror of hate. You are benefiting from those who suffered before you. Your struggles, while they may seem great, have been greatly alleviated by those who suffered more than you and paved the way.
They had to learn to accept being called she-males and being beaten so that you don’t have too. Sometimes it’s hard for them to understand how you can be so worked up over words and intent, when they lived every day in fear, poverty, and ostracism that you can’t even begin to fathom. I myself am only 36, and remember just how bad it was being gay in just 1993. How shocking the story of Barry Wenchell was in 1999.
In my own lifetime, I have seen gays openly mocked with no repercussions on National T.V. by beloved celebrities. In my own lifetime I have seen Ellen almost lose everything to come out just to become a beloved celebrity. In my own lifetime, I have seen gays go from being banned in the military, to being told to stay in the closet, to open acceptance, and probably before I’m 40, I will see transgender soldiers in uniform.
I have seen LGBT people go from being outright criminals in many states for simply making love to each other, to being married in many of those same states. It’s easy to forget that Sodomy Laws were perfectly legal up till 2003. In just 11 years, LGBT love has gone from criminal act to legally protected. In 2002, only 5% of all Fortune 500 corporations on the HRC corporate equality index had Gender Identity protection, and only 86 even bothered to respond. In 2013, 252 made a perfect 100% score.
Do you grasp that?
In less than 15 years, we in the LGBT community have gone from an equivalency of the Slave Era to Post Civil Rights Act of 1965. We have crammed the equivalent of 100 years of history into less than 15.
At 22, you experience a world unfathomable to a member of the LGBT community just twenty years ago. The LGBT community members in their 40’s and 50’s remember a time that can only be compared to a black person living to see The March on Selma to Barack Obama in less than half the time.
So while these older folks may seem “assimilationist”, “reactionary”, “backwards,” or even “self-loathing.” You have to remember, the world you enjoy today didn’t even exist in a time they can remember. And they were already driving cars and buying booze.
8.) JUST BECAUSE THEY DONT AGREE WITH YOUR METHODS, IT DOES NOT MAKE THEM THE ENEMY.
Malcom X and Martin Luther King wanted the same thing. Equal protection and respect for the law. The methods they took to achieve this were vastly different, and expressed in different ways, but that does not make either of them wrong. They were after the same thing.
Just because someone isn’t as keen on academic rhetoric, or as concerned about the linguistics of oppression, or symbolic acts, or worried about phallic patriarchal oppression, it doesn’t make them less interested in equality.
As I mentioned before, know your history. In the 1950’s and 60’s, the highly intellectual and academically driven Mattachine Society was assimilationist and worried about language. It was the politically ignorant and uneducated that threw the bricks and bottles at Stonewall. They despised the Mattachine Society and what they stood for. Hiding behind words and rhetoric and language, they did nothing. Now, the younger crowd, concerned about language, and words. Concerned about “Cis-Normativism Patriarchal Institutions” are the ones wrapped in linguistics and academic group-think, while the ignorant, the poor, and the uneducated spend their daily lives on the front lines of the equality struggle by interracting with that, “Hetero-Cis-Normative Patriarchy” breaking it down by interracting with it and showing it the error of their ways, while the Tumblr crowd, the Hashtag activists, fight to come up with a new word to describe the same old thing in a new way to sound smart.
9.) QUIT CIRCLE-JERKING AND GET OUT THERE WITH THE CIS-HET’S AND LOVE THEM. EVERY LAST PREJUDICED AND IGNORANT ONE OF THEM.
About six to eight times a month, I’m standing on a stage in front of people who have never seen me before. I go out there and I tell them straight up, I’m a bisexual transgender woman, and I’m not the most fucked up person in this room. I make jokes at their expense about their own prejudices, their stereotypes, their insensitivities. I drop my voice, quote Silence of the Lambs, use the phrase, “Chick with a dick,” and they love it. Because they leave realizing that many of the things they thought they knew were wrong.
These people don’t read the Advocate. They never heard of Dan Savage and Savage Love. They don’t read Tumblr, or Reddit, or Huffingtonpost. They read Buzzfeed and Facebook at best. They watch the Daily Show. They listen to drive time radio and not NPR. They’re the Proles. The rabble. The mob. And I love those beautiful fucked up Cis-Het’s.
They’re the people who we have to convince to let us play in the same pool. They’re the ones who have all the power and privilege. We have to convince them to share. There is nothing out there that says they have to either. If a cursory reading of history has taught you anything, it’s that universal rights are anything but, and that those in power don’t have to give it up if they have the means to keep it and none of the desire to share. Cis and hetero people make up the vast majority of the world, and they don’t have to give us anything.
That means that if you want to teach them that we are human being; that we are their equals. You have to go mingle.
If you spend your whole time bitching and complaining on the internet, or coffee shops, or classrooms, writing screeds and hateful rants, you’re doing dick. The way you win rights is not by legal arguments, because laws are interpretable. Remember Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown vs. Board took the same sets of laws and saw them completely differently. Those views changed because black people went out and proved time and again that they were the equals of whites, and that there was no reason to be separate but equal and it made no moral sense to boot.
So get the chip off your shoulder. Get up from your Tumblr or Facebook group and go walk amongst those that would oppress you. That’s how you win them over. Not by pissing and moaning on the internet to other miserable assholes.
And yes. Some of you are miserable assholes who do nothing but bitch and piss and moan. You have no idea how good you have it in the America of 2014. Spend less time trying to be angry and spend more time trying to be friendly and happy.
10.) YOU ARE A MINORITY. ACCEPT THAT SHIT.
You are a minority. You are a statistical oddity. You are not the norm. Are you a freak? No. Do you deserve to be oppressed? No. But you are statistically and therefore practically not normal. People will not know much about you. You are rarely encountered. You are not common reading material, and people don’t give you much deep thought.
No straight or cis person ponders the intricacies of the social rituals of interacting with a transgender or gay individual. The average person does not fill their downtime with reading about the social status and values of a gay man. Rarely does a straight guy, while sitting on the toilet, suddenly wonder about the intricacies of gay relationships, then rush off to the local College library to read articles in an anthropology journal.
They’re going to remain ignorant and when the opportunity arises ask a gay guy they meet.
Is it tactless? Is it often rude? Sure, sometimes it is.
But even trained anthropologists when interacting with obscure New Guinea tribes have been known to make cultural faux pas that lead to severe offense. The State Department has people they keep on the payroll whose job it is to know what order to introduce people to others in a different culture due to social values and norms. They train diplomats to know the difference between a Saudi Arabians “personal bubble” compared to an Egyptians “personal bubble.” That shit is complex.
Right now. I want you to tell me who is served a meal first in a Kalahari Bushman’s feast. No peeking at the internet.
No clue, huh? Why? YOU’VE NEVER FUCKING INTERACTED WITH ONE!
So you know what? If one showed up tomorrow and said you had to throw a feast, you better get to asking questions.
So yes. You will get asked what seems like some ignorant ass shit sometimes. “Who’s the bitch and who’s the butch.” “So do they just like cut it off or what?” “How do you have sex?” Is it ignorant? Yes. Because the literal definition of ignorant is ‘lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated.’
They don’t know. And since they didn’t spend the last four years getting a cultural anthropology degree in Gay, they’re probably going to ask you shit. At times it will be tactless, rude, and sometimes outright offensive. But you know what? They’re asking because they want to know and see you as a human being. They want to find ways to relate and understand you.
If you go off screaming about how it’s not your job to educate them, and how they are being rude and ignorant, you’re actually doing more harm than good.
Does this mean you have to go into fine detail explaining various gay sex acts or the intricacies of a sigmoid-colon vaginoplasty? No, you can have limits and a personal space. That’s fine. You don’t have to give them a recommended reading list and visual demonstrations. But you don’t have to be a dick about the whole thing.
If they didn’t want to be nice to you, and wanted to keep on hating you, they wouldn’t have asked questions in the first place.
Be polite and simply decline.
I know I have gotten all rambly. In fact, I’m pretty sure that many of you ADHD types quit reading a long time ago. I also have no doubt that someone is really pissed off at this point and is Tweeting or blogging about this. C’est la vie.
Quit fucking screaming and yelling at each other. Everyone needs to swallow their damn pride, check their egos, and spend more time trying to talk to each other instead of screaming about how they are the right ones. No one wins Oppression Olympics. You sometimes are right, and sometimes you are wrong.
We are all on the same team. We all want equality. We all want to love openly, live well, and be happy with who we are.
The rest is all trivialities.
If you want to fight over who is more bona fide trans, more worried and active about LGBT rights, more concerned about being right, using big words that only a handful of other people know, if you want to lord your work and past over others. You’re an asshole. Doesn’t matter who you are. You can be RuPaul, Calpernia Adams, Parker Malloy, GLADD, or the Transadvocate. You’re being an asshole, and doing more harm than good.
I can be as big of an asshole as anyone else. You might be familiar with my earlier work with Goatse