Marti Abernathey

Aravosis: Whitewashing The Transgender Movement

Filed By Marti Abernathey | October 09, 2007 2:50 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: HRC, John Aravosis, transgender

When Barney Frank decided to remove gender identity out of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the GLBT community responded on an unbelievable scale. Most of the community has been positive about this, but there are some detractors of the “ENDA, not SPLENDA” movement. One of those detractors is blogger John Aravosis.

He writes:

"I think that a lot of gay people never truly accepted the transgender revolution that was thrust upon them."

The "revolution" that Aravosis writes about has little to do with the actions of transgender people. The revolution happened on October 1st, 2007, when 12 national organizations stood up in solidarity with their transgender brothers and sisters. Today over 300 national and statewide organizations have signed on to ONLY support a transgender inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).


The reason gender identity (i.e., transgendered people, e.g., transexuals) got dropped from ENDA wasn't because Dem leaders didn't want trans in there. It's because we don't have the votes to get ENDA passed if it includes job protections for transexuals.

I'm not sure if Aravosis is being passive aggressive, or if he's slapping transsexuals in the face. He spells transsexual, “transexual.” Google transexual and you'll immediately see what I mean by a slap in the face. As far as vote counting, I'm not sure how John knows if we have the votes or not. The whip count that put the stripping of gender identity out of ENDA hasn't been made public.

What concerns me most is Aravosis' incorrect analysis on the acceptance of transgender people in American society. He writes:

Something has been bugging me. Why did Congress add gender identity to ENDA this year if they knew it didn't have the votes and they knew they were going to remove it anyway? I mean, they must have known that America isn't exactly as trans-friendly as it is gay-friendly (and calling America gay-friendly is already a stretch).

In September 2004, HRC polled Americans and found:

65% incorrectly believed that it was not legal to fire people just because they were transgender. 65% believed it should "definitely be illegal" to make hiring decisions just because a person was transgender and 13 percent believed it "probably should be illegal."

Keep in mind that this poll was taken in the middle of a one of the most anti-GLBT voting cycles ever. Still over 78 percent of people supported some form of workplace discrimination protections.

One of the most insidious claims made by Aravosis is that transgender people forced themselves into the GLB community.

In simpler times we were all gay. But then the word "gay" started to mean "gay men" more than women, so we switched to the more inclusive "gay and lesbian." Bisexuals, who were only part-time gays, insisted that we add them too, so we did (not without some protest), and by the early 1990s we were the lesbian, gay and bisexual, or LGB community. Sometime in the late '90s, a few gay rights groups and activists started using a new acronym, LGBT -- adding T for transgender/transsexual. And that's when today's trouble started.

Aravosis is correct on the time line, but he neglects one very important fact. From Wikipedia:

In the 1990s the term took on a political dimension as an alliance covering all who have at some point not conformed to gender norms, and the term became used to question the validity of those norms, or pursue equal rights and anti-discrimination legislation, leading to its widespread usage in the media, academic world and law.

I'll dismiss his usage of transgendered (it's transgender, not transgendered). Before the 1990s, transgender people were simply seen as queer. I don't think Aravosis is mean spirited or transphobic, he's just ignorant. In his Caucasian, khaki pants world of straight acting/looking gays and lesbians his argument might resonate. But gender identity/expression isn't just something that transgender people struggle with. Butch lesbians, diesel dykes, and nelly queens are all expressions of gender identity within gay and lesbian culture.

Gays and lesbians who are gender variant understand and can identify with our plight even if they aren't transgender themselves. Outside of gay and lesbian culture anyone that is GLBT is queer.

Sylvia Rivera and many of the “Screaming Queens” later identified themselves as transgender, but at the time they had no words to describe themselves. They were just queer. To rip transgender people out of GLB history is to dismiss the icons of Stonewall and the Compton Cafeteria Riots.

I'm not surprised that Aravosis is against transgender inclusion in ENDA. The folks that produce John's Americablog also are the same folks who were commissioned to produce the Human Rights Campaign's “HRC Back Story" blog. His friends over at the Human Rights Campaign have a long history of talking the talk of transgender civil rights but not walking the walk.

Oddly Aravosis' logic doesn't extend to marriage equality. The Human Rights Campaign is at the forefront of the fight for marriage equality. I don't hear him clamoring for HRC to cease and desist advocating for marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

On his blog and in his Salon article Aravosis asserts that

“this year is also the first time that ENDA actually has a real chance of passing both the House and Senate -- but only if gender identity isn't in the bill.”


This is a belief that very few people, including Barney Frank, believe.

That is, we have been very critical of arguments that we should not push for votes on anti-discrimination legislation simply because it wasn’t openly going to win.

Even if ENDA passes the House there's not a snowballs chance in hell that ENDA will pass the Senate or make it past the President's veto pen.

Taking presidential politics into consideration when mapping out the underlying reason for stripping out gender identity, the answer becomes obvious. Neither Aravosis or the Human Rights Campaign want to embarrass a Democratic president by sending them a bill they won't/don't want to sign. The idea of the the 2012 election hinging on transgenderism the way gay marriage did in the 2004 election has everyone shaking in their stilettos.

Transgender people are being thrown under a bus... a presidential campaign's bus.

cross posted from Transadvocate.com


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Where to even begin...

This is not even remotely as complicated as everyone is trying to make it.

As a gay man, I do support the inclusion of transgender individuals.

But I also have a brain, and a good understanding of politics. The politicians are NOT making crap up when they say, "if we keep gender identity in the bill, it's likely it wont pass".

C'mon! Every American knows that without negotiations and quid pro quo...bills would never pass!

This is not about victimizing transgender persons! It’s about winning a victory for 90% of the queer population, or else EVERYONE looses out! Everybody wants their cake, and they want to eat it too!!

It's called BABYSTEPS! It's called SACRIFICE! We will never get everything we want in one bill. That is THE NATURE OF THE BEAST!

At least transgender people can attach biological/medical science to their cause! Most of the world still thinks that gays and lesbians are just sexually confused perverts who need to find god! Every gay organization out there would probably agree with me off the record. Because publicly saying what they really think would be political suicide in the GLBT community.

But I also have a brain, and a good understanding of politics. The politicians are NOT making crap up when they say, "if we keep gender identity in the bill, it's likely it wont pass".

C'mon! Every American knows that without negotiations and quid pro quo...bills would never pass!

This is not about victimizing transgender persons! It’s about winning a victory for 90% of the queer population, or else EVERYONE looses out! Everybody wants their cake, and they want to eat it too!!

It's called BABYSTEPS! It's called SACRIFICE! We will never get everything we want in one bill. That is THE NATURE OF THE BEAST!

Really? According to Political Science Professor Meridith Bacon:

“As a professor of political science who has been studying this for a long time, there’s no such thing as incremental civil rights,” she said. “If we have only a gay and lesbian bill and a second bill for trans people, there is absolutely no historical precedent for that kind of gradualism.”

You said:

It’s about winning a victory for 90% of the queer population, or else EVERYONE looses out! Everybody wants their cake, and they want to eat it too!!

Apparently you didn't read my post. You won't win ANY protections right now... NONE. This bill, EVEN WITHOUT GENDER IDENTITY has no chance of passage in the Senate or on the president's desk.

> As a gay man, I do support the inclusion of transgender individuals.

With reservations, apparently. So the statement is not as categorical as you seem to want to make it.

It's called SACRIFICE!

> Yes. That is a good word choice.

> At least transgender people can attach biological/medical science to their cause! Most of the world still thinks that gays and lesbians are just sexually confused perverts who need to find god!

Actually, gays and lesbians are no longer considered to be psychologically disordered. Transsexuals are. Accoring to the DSM-IV, they are in the same general class as pedophiles.

Has anyone reported back on what was said inside the HRC annual dinner, if anything, regarding ENDA and the protest outside?

Shawn ENDA isn't even going to make it past the Senate. So why worry if it is inclusive or not. I have already told everyone i know to tell their congressmen to vote against ENDA. it's not happening not now and not four years from now.
Queer issues,Transgender issues are not EVEN on the radar screen with the economy going down the toilet like it is right now. The political world has more important things to concern themselves with this is nothing more then an exercise for a day that might come if there is a country after Bush and Clinton invade Iran.

The American people are just beginning to figure out the high price of gas was not because of some refinery being taken off line or some other artificially created shortage. The Value of the dollar has declined over 60% since GWB involved us in Iraq.

This is all so much to do about a very low priority issue right now.

Take Care
Sue Robins

Wow. I'm honestly not sure where this passion for the issue has come from. I mean, for decades transgender people have been the red-headed step child of "GLBT". For years, it was the gay movement that fought for inclusion. And when it was time for change, the entire acronym was accepted. Now the politicians are taking transgender people off the bill...SO THE BILL HAS A CHANCE IN HELL OF PASSING. But even then, transgender individuals have been the "minority" of the GLBT community. It's almost as if they've been ridding the coat tails of whatever progress we've made. Now that they're being picked away from the pack, and have to survive on their own, we're suddenly divided.

In some strange way it represents the surge of passionate, yet mostly false feelings of patriotism after 9-11. Most of us have grossly ignored trangender individuals until now. But now that they're in the spotlight, we're going to pretend that we were best buddies all along?

Please.

And I dont give a crap what some Ph.D says. We are a community that is UNLIKE any other! If this wasn't so...WE WOULDN'T BE HAVING THIS DISCUSSION RIGHT NOW! The blacks were able to form around a common cause, and stick together as a uniform movement. But no! The queers have taken pride in creating a million and one segregations within out community. Gay, bi, trans, two-spirit, queer, bear-daddy...so on and so forth. We're label whores. We adopted transgender individuals the same we we "adopted" the bi community. We spend most of the time complaining how we are more different than alike. Yet when an issue such as ENDA arises, we pretend to be a homogeneous community.

And when I said that "transgeder individuals have medicine and science on their side" I was referencing gender re-assignment! It's been made to appear that trans folks are freaks like the gays and lesbians. But once they get that expensive surgery, they more or less become "normal" people. Just took a little switch-a-roo to fix things. Where as the gays and lesbians, we dont have some sort of magic transformation that makes us more acceptable to society.

But...like the many radical idiots who run the state-wide marriage groups...people want the entire package right NOW! God forbid we let change work the way that it has for thousands of years--gradually!

The strategy of "We will be back for you later" is pretty much a joke. It looks good on paper but let's all realize what is going to happen.

Now that most states have outlawed Marriage Equality, some states have gone to the next level and are now doing their best to take the children of same-sex couples away (come on, you really think they are going to quit when they stop your two-same-sex parent adoptions?).

Given the choice between fighting for the 'T' right to keep a job and losing your children, which fight would you fight?

We hear about the fact that those who have transitioned can marry. True, we can marry but the rights of our marriage crumble at almost the slightest court challenge (divorce, inheritance, child custody).

The 'T' community has been fighting the fight too but we do not have the resources of the rest of LGB. Why? Because a majority of us don't have jobs or are severely under-employed (think people with Doctorates having to work at Starbucks).

If you are just trying to survive, it is difficult to think beyond your next meal or your next month rent.

It is easy for the LGB community to think of jettisoning us. It has been done before (witch hunts to out those of us who had the gall to have a job, hostile rejection from the very groups that were our support system). I'm thankful that most of that is behind us (except for some glaring examples).

Why are we making such a big deal out of this rejection? Why are we upset at being left out of the groups that finally swore their support of us?

Because we have been burned before. We don't necessarily believe that anyone will come back for us.

I just wanted to take a moment to address the issue about the correct terminology of being either "transgender" or "trangendered", and if the latter is insulting.

My point of view is that as a description of a characteristic, this is an adjective, and therefore should be "transgendered". As a noun, the implication is that this is a 'thing' and feels insulting to my ears (or eyes). For example, "are you a Jew?" seems more threatening than, "are you Jewish?". I'm also fond of being grammatical.

Either way, I know that there has never been an agreement about language in the gender community as to what to call ourselves, or how the various labels we use are defined, for that matter. At least I haven't gotten that memo, or a vote. So I'm not sure how fair it is to take umbrage at a term which is used in the trans community.

While on the subject, I'd like to put in a plug for doing away with what is becoming a 'mainstream' usage of the term "tranny". I've heard it recently on several national television programs, almost always paired with "hooker". I know that it was picked up from us, but it's become our "faggot", and we should leave it behind.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | October 10, 2007 6:26 AM
it’s almost as if they've been ridding [sic] the coat tails [sic] of whatever progress we've made.

In what universe, Shawn? Is Aravosis piece your only exposure to LGBT history? Please, go back and start with LGBT History-101.

Considering that trannies (sorry, Rory, I like the word) kicked off Stonewall, just who's riding on whom's coattails here? Moreover, like many tranny activist friends, I've been involved in LGBT activism for 25 years. Can you say the same, Shawn? Yet you're claiming that the progress we've made in that quarter century owes nothing to my and other trannies' heart-and-soul involvement?

Just took a little switch-a-roo to fix things. Where as the gays and lesbians, we dont have some sort of magic transformation that makes us more acceptable to society.

Congratulations: this paragraph has the dubious distinction of being the most asinine, misinformed statement I’ve ever read to date on the subject of transsexuality. (And I’ve read a lot!)

SRS surgery makes us “more acceptable” to mainstream society than lesbians or gays? The only place that statement may be true is the unfortunate Islamic Republic of Iran. And even there, while SRS may save a person from stoning or the gallows, I have to wonder how much acceptance transsexuals really have.

If your statement is true, can you tell me why, then, so many people—including far too many lesbians and gays—still regard SRS as “mutilation”? That’s the word still commonly applied.

One of the most disrespectful, disingenuous and inflammatory statements in Aravosis’ misbegotten piece is his

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.
In one fell swoop, Aravosis perfectly conveys his lack of sincerity, ignorance, bigotry, misogyny, willingness to misrepresent (or deep unawareness) to achieve his ends, and--last but not least--abhorrence of SRS and transsexual people.

Thanks for this great piece, Marti.

While I believe transsexuals should be protected from discrimination, I don't believe the tranny community has done the work necessary for societal acceptance and legislation. It is an unpleasant reality, but it is the reality.

Gays (which includes Lesbians, ask Ellen) have struggled for decades -- even before Stonewall and those defiant drag queens (not transsexuals). Furthermore, Gays are still fighting for a place in the global "culture" and transsexuals should follow the example.

As for GLBT, LGBT, GLBTQ, LGBTQXYZ -- stop the idiocy! Homosexuals are gay. Transsexuals are another story.

Being TS and trying to keep a job while fighting for rights is like a giant game a whack-a-mole (Chuck E Cheese patrons know what I am talking about).

As long as you keep your head down, you may have a decent chance of surviving. Pop your head up and say something scandalous (like, "I should be able to use the restroom") and you'll find that someone has an issue with you and you will quickly find your way out the door.

So we have organizations that have pledged their support of us (HRC, NTAC, GenderPac, TaskForce). We, in turn, support them how we can. We are considered part of these groups and they take our battles to the government. We are part of them until, suddenly, someone determines that they can't have the 'freaks' around anymore (they make us look bad). We are still supposed to support them but apparently they are not obligated to support us any longer. Oh, they feel for our plight but they just feel they can't support our position at the moment.

We will get back to your right on survival after we get to the really important things (Marriage Equality for instance).

You can starve for all they care but at least they get the issues they want covered (oh, and have really, really expensive parties - woo!).

AnneB,

During the '80s I was fired twice for being an "out" gay person. I couldn't afford a car or an apartment larger than a one room "efficiency". Losing a job was a major problem. While I sympathize with you, I and so many other gays didn't let that crap stop us from finding success and the battle still rages -- Iran. Transsexuals need to stop leaning on organizations like HRC and make the change they want to see in the world! I live the life I want every single day, damn the bigots. Courage is the appropriate word. BTW, I didn't even know there was a GenderPac. I'm glad to hear it.

We aren't letting it stop us and we thought we had a vehicle for change (groups with similar goals, that shared in much of the same persecution).

We belong to these groups, support them. But our numbers are small and we creep out the other members, so we are easy to tell to "Sit in the corner and color while we get what WE want. Trust us."

We are convenient as a bargaining chip "At least we aren't as freaky as THEM. Leave them out and we have a deal!"

We want the support promised. I suppose asking them to do that after giving them our support is considered "Leaning on them". We considered the grouping to be an US but it is now all too apparent that some never wanted our support as all (except as ballast).

Sad but funny Transfolks cover the whole gambit were gay were lesbain were bi and yes were straight.But most of all The Glb for years now have told us stay with us let us work for you dont do this on your own there is strength in numbers.Guess what we were lied to so now you have to rebuild that blind trust you wanted in your little pets.Yes I was a crossdresser long before I admitted I was Trans. So I have seen a things as a supposed insider but always treated as the "bastard step child" of the group. So time to rebuild and help us get our own rights and thanks for slapping all the Trans activits who have worked hard for the rights of just the Glb!


Cathy