As Antonia said in my last post's comments, "My dear, you certainly stepped into it."
It has come to my attention that my counterpoint article on trans exclusion/inclusion has made the rounds on e-mail lists, forums, and the desks of executives at a few national LGBT organizations. Just like in any game of telephone on the internet, some things were left out as the article made the rounds. Because of this, the piece was misconstrued as a piece of transphobic trash targeted at a vulnerable population out of spite. The post has gotten me called everything from an angry lesbian (or gay man, depending) to a transphobic straight girl posting to Bilerico.
Before we go any further... whoa. Just... whoa. Please, for everyone's sake, let's put the brakes on this handcart to hell for just one moment, step back, and review both the reasoning of the posts as well as what we've learned about the issue as a result.
This needs to begin with an apology. I did not state clearly enough that the piece was merely an academic exercise in point-counterpoint writing.
My previous post on the matter, Take a tip from the Lions: or why I don't like the marriage fight, was written from my personal opinion on the community's approach to the gay marriage debate. As a transgender woman I wanted to comment on the potential pitfalls of advocating marriage equality over other goals in the LGBT movement, and as an armchair political analyst I wanted to advance a more municipal/state strategy for civil rights, taking our cues from the subtle change in Yes on 1's rhetoric at the close of the campaign. The counterpoint piece was built on two things: one, comments from the "Lions" article made by readers, pointing to me as a "selfish trans woman" or to the trans community having a "parasitic relationship with the greater LGB community"; and two, simple Google-search research for statistics.
I did not make this academic disconnect clear enough in the introduction of the piece, and people mistakenly took and distributed the second piece as if it were my personal convictions and beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The piece could easily have been pushed into parody by absurdity by simply taking the train of thought to its logical conclusion:
- Gay sex weirds straight people out, thus we must remove gay people from legislation.
- Bisexual people weird straight people out, so they must also be removed from legislation.
- All closeted LGBT people should be removed, since they don't contribute money to large organizations.
- And so on, and so forth...
- Until all we are left with are a pair of hot lesbians making out in the corner.
- Brilliant! Give them their rights!
"Is This How We Want To Win?
The truth of the matter is this: I cobbled together arguments based on a 90+-comment thread on legislative strategy, stripped away the candy coating of political correctness, and laid the cold arguments bare. I wanted to spur discussion on the specific talking points presented by my opposition without any emotional leaning, one way or another, save for the sadly understated "Is this how we want to win?" at the end of the post. I considered this post to be a continuation of the discussion that began on the first post.
The discussion that arose from the second post took a delightfully different tack. Instead of "selfish trans activists" and "parasitic trans legislation," people began wrestling with the difficult moral quandaries that arise when compromise comes at the price of someone's identity. Discussion of moral high ground as a potential political advantage, the important outward appearance of maintaining allies within disparate communities, and the overall moral directive that "leaving trans people behind just wouldn't be right" all came out to the open. Also, competent rebuttals to my counterpoint's assertions were hashed out by prominent advocates across the entire LGBT spectrum. Reading the comments thread as a whole, one can begin to see ways to articulate two things: one, that removing trans people is not the right thing to do; and two, precisely why the former is a bad idea.
The key word in that sentence is "why."
We are happy to wax poetic about solidarity and continuity, but are unwilling to articulate exactly what these terms mean within our rhetoric. The "why" of solidarity and continuity is presented much like a band-aid slapped over a putrid wound, and any attempts to peek under the bandage are warded off as unnecessary, politically incorrect, off-message, or otherwise unsavory.
Solidarity Is Not a Band-Aid
The reasons supporting this line of thought are as numerous as they are important to mention. First and foremost, prominent and important LGBT legislation is in the works in the form of ENDA. As far as I'm concerned this single piece of legislation stands to do more good for the LGBT community as a whole than any other legislation presently in our community's organizing efforts. A federal mandate demanding that we are to be treated as human beings carries with it implications far beyond individual communities' pet projects, be they gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans. ENDA will not pass without the entire community's support. Thankfully, organizers have stayed on target concerning the legislation's progress, and with continued support ENDA will pass into law.
But the maintain-the-community argument goes beyond being simply for political gain. Disparate groups within the community suffer from extreme discrimination and vulnerability. People are shunned, fired, beaten, treated as second class citizens, dismissed, and sometimes killed because of who and what they are. Protecting both the self-esteem and personal safety of the community as a whole is an important duty of the LGBT world. After many legislative false starts, political runarounds, divide-and-conquer opposition tactics, petty infighting, and the all-round stress of being a minority group whose very core essence remains up for debate by anti-gay groups; we are a shell-shocked community. These are the wounds of political warfare when waged by two polar groups whose goals will only be achieved by complete and total ideological obliteration of the opposition.
At the same time, however, we must be willing to pull away the bandage, triage the situation, and precisely articulate the pain our community feels. We all have wounds: wounds from family; wounds from friends; wounds from faceless hate groups; wounds from fists, knives, guns, stones; wounds from those we would call allies. This is not a question of philosophy; it is a question of history. Our willingness to show exactly why these wounds should be prevented - and, more importantly, why these wounds are more meaningful and impactful than the wounds of our opponents - is what will ultimately win the LGBT community their rights. I believe that this lack of simple, articulate solidarity is the tripwire that often stops the progression of our rights. We aren't willing to answer the tough questions, nor are we willing to have the discussion and discourse necessary to find those answers.
The Long Haul
Our opposition is willing to stoop to unbelievable lows to cut to the quick of the American people. Their message is streamlined, fear-mongering, and powerful: my church says it's wrong, so I should be able to say it's wrong. That's it. Everything else is simply window-dressing. That kind of political solidarity is as powerful as it is dangerous. Time and time again, opposition groups have shown that they can disrupt, destroy, and otherwise derail LGBT legislation with slipshod organization efforts, well-heeled front groups, and halfhearted scare tactics aimed at children and churches.
Removing the transgender population from the LGBT community does not change our opposition's message. The PR nightmare that would result from such a sudden change in direction would tank all the momentum the community has built up over the past few years. While our opponents continued to drum out their single, focused message, we would be too busy explaining to the MSM why the trans people Just Didn't Make the Cut. So long, ENDA. Farewell, DOMA repeal. Auf Wiedersehen, DADT repeal. As soon as we would make any move in this exclusionary direction, our opposition would go on the offensive, attempting everything within their power to push us further back into the closet.
It's a hard time to be LGBT in this country. Exciting, yes: what with the first federal-level piece of LGBT-affirming legislation signed into law just weeks ago; and a long, hard-fought ENDA within our grasp. With increased visibility comes increased pressure to maintain a solid, articulate political image, both as a community and as American citizens. My pieces were written as tools to help achieve that solidarity of opinion through the fairest tool I know: reasoned, balanced debate that takes all ideas into account. I can only blame myself that the pieces were construed as divisive by the greater community.
However, the outrage and general uneasiness generated by this misunderstanding gives me great hope for the continued solidarity of our movement. We really are in this together for the long haul.