Being a contributor to The Bilerico Project is important to me for lots of different reasons. The primary one is that I passionately believe in what Bil, Jerame, and Alex started out trying to do here. I believe that they wanted to create a space where we, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and allied folks, could engage in hard conversations across and in various forms of difference. This goal is as important today as it was when they first settled on it. Perfecting our ability to have these conversations is essential to any hope we have of creating lasting social change.
Another main reason is that being a part of the Bilerico family makes me feel connected to Bil Browning, one of my best friends and the only person who I believe understands some of the more peculiar parts of my experiences of my bipolar disorder. Finally, trying to finish my Ph.D. at Louisiana State University and some complications with me being bipolar has greatly limited my involvement in LGBTQ activism since I moved to Louisiana. Being a part of Bilerico Project allows me to continue to feel a part of the larger struggle for social justice of which Bilerico is a vital part.
So, while I am at this point an infrequent contributor, I remain flattered and proud of being invited to continue contributing to this community. I share the above thoughts about my ongoing involvement with the Bilerico Project because an important theme in this post is that context matters. My involvement and the decision to publish Ron Gold's post aren't events that occur in a vacuum. This is all prefacing my contribution to the ongoing discussion of Ron Goldgate, as I have taken to calling it. As exhausting as this process has been in the only four days that it has been going on I believe that there are some lessons we can learn from it.
While some contributors and readers have expressed the ways the events of the last few days has made them consider leaving the blog, for me it has only increased my commitment to this project of which we are all a part. This experience makes our efforts here together all the more important.
Any declaration of the inhumanity or lack of existence of another is unacceptable. This shouldn't really be open to debate. I was upset when the post went up and relieved when it was taken down. At this point it seems inarguable to me that Bil made a bad decision. I am not defending the decision to publish Ron Gold's piece. I am arguing that it isn't a defining decision for Bil or The Bilerico Project and we are doing a disservice to each other by pretending that it is. Let us move forward together re-focused on our work as a community.
If only all of us had the humility and courage to admit when we make a mistake like this and then go about attempting to correct it. The defining part of this controversy in regards to what it teaches us about Bil and The Bilerico Project should not be the decision to publish the post. It should be the courage that was modeled in regards to taking responsibility and then attempting rectify a bad situation.
While I struggle with totally discrediting someone who has lived a life of passionate commitment to advancing a social justice agenda, Mr. Gold had to go. I am filled with grief for him and the situation as a whole though. His removal from the blog doesn't represent a victory. It is tragic that someone who has done the valuable work that he has done probably will never understand the weight of the words he wrote in his post. Perhaps even more tragic is that because of the particularly damaging tone of his writing for many of us Mr. Gold will never be anything more than a transphobic man. The good work he has done is lost to many of us because of this incident.
The violent points in Mr. Gold's post have been exhaustively discussed and attacked. I applaud the folks who took the time to engage with his damaging and hurtful views on a level deep enough to write about them. Others who have addressed this have done more to challenge the ideas contained in his writing than I ever could. But, addressing his hateful post is only one part of the work that this controversy asks of us as individuals committed to making the world better.
I see three lessons that can, and should, be taken away from these days worth of discussions and from what I would assume to be Bil's perspective, a lifetime's worth of personal attacks.
1. Being an Ally Is Hard
Having spent two years of my life working almost full time as Advocacy Coordinator for the Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance (INTRAA) and another year and a half being a part of the conversations that were taking place about the capacity building of TransYouth Family Allies (TYFA) taught me that, not matter how well intentioned or how passionate your commitment to moving forward issues that are crucial to a community that you may not directly be a part of, you are putting yourself in a position to receive criticism and crippling personal attacks. Being an ally is hard.
I had the privilege of coming to know Bil and Jerame as friends and more during my tenure with INTRAA. I was actually recruited into my position because members of the transgender community thought that a young gay cisgendered man would be able to be heard making a case for transgender inclusion to the steering committee that was pushing for a local nondiscrimination ordinance better than a transperson.
This wasn't a statement about my skill as an advocate. It was the recognition that certain forms of structural privilege make it easier for some voices to be heard than others. Convincing Bil and Jerame of the necessity of trans inclusion was easy, despite concerns that it would be difficult. After declaring that the steering committee would leave no one behind, Bil went on to successfully lead us to victory on a local civil rights ordinance that was transgender inclusive.
In the years since this victory Bil and Jerame have become dedicated advocates for gender identity and expression inclusion in any public policy or legislative push that lesbian and gay advocates make. In addition to their commitment to transgender inclusion that is evident by the inclusion of varied and diverse transgender voices on the blog, they have developed close personal relationships with transpeople that have changed them for the better just as these types of relationships have changed me.
This story about Bil and Jerame is not an attempt to mute criticism of Bil for publishing the post that caused all of this drama. Instead, I am attempting to articulate, to the best of my ability, that they are allies and advocates of the transgender community. I am trying to share the context that I am coming at this situation with. As allies, complaints with them need not be taken up as they would be taken up with true opponents of transgender inclusion. Instead they should be treated like allies who make mistakes, just like everyone else. Education and conversation are the ways to move forward constructively with our allies and, for that matter, in most cases, with our opponents.
I believe that we have a responsibility to take care of each other. I think that we need to work harder to give allies respect and support even during tough moments or during incidents marked with misunderstanding. Whether they are male supporters of a woman's right to choose, white anti-racist activists, straight allies to the lesbian and gay community, or cisgendered allies to the trans community, allies are essential participants in any movement for liberation or radical social change. At times even the distinction of "ally" versus "member of a community" is destructive and does little to further goals of social change. I am not arguing that we should all feel sorry for allies or saying that they should be treated like martyrs. It is simply a request to go easy on each other as we are all, hopefully, working toward similar goals.
2. Do Unto Others
My discussion of allies above leads into my next point. A point that I believe has been made clear by the discussions around Ron Goldgate. Personal attacks and accusations of intentional harm inflicted by allies do little to move social justice agendas forward. Anyone who thinks that sending Bil hate mail will help achieve the longterm goals of gender variant and transgender social justice movements are shortsighted and probably dangerous for the possible successes of any movement for social justice. Even if Bil were not a dedicated ally to gender variant and transgender folks, attacking him in this fashion would do little to make any difference.
When people are attacked they tend to entrench into their belief systems and simply feel persecuted. This became clear to me when I taught multicultural education to mostly white, middle-class pre-service teachers. It took hard work and patience to push them towards understanding. Any overstep on my part set us collectively back weeks worth of work.
Blatant attacks and disrespect do not change people's ideas or hearts. This is not an argument for only passive approaches to change. Instead I assert that we should treat each other and those aligned against us as human beings. Approaches to social change that dehumanize anyone are doomed to failure. Surely we can do better than that.
Audre Lorde told us "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." She was right when she wrote that line and she is right now. Let us recommit to putting the idea that humanizing others is the most important thing we can do individually or collectively to promote social change. Let that commitment be the final impact of Ron Gold's hateful words on The Bilerico Project.
For those of you who feel compelled to hear that the editorial team has learned a lesson, they have told you that. All of us need to figure out what lessons of community and humanity we are going to learn from this and not assume that the only work that needs to be done is work by others.
The attacks on Bil over the past three days are wrong and ineffective. We shouldn't treat our enemies this way let alone our friends. Reading some of the comments in the threads about this incident and hearing about some of the email, tweets and Facebook messages that Bil has received leave me wondering what is wrong with those people. Hate filled and angry responses say more about those who write them than they do about those they are directed against.
3. Work From Within
Finally, although I have spent a chunk of the past five years working with members of the gay community on the need to be inclusive of transgender individuals and voices this is only one part of the necessary work of promoting understanding and acceptance. This incident and many other conversations, both on The Bilerico Project and outside this space, have taught me that it is a disservice to think that the only community that needs to work on acceptance and understanding is the gay one.
Gay and lesbian individuals and communities still have miles to go in regards to understanding issues of gender diversity, social class, and race. We must continue to be relentless in our critiques to this end. But, we also have to continue the important work of creating an open and inclusive transgender community. This work is necessary and too often ignored in favor of critiquing others.
Whether it be arguments about the inclusion of cross-dressers and gender variant individuals or the role that racism continues to play in transgender activism we must look inward and challenge ourselves to rethink our practices of exclusion and assault on difference in those closest to us. Educating and advocating with lesbian and gay community leaders is not enough.
The transgender community must continue to work toward becoming an inclusive and understanding community. The transgender community must push harder for acceptance within its own ranks. A deep and thoughtful engagement with that project of individual and collective betterment will do more to change the social conditions of exclusion and misunderstanding that confront transgender folks than any sort of growth on the part of gay or lesbian leaders ever could.
I hope we take this moment as a time for self-reflection and critique rather than continuing to attack each other. My Mamaw would say, "We shouldn't be judging others because our shit stinks too." Glass houses and all that...
Now, may I respectfully make a suggestion? Perhaps the time has come for us to take a collective deep breath and get back to work.