Alright, I'll admit it. I'm a bit of a public media junkie. I eat oatmeal in the morning to Morning Edition. And last night I finished a long-since-warm beer at 2:30am watching Bill Moyer's revival of the series, "The Journal." It's what I call a rocking good Friday night.
Last night's featured guest was Thomas Cahill, acclaimed author of all things "Big Idea" and "Western Civilization." Now, I've never read anything by Cahill and was only slightly familiar with his name before the program. He was on to talk about Dominique Green, a black man from Texas who was executed there in 2004 at the age of 30. Green was 18 when he was arrested and tried for the murder of a man he and three others had attempted to rob back in 1992. You can read more about his case here.
I got the impression that I would not often agree with Cahill and that his books would bore me to tears with sweeping historical generalizations. But he made some provocative points about the death penalty in America. And, oddly enough, it got me thinking about transgender rights.
Cahill made the argument that we continue the death penalty because we, as a society, get some primal reassurance out of killing people. And it has a lot to do with social order. Cahill reminds us that very few millionaires have ever been on death row, and even fewer have ever actually died as a result. Death row inmates disproportionately come from marginalized groups -- the poor, poorly educated and non-white, in particular.
Of course, this isn't news. But it's important, I think, to consider this statement in the context of so many arguments that show the illogical nature and inappropriate use of the death penalty. From a crime prevention perspective we know it doesn't work. From a justice perspective, it doesn't gel, seeing as how we claim to believe in punishments that aren't "cruel and unusual." And with a penal system at least partially based on the idea of rehabilitation, no action that impedes or destructs life makes sense.
Yet we still have the death penalty, and efforts to organized broad-based opposition to it are hard to get off the ground. Cahill's perspective, I believe, is that even if we could show people that the death penalty only serves the interests of power brokers who use it and the bloated penal system for political and economic gain, that broad-based opposition would still only superficially emerge.
It's kind of like white people who poll that they would support a non-white candidate for office, but in the ballot box go the "other way."
And it makes me think about our current situation with the inclusion of the T in the LGB. Cahill's point about a primal reassurance in exercising what is ultimately our most final of human acts, murder, can be thought of in a different way.
In a society that thrives on the power of differences, minorities psychologically "benefit" from having their own minorities. Of course this benefit may not always be conscious. And it's definitely a horrific thought, that on some core level, the Ls, the Gs and, to a lesser extent, the Bs might get some primal reassurance thinking that the Ts rely on them for their political and social gain. But it's worth thinking about for precisely the same reasons it's worth thinking about our primal reassurance in the systematic, socially sanctioned killing of others.
Think of it this way: If ENDA had been amended to exclude or less fully protect the L or the G, would the bill have ever moved forward?
Despite the fact that the "gay community" has not always equally included gay men and lesbians and continues to have trouble with gender equity days, there is now little debate at the "community level" -- at the "political community level" -- as to who clearly defines the constituency of gay rights -- gay men and lesbians. If we truly were an LGB & T community, we would never have allowed, not even the biggest insider among us, for this community-splitting debacle to occur. In other words, the exclusion would have been unimaginable.
And yet it was totally imaginable. Even those of us who were adamantly against the trans-exclusive ENDA could understand how it happened, how trans people got thrown from "our" train. We could see it happening. It was not a big surprise.
This is not to say that Ls, Gs and Bs all equally indulge in knowing that we have "our own minority" to fight for, but I believe that some of us are more acutely aware of this than others. These are the people who privately question why trans people are ever considered a part of the community. These are the people who use phrases like "trans-jacked" when referring to the ENDA debate. And when they do stand up for trans inclusion, these are the people who self-congratulate with pats on their big, gay backs.
Well, at this point I should say that I'm not 100% set on the argument I'm making, myself, and if you disagree with me, know that I'm thinking out loud here in the hopes that people will comment and contribute their ideas. But I have to say that it does seem fairly clear. And if you think it's true, that LGB people will continue to perpetuate the minority status of trans people, at least in part, because it reaffirms their own emerging power, than I have just a few things to say about that:
- I don't think this means that trans people should leave "the community" or feel that they should, because I do see the continuity of LGBT and all the other groups that make up, broadly, the queer community.
- Instead, I think trans people and all others who feel marginalized even within the already marginal queer community should give us hell about this piece of our psychology, which we must root out in order to ever truly include trans people and truly advocate for our community's rights and interests!
I look forward to your thoughts.