An unfortunate petition recently appeared on change.org, calling on groups like Lambda Legal, GLAAD, and the Human Rights Campaign to drop the T from the LGBT acronym. Among the justifications for this were claims that the Trans community has a different ideology “from that promoted by the LGB community,” and that this ideology “is ultimately regressive and actually hostile to the goals of women and gay men.” Now, the above named groups have all spoken out against the petition, and it hasn’t gained much support from the community; but this is being latched onto by anti-equality activists like Dr. Michael Brown, as a sign of weakness … a rift among the “gay activist movement.” There are three things I would like to touch on. The first is a response to this ‘rift theory.’ The second is a thought on cooperation and communication for my fellow Trans activists. The third is a direct response to a part of the petition that I was particularly struck by – that the Trans ideology is hostile to the goals of women.
(1) Within any group of people, you are going to find differing viewpoints; and every once in awhile you are going to find someone who takes a misguided and hurtful idea into the public sphere. This doesn’t mean there is a rift, however, quite the contrary. The “Drop the T” petition has been met with opposition from within the community, because it stands against the very foundation of LGBT activism itself – Equality. We talk about, promote, educate, and give exposure to our issues and struggles because equality depends on understanding. The “Drop the T” petition has been met with a calm, matter-of-fact, and very professional “NO” from the groups it was directed at. What we have here is a few people who are disillusioned and angry, and an entire community denying their request to take unnecessary action. If anything, this is a sign of strength. The community is coming together against someone seeking to undermine all that we’ve worked for. Those who see this a sign of weakness, people like Dr. Michael Brown, had better look again. We are strong.
(2) I think it’s important to point this out. We aren’t perfect. Despite the fact that the petition is a minority view, it shows that we still have work to do in our own house. One of the big problems the drafter of the petition has with the Trans community is the reaction some Trans people have when questions are raised. This is not a new complaint, and I have seen it myself. Often (though not always), Trans activists are not entirely receptive, and will lash out when certain queries are made. I saw this firsthand at a conference, where a woman asked a Trans panel if it was necessary to have so many identifying terms within the Trans community. Now, I understand that gender identity is very complex, and “Genderqueer” is the word I use for my own gender variance. But “Genderqueer” is just one of many terms I could have gone with. It’s a deeply personal thing. Some of us understand and accept that, but not everybody does. The woman who asked the panel if so many terms were necessary was asking an honest question, but the response was loud and angry. This should not have happened, and it disillusioned quite a few people.
The frustration is understandable. Trans issues are currently the most misunderstood in our human experience. From washrooms to pronouns, people just don’t get it, and we are losing a lot of lives to the same hatred that has taken the lives of countless gay and lesbian men and women. The discussion on gender is just getting started, and the desire to live freely and openly is a desire worth working for. But we have to realize that change comes with time. Prior to his murder in 1978, Harvey Milk had been a leader in the infancy of the Gay Rights movement. It would be 37 years later, in 2015, that marriage equality would be reached in the United States; and we still have a long way to go. Trans issues are decades behind. Gender identity is not understood, the social dynamics and implications are not understood, and the way we are going to get them understood is by education and discussion. The way to achieve for the Trans community what has been achieved for the LGB community is by using the same methods. I understand the frustration, and I understand the very real and present dangers we face, but it’s up to us to lead the discussion on this topic … shouting at people for asking questions creates enemies, not allies.
(3) The statement that the Trans ‘ideology,’ as if there is only one, is hostile to the goals of women is offensive from the outset. Aside from the implication that all Trans people are the same, the pressing problem is what is meant by the entire statement. What the petition is saying is that people like Caitlyn Jenner are men masquerading as women, and in doing so using male privilege to further oppress and/or mock women. For a homosexual person to say about Trans people exactly what has been said about them is absolutely disgusting.
Homosexuality has been called a choice, a mockery of gender and gender roles, and a lifestyle, among many many other things. Ignorant critics think they’re clever when they say that in same-sex relationships “one plays the man, the other plays the woman.” The similarities between what’s been said about the LGB community and what this petition says about the Trans community are so glaringly obvious we shouldn’t have to talk about them.
“Hostile to the goals of women.” Anybody who says this doesn’t understand what gender identity is AT ALL. Gender is a matter of brain organization, a matter of function. A Trans woman IS a woman. A Trans man IS a man. A Trans person who’s gender is both man and woman, a person like me, IS both a man and a woman. A Trans person outside of the binary … IS a person outside of the gender binary. These are intrinsic pieces of identity, they are as naturally occurring as sexual orientation. To say that Trans ideology is hostile to the goals of women, is to say that sex and gender are the same thing, that being Transgender is wrong, and that being biologically male while “claiming” to be a woman, or being biologically female while “claiming” to be a man, undermines the goals and issues of women’s rights. You might as well say “I want to say something about Trans issues, and I know all I need to know from watching Jerry Springer. I think it’s fake and offensive, so I’m just going to go with that.” A much better strategy, unless you’re trying to look foolish, would be to say nothing at all.
So in response to those giddy with excitement over a perceived rift in our cause – sorry to disappoint you. To my fellow Trans activists, effective communication is incumbent upon us if we are to make any kind of progress. In direct response to the petition – I could write a book on the problems with it, but for now I’ll keep with the point that struck me hardest. If you think we are hostile to women, you might want to consider looking for credible information on Transgender issues. It couldn’t hurt to learn a few things, so that next time your foot doesn’t go directly into your mouth.