I volunteered for "Equality Now, the No on 8 Campaign" yesterday, as I've been doing on recent weekends, and I met an amazing 17-year-old FtM. I'll call him "M," as I didn't ask him if I could write about him. A senior in high school, not old enough to vote yet, he is nonetheless bravely putting his body out there on the frontlines fighting for LGBT rights. And not only for marriage equality! Previously, he testified before California Governor Schwarzenegger on SB 777, "The Student Civil Rights Act Of 2007," helping to ensure passage of the critical legislation to enforce anti-bullying laws in schools.
This young man gives me hope for our future. And considering our experience yesterday, we're going to need it.
M and I were assigned to go talk to folks at the annual transgender picnic in San Diego's Balboa Park. This was my sixth or seventh time going out into public, approaching strangers, asking them to sign the promise to vote no on 8, inquiring if they have time to volunteer or money to donate to the campaign, and generally educating them about marriage equality. It was my first time at a specifically trans event. And the reception we received was the most hostile I've yet received anywhere.
Now, M knew a few people there, and they were happy to see him and reacted well. Several of them had already volunteered for the campaign. Likewise, a couple of other folks I approached said that they had already given time or money. I can only take them at their words, although in light of the general hostility, I did find myself wondering if what they said was a brush-off.
Overall, the vibe was acutely unfriendly from the moment we approached and remained mostly hostile even after we identified ourselves as transgender and started talking about Prop 8. If we hadn't been trans and if one person hadn't recognized me from Loren Cameron's book, "Body Alchemy," I felt like people would have actually turned their backs on us or asked us to leave. After about an hour of talking to individuals, we came away with a single pledge to volunteer, five or six promises to vote, "No," (at least one without contact information), and not a single cent in donations.
It was demoralizing.
I don't want to project...and maybe I'm wrong. But after 17 years involvement in the transgender community, I had the distinct feeling yesterday that what I was experiencing was ugly fallout from last year's ENDA debacle. One FtM I spoke with the longest responded to my initial approach--before he found out I, too, was FtM--with, "I don't like the language of the campaign. You keep talking about same-sex marriage, or gay marriage. You don't even mention transgender!"
I couldn't really argue with that--the focus, language and activists of the campaign are overwhelmingly lesbian or gay, and it is possible--maybe even likely--that the campaign organizers have deliberately decided to leave "trans" out of the message, both to simplify it and avoid an anticipated negative reaction to trans inclusion.
I did argue with this guy, however, that Prop 8 is a transgender issue. Sure, I have changed all my ID, I could have walked down to the county clerk's office even before last June and married a woman of my choice. Still, if anything would happen, say a juicy inheritance from one of my wife's relatives, that would give her family pause--and with the extent of transphobia out there, there are a host of possible issues to give families pause, including but not limited to inheritance, health emergencies that leave a partner with diminished capacity, and child custody--I can guarantee you that as long as marriage is predicated on "one man, one woman," mine would be open to legal challenge.
As of last June, marriage licenses in the State of California identify "Party A" and "Party B." Gender is left out of it--as it should be. Which, in my opinion, clearly makes defeating Prop 8 a transgender issue.
For most of my 17 years in the transgender community, I have encountered a persistent undercurrent of homophobia among individual transsexuals that frequently takes the form of, "I'm not gay. Why do I have to come to the Lesbian and Gay Center for support group meetings?" Or, "Why would I want to march in the Gay Rights parade?"
On the other hand, many gays and lesbians may not appreciate the truly toxic level of rejection, ridicule, judgment, and even casual offense present in the lesbian and gay community against transsexuals.
Take yesterday. When I returned to the Equality Now HQ, discouraged and disappointed, without planning it, at the debriefing I found myself at the center of a sort of ad-hoc "Trans 101," in which I was educating No on 8 volunteers about FtMs. As these things happen, it was part consciousness-raising, part biology and history, and--the element I hate most--part freak-show. But somebody has to do it, right? Or we'll never evolve. So there I was, trying to toughen my skin, field the questions, and educate these lesbians, gay men, and allies about what it means to be trans and the intersection of LGB and T. And remember, I had just spent an hour in the hot sun passionately arguing from the other perspective, to members of "my own community," why marriage equality should matter to them.
As I was winding down and feeling more than a little bit exposed, I commented, "And I've spent years arguing with trans folks about why 'T' belongs with 'LGB,' cuz believe it or not, a lot of people don't think it does," and this one very young gay man who'd I'd developed a rapport with (I thought!) when we'd volunteered together a couple of weeks previously and I'd talked to him about being trans, bi and queer-identified, blurted out, "Well, I don't think it does belong. Lesbian, gay and bi are orientations, while trans is an identity."
I rarely find myself speechless, and I did manage to sputter something to the effect of, "While that technically may be true, your position goes against history, in which it was drag queens and transsexuals who led the riots at Stonewall. And we're either going to sink or swim together, because our enemies don't make these fine distinctions. You never hear them saying, 'Oh, I really like lesbians and gays, but those transsexuals give me the creeps.' To them, we're all queers."
But I left the campaign headquarters yesterday feeling more down and discouraged than in a long, long time. Quite simply, I am tired of fighting this same, self-destructive battle. It is one thing to hold the line against our multiplying enemies--the Religious Right has become so strong in this country! But why do I have to keep fighting with my supposed lesbian and gay allies and then turn around and argue with members of my trans community?! I remember the argument about trans inclusion in ENDA going back to the early-1980's, when I first came out as a lesbian! Just when is this stupid argument going to end?
And when are we going to have employment protection? ENDA has been in process since May 14, 1974--34 years! That encompasses my entire employment career to date. And it is simply incredible that we still do not have federal employment protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and--yes, dammit!!--transgender people.
Catholic Ireland is way ahead of us. It is absolutely incredible.