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The T in LGBT
delirium happy
rho
There's been I've seen a couple of people recently talking about this Salon article about the T in LGBT. Now, I'm not going to argue the political conclusion reached, about the necessity or otherwise of compromise, but I do have a whole lot to say about whether or not the T belongs in LGBT, or whether it should just be LGB. I should also point out that I think that this is a perfectly legitimate question for people to ask in the first place.

I'm sure it won't surprise anyone to learn that I'm strongly in favour of transsexuals and transgender folk being included in the queer movement. While it's true that sexuality and gender identity are quite distinct and different things, I think it's also the case that there's a whole lot of overlap, and that the two groups are natural allies.

For starters, the trials and tribulations faced by trans-folk are much the same as those faced by lesbians, gays and bisexuals. I get random people on the streets being abusive at me on a fairly regular basis, and they never call me "tranny" because they don't see that. They see either an effeminate guy, and call me a puff, or they see a butch looking girl and call me a dyke. If that doesn't provide common ground, I don't know what does.

Then there are general discrimination issues. One that I hear quite a lot is the hotel room problem, whereby gay couples are made to feel awkward asking for double rooms, and are sometimes refused outright. I get that sort of thing too. At the hostel I stayed in last time I was in London, I had a reservation, and the guy behind the desk was quite snarky at me, saying "are you sure that's you?" even after I'd shown him photo-ID. emmavescence commented to me later about how much of an asshole he'd been, and the sad thing is that I barely even noticed because I've grown to expect that sort of behaviour.

The entire queer rights movement isn't about shoving things down people's throats. It's about, to a large extent, the right to dignity in just quietly getting on with your life without having to worry that some crap-for-brains is going to do their utmost to make life miserable for you. It's about not having to live in fear, or to sit there stewing in your own juices as you laugh nervously about some insensitive "joke" someone has shared with you. As a transsexual, I get all of that too.

Then there's the whole issue of coming out. I remember before I came out to my parents, looking up things like hardship funds, benefits, and other such things, just in case they decided that they wanted nothing more to do with me. I was fairly sure that they weren't going to do that, and indeed they've been nothing but loving and supportive, but I didn't feel that I could chance that. For every person I have come out to, I have been aware of the possibility (usually small, but always present) of rejection. Or in other words, my experiences in this area have been pretty much identical to those of any lesbian, gay or bisexual person coming out about their sexuality.

Or, to put it in short, the experience of being transgender is much the same as the experience of being gay. Of course, there are vast differences as well, but there's also a huge difference between being a gay man and a lesbian (the latter give much higher priority to comfortable shoes, for instance). Even on its own, this similarity would be enough for a strong and close alliance, but there's still more.

I have known people who have self-identified as lesbians later go on to self-identify as FtMs. I have known people who have self-identified as gay men later go on to self-identify as MtFs. Similarly I've known people who have shifted from thinking of themselves as MtFs to thinking of themselves as camp gay men, and people who have changed self-identity from FtM to butch dyke. The absolute best thing I can think of for people like this is to have someone they already know and trust that they can talk to about their change in self-perception and the cruellest thing I can think of is for them to be thrown out of their prior social or support networks because they no longer "belong".

The LGBT community exists to serve LGBT people. It provides a safe space. It fights for rights. It offers support through trying times. And let's not kid ourselves: while we all aspire to be froody queers who are totally at peace with themselves and the world at large, and while we yearn for a society in which all queers can be so by default, that isn't the situation for many. A lot of people seeking out the LGBT community for the first time are nervous, afraid or confused. Frequently all three. There are people who really don't know what they feel but are trying to figure it out. I've not seen any statistics, but I would be willing to bet at steep odds against that a person who has previously self-identified as gay would be more likely to subsequently identify as trans than a random member of the population at large, and vice-versa. This too, I think, is a strong argument in favour of having the two communities unified.

Then there's my third and final point, which is probably somewhat controversial and not very politically correct, but I do believe it is true:

All trans people are at least somewhat gay, and all gay people are at least somewhat trans.

Let me explain.

Firstly, the bit about all trans people being somewhat gay. It is quite impossible for me to have an entirely straight relationship. In any relationship I have there will either be two women or two cocks. I find it very difficult to classify either sort of relationship as "straight". Possibly "heterosexual" (from the Greek heteros, different) but certainly not straight.

(Yes, I'm aware that I could exclusively date FtMs if I so chose. I'm also aware that MtFs could choose to refrain from any sort of sexuality until they are post-operative, and then go stealth (FtMs less so, because of the disparity in the results achievable by vaginoplasty and phalloplasty). Such things are very much edge cases though.)

Then there's the bit about all gay people being somewhat trans. To explain what I mean by this, I have to start by a definition of gender. To me, gender is that list of personality traits which are correlated with sex (this sets aside differences between innate gender and gender-roles, which is a deliberate omission to stop this getting over-complicated, so please don't call me on that). The stronger the correlation, the more strongly gendered the trait.

To be transgender, then, is to have a trait or traits that are more commonly found in the opposite sex. I'm aware that by this definition pretty much everyone qualifies as at least somewhat transgender, which I think is a good thing. I view gender a spectrum rather than a binary.

Of any personality trait you care to pick, one of the most strongly-gendered is that of sexual attraction. If you know nothing about a randomly chosen person other than that they are sexually attracted to males, then statistically speaking you'd be right much more frequently if you guessed they were female.

Being gay is transgressing one of the ultimate gender taboos.

As I said, that last idea is controversial, and I'll happily admit that perfectly reasonable people could disagree with me. However, even without that, I think that the first two reasons I put forward are more than enough reason for the queer community to be inclusive of transgender people.

With that in mind, then, why is there even a problem or a debate here? I think that a culture of exclusion is self-perpetuating. I've not had a whole lot of contact with the non-transgender portions of the LGB community at large, but from what I have seen, I've noticed a pattern. LGB people generally seem to me to be accepting of and interested in transgender issues, but generally ignorant. What they need, in order to become less ignorant, is greater exposure to trans-folks. However, the trans-folk tend to remain segregated because being a teacher or an exhibit to a bunch of well-intentioned queers can be stressful.

Obviously, the process of reversing this situation is a gradual one. This is why I believe it's important that the T remains on the end of LGBT and why I believe it's important for people to partake in whatever education and outreach they can, even in so small a way as my making this entry here.

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Without wanting to sound well, ignorant, in what way d'you mean 'ignorant' in "LGB people generally seem to me to be accepting of and interested in transgender issues, but generally ignorant"?

Well, calling transwomen "men who want to cut off their penises", as the author of that article did, is one example of ignorance. I'd go further than rho and say that a lot of LGB people want to look tolerant of trans folk, but are really just as squicked by us as your average straight person is -- the difference is that they feel more obligated to *appear* accepting, which is almost worse, since I'd rather know who hates me and who doesn't.

This was very well put, and I agree with you.

Being gay (or being bi, especially when I have a same-gender partner) is definitely transgressing a gender taboo. I'm not sure that means queers are all somewhat trans--but I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm saying I'm unsure. Gender is complicated and confusing, and is one of those topics where greater study and thought can increase the confusion.

I feel so sheltered. All my life I have been moving through social groups where tolerance reigns supreme. A person's sexual preference or gender identity has always been a case of 'take it as it comes', or 'no one else's business'.

Hearing and reading stories of intolerance is pretty foreign to me. Which is strange considering it was only in the last ten years that homosexuality was decriminalised in my state. We're now the first (maybe only) state in Australia that allows for same sex marriage. Quite the turn-around, really.

I haven't met a lot of transgender people, but I'm sorry to say that those I have encountered were all of them anxious and depressed. Whether it be hormone treatments or social pressure, I don't know.

I guess I don't actually have anything in particular to say in this comment, other than I wish things were different and better. <3

Somehow, it seems relevant to note that I have transgendered friends who are neither anxious nor depressed. (Also at least one transgendered friend who is anxious for reasons that would make me anxious in her shoes--namely, financial problems and medical stuff unrelated to gender.)

With that in mind, then, why is there even a problem or a debate here?

Because LGB people are as likely to go "ew, icky" when they hear about trans people as straight cis people are, and because some LGB people (like the author of that article) are more comfortable shitting all over trans people because they think we're the ones who are DENYING them their RIGHTS than confronting the people who actually oppress queers.

With that in mind, then, why is there even a problem or a debate here?

I think that's a very good point, and I completely support your conclusion. Sure it's self evident, but struggles with sexuality and gender are leave one feeling extremely isolating (mine definitely have been, which is precisely why I rarely never talk about them), and the more unification and support within the LGBT (and whatever other letters you choose to add) one can get the better.

Basically, I've got nothing new to say, but I feel for you and I wish you nothing but the best.

I agree with you. It's incomprehensible to me to think of trans* not being included in the GLBT grouping (even if the acronym is ever-lengthening), especially with the amount of genderqueer-ness I see in people who don't even identify as transgender. I'm not sure if I agree with all of your reasoning for the third point, but I think it's definitely a major one. There's such flexibility of gender shown by so many people, evidenced by terms like butch and femme etc.

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I have to say that I enjoyed reading your post and found myself agreeing with what you wrote.

I think one reason a lot of LGB peeps (like, say, me) are ignorant is that it is seen as (and probably is!) rude to go around asking invasive personal questions. I'm happy to accept trans peeps and be nice to them - but I can't really be *supportive* of someone who is having difficulties with their trans-ness because I don't really understand. I'm a nosy wotsit so I often ask questions when maybe I shouldn't - and that's rude; but also it seems to be rude to not know the answers - but I can't magically know the answers without asking! All very annoying.

At the DELGA / Stonewall fringe meeting at the last Lib Dem conference, Ben Somerskill said that Stonewall are basically big enough to justify being an LGB* organisation and to work with national T organisations. However, in smaller contexts such as a University society, then a seperate T organisation would likely only have one or two members in the entire campus, and hence the LGB society is the closest fit for them.

* Allegedly

A well thought out post, and I enjoyed reading it - you make some good points

Came via livredor--this is a really thought-provoking and fascinating post, thanks for writing it!

I'm not gay enough to have an opinion.


Another one via livredor...

What I worry about the most, with transgender rejectionism, is that it has something of Germaine Greer's 'Gender Fortress' mentality: this fear and loathing of interlopers who intrude into the sacred secrets of her particular sexuality.

Happily, that particular sect has departed to Australia with her strident hatreds, and only ever seemed to be a gender of one.

Unhappily, you'll find people closer to home with this problem. I'm OK with men-only bars where women are unwelcome, although they could be more civil about it; womens' places, equally so - the boorish behaviour of some men makes them a necessity. Everyone needs some space of their own, a place to be with people they identify with. The problem is that these spaces are defended with a degree of hostility to 'outsiders' that all too often extends outside the bar: how many lesbians do you know who loathe gay men? And are contemptuous of 'doormat' femmes? ...And Bi women?

All are entitled to their private opinions, but expressing them in public is uncivil, and unacceptable when it crosses into practical measures; I need hardly list the 'Gay Pride' events that are parades for gay men wherein all other groups are marginalised and made to feel unwelcome - sadly I have come to accept that some communities are like that. But we have a duty to object, loudly, when we hear calls for the exlusion of particular groups from the wider community of support and defence for gay people.

The first and clearest point to make is that some clique of prejudiced individuals have decided that TG people are immoral and squicky and against nature and we don't want them around. Now where have we ever heard that kind of thing? If you see or hear it, slip in a quiet reminder as to why people originally formed LGBT groups for mutual support.

The second point to note is that a clique that succeeds in excluding transgendered people is a symptom of a dysfunctional community, in which closed groups define themselves by their exclusivity and self-identify in terms of their rejection of 'outsiders'. It won't stop with the exclusion of genderqueers: someone, somewhere, already thinks that you aren't gay enough to belong.

Over time, you'll find yourself missing meets, not hearing about things, finding it's all strangers there now, and eventually you'll discover that you're welcome in a community that seems to be all about one particular type of self-expression that doesn't include you. Then, when the wider society finds some new way of expressing it's old prejudices, you might discover that the LGB-not-T movement is an 'our-sort-and-no-one-else' movement that offers no help to outsiders.






The entire queer rights movement isn't about shoving things down people's throats. It's about, to a large extent, the right to dignity in just quietly getting on with your life without having to worry that some crap-for-brains is going to do their utmost to make life miserable for you. It's about not having to live in fear, or to sit there stewing in your own juices as you laugh nervously about some insensitive "joke" someone has shared with you. As a transsexual, I get all of that too.


That's very well put. Do you mind if I use it to prod the next heterosexual post-op transwoman who starts laying into me for associating with the queer community?

Ultimately, I think this should be a democratic issue. I.e. if the majority of gays feel enough akin with transexuals to want to be seen as part of the same community as them, then that's fine, but, if they don't feel that kinship, they shouldn't be made to feel bad/intolerant/whatever for saying, "that's a very nice cause but it's not my cause."

In particular, it doesn't seem to me as though your last two paragraphs apply more to gays and lesbians than they do to heterosexuals. Of course, being tolerant and inclusive is good but that doesn't make all causes the same. Refugees and asylum seekers fighting for their rights have many of the same issues to contend with as the queer community does but that doesn't mean that they should also be fighting for queer rights and vice versa. I do see that there is more in common between gays/lesbians and transexuals than either group has with asylum seekers but I think your post makes a couple of very general points that actually don't quite work for your argument.

As someone who's be arguing that LGB is inherently transgender to some degree for quite some time, I'd also add that a very significant amount of homophobic abuse and bullying is about gender presentation and gender role, possibly even the majority.

Even with the argument that being in a same sex relationship is transgressing gender boundaries aside, most homophobic abuse is because the person looked or acted 'gay'. Other than in hand holding, same sex kissing scenarios and situations where the person has come out or been found out, this usually means that they're not following the gender role properly, aren't sufficiently butch or femme etc.

This is especially clear when the majority of homophobic bullying seems to take place in schools, which (although this may have changed) probably have the lowest proportion of out and visible queer people. Most primary school kids know clearly that being gay is 'a really bad thing' probably because they've been called it or seen someone else be called it. I would think that most kids first hear the word as insults used for bullying (or at least did when I was in school). School kids calling each other 'gay' is how gender roles are enforced and ingrained, and I'm sure you've noticed that lots of people never grow out of this immature behaviour in adult life.

"I'll take that half-a-loaf any day."

Except it isn't half-a-loaf, really, so much as it is a whole loaf for some, and no loaf at all for others. And I imagine it's probably a lot easier to feel sanguine about that when one is on the side that *is* getting the loaf.

On the upside, just before I read your entry, I got an e-mail from Basic Rights Oregon. The subject line was "Divided we fall" and the gist of it was pretty much summed up in the first line: "No ENDA Better Than Bad ENDA."

Aravosis' opinion is a long way from being universally shared.

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