Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Transphobia in the Gay Community, Part II

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | December 13, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: homophobic behavior, internalized homophobia, LGBT history, Ronald Gold, trans exclusion, transgender history, transgender stereotypes, transphobia, transphobic

When Christine Jorgensen made headlines in 1951, she was viewed as a homosexual by all, including her doctors. She understood her identity very differently. Today, in our LGBT world, the difference may seem abstract, particularly to younger people born in a different social climate. I will try to recreate here from the dry historical facts the climate of the times in which transphobia took root in the gay community. Please read this not as a history of facts, but as a history of emotions, and powerlessness, and how those led us directly to the situation today.

Many in the homophile movement of the time recoiled in horror at Jorgensen, and the ways in which her story was being used. If the transsexual idea -- Jorgensen's "treatment" and "cure" -- gained power among the public, it could lead to worsening rounds of recriminations against gay men and lesbians. It could lead to a strengthening of the push for psychiatric treatment, mandatory injections of hormones with strong and dangerous effects, a resurgence of "scientific" experiments so beloved in the mid-twentieth century, such as lobotomies, electroshock treatment and cutting up the sexual organs of gay men and lesbians, as well as more criminal and legal limitations upon homosexuals not accepting the "cure", and courts mandating treatment based on criminal convictions or the loose civil commitment statutes of the time. One of the roots of transphobia in the gay community is the quite understandable panic among gay men and lesbians that attended this power struggle. This is not merely a historical artifact, as it is still occurring in places such as Iran, where forced sex reassignment surgery is one of the ways to escape hanging.

The following is a description of what it meant to be a homosexual when Jorgensen had her surgery. It is not for the squeamish. As you read this history, you may find yourself, as I did, gripped by strong emotion, even tears. Ask yourself who and what are responsible for transphobia in the gay community. Is it gay people? Is it transsexual people? What social forces created it, nurtured it, used it? Have you been manipulated by them?

Part I of this article is available here. The full article as originally published in the Journal of Bisexuality, is available here.

It is my hope that this historical view will provide a glimpse into the power relations that have led to transphobia in the gay community -- and homophobia in the trans community. I also hope that it provides some compassion for the Other.

Curing Homosexuality

Jorgensen herself specifically disavowed any connection with homosexuals, calling homosexuality "a horrible illness of the mind." To be a homosexual at that time meant complete and utter rejection by society as a monster -- rejection from family, from religion, from education, from employment, from housing. Jorgensen can perhaps be forgiven for her efforts to distance herself from homosexuality, given the severe consequences, but it also cannot be denied that one of the roots of transphobia in the gay community is the historical repudiation by transsexuals of gay identity.

From The Atlantic:

Having defined homosexuality as a pathology, psychiatrists and other doctors made bold to "treat" it. James Harrison, a psychologist who produced the 1992 documentary film Changing Our Minds, notes that the medical profession viewed homosexuality with such abhorrence that virtually any proposed treatment seemed defensible. Lesbians were forced to submit to hysterectomies and estrogen injections, although it became clear that neither of these had any effect on their sexual orientation. Gay men were subjected to similar abuses. Changing Our Minds incorporates a film clip from the late 1940s, now slightly muddy, of a young gay man undergoing a transorbital lobotomy. We see a small device like an ice pick inserted through the eye socket, above the eyeball and into the brain. The pick is moved back and forth, reducing the prefrontal lobe to a hemorrhaging pulp. Harrison's documentary also includes a grainy black-and-white clip from a 1950s educational film produced by the U.S. Navy. A gay man lies in a hospital bed. Doctors strap him down and attach electrodes to his head. "We're going to help you get better," says a male voice in the background. When the power is turned on, the body of the gay man jerks violently, and he begins to scream. Doctors also tried castration and various kinds of aversion therapy. None of these could be shown to change the sexual orientation of the people involved.

When the story of Christine Jorgensen was published in 1951, debates began amongst these groups as to the proper response. In the first case study of Jorgensen, published in 1951 by her endocrinologist, he referred to her "homosexual tendencies". Jorgensen herself, however, specifically distinguished her condition from homosexuality, referring to the prevalent theory of transsexuality as "nature's mistake," in which a woman is trapped in a man's body. This was entirely appropriate, as she, and many others, understood their identity quite different from homosexual identity. She also took pains, however, to distinguish her situation from "a much more horrible illness of the mind. One that, although very common, is not as yet accepted as a true illness, with the necessity for great understanding." This "horrible illness of the mind" is a reference to homosexuality. She went much further than simply distinguishing her identity from that of homosexuals, casting homosexuality in the worst light. Her doing so, of course, must be seen in context of the many attempts to portray her as a dangerous freak.

Rejecting The Cure

There was a vigorous debate in the U.S. homophile movement of the 1950s as to whether homosexuals should embrace Jorgensen. Some gay men and lesbians denounced those who felt themselves to be of the opposite sex, criticizing them for acting like "freaks," bringing disrepute to those gays and lesbians trying to live quietly within heterosexual society. Such attitudes were prevalent within the gay and lesbian community at the time. Here is one such debate from 1953:

In 1953, for example, ONE magazine published a debate among its readers as to whether gay men should denounce Jorgensen. In the opening salvo, the author Jeff Winters accused Jorgensen of a "sweeping disservice" to gay men. "As far as the public knows," Winters wrote, "you were merely another unhappy homosexual who decided to get drastic about it." For Winters, Jorgensen's story simply confirmed the false belief that all men attracted to other men must be basically feminine," which, he said, "they are not." Jorgensen's precedent, he thought, encouraged the "reasoning" that led "to legal limitations upon the homosexual, mandatory injections, psychiatric treatment - and worse." In the not-so-distant past, scientists had experimented with castrating gay men.

This tension between homosexuals and transsexuals appears to have been based upon the tension between passing and openness, or the idea of "gender transgression." It may have derived from class differences and differing class tolerances for "swish" and "butch." Some gays and lesbians associated gender transgression with undignified and low-class behavior, while "fairies" and "butches" were more readily accepted in working class communities. A survey from the 1960s that found that more than two-thirds of a sample of almost 300 gays and lesbians in the homophile movement considered those who asked for sex reassignment surgery to be "severely neurotic."

The Political Effects

Transgender people played pivotal roles in gay organizations of the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance ("GAA"). While the original goals included complete acceptance of sexual diversity and expression, by the early 70s the gay men's community returned to the assimilationist strategy as the lesbians turned to separatism and radical feminism. There seemed to be no room for transgendered people in either camp. For example, in 1971 the GAA wrote and introduced a bill to the New York City Council to protect homosexuals from discrimination. The bill did not include any explicit protection for transsexuals.

Transsexuals were publicly thrown out of gay and lesbian organizations, and the legitimacy of their identity debated. Transsexual identity became increasingly separate when, in the 1970s, it was made repeatedly clear that butch lesbians were no longer welcome within the lesbian feminist movement, and transmen were made unwelcome as well.

In 1979, Janice Raymond, a lesbian academic, published The Transsexual Empire, a book based on her doctoral dissertation. Raymond argued that the phenomenon of transsexuality was created by fetishistic males who sought to escape into a faux stereotypical femininity, with the connivance of male doctors who thought that femaleness could be medically created and homosexuality medically vitiated. Although "male to constructed female" transsexuals claimed to be against the stereotyped gender system by virtue of their escape from stereotypical masculinity, they in fact added force to the binary system by merely escaping from one stereotype to another, or at most mixing together different stereotypes, rather than advocating true gender freedom. They were not political radicals, as they claimed, but reactionaries seeking to preserve a stereotypical gender system that was already dramatically changing due to the political action of 60s and 70s feminists and gays. Transsexuals were, according to Raymond, sheep in wolf's clothing.

Transsexuals, predictably, were angry at the rejection of their identity by gay men and lesbians.

Kumbaya

It is against this backdrop that, in the early 1990's, the term "transgender," a neologism with an unclear meaning, began to be included in the GLB coalition by those seeking to build political power sufficient to change the landscape of legal and social discrimination.

The term "transgender" was used as an umbrella term referring to transvestites, crossdressers, transsexuals, and other gender-variant people, who seemed to have similar and interlocking interests with gay men and lesbian women, and that had caught the imagination of the public through sympathetic portrayals of transsexuals such as Christine Jorgensen, Renee Richards and Wendy Williams. However, the term "transgender" was originally intended by its coiner, Virginia Prince, to be distinct from the term "transsexual," and to mark a separate identity. It was now being used to refer to anyone whose gender performance varied from the norm. Many transsexuals were unhappy with this usage, as it suggested that their identity was merely a performance.

While the inclusion of the term "transgender" in the LGB umbrella expanded the umbrella, providing some additional political power, it became increasingly clear that this was a problem. It conflicted with the goals of many of the coalition builders, increasingly professional political operatives, which was to capture public sympathy by appealing to an image of homosexuals as people "just like" the majority of U.S. voters, middle class people (or people with middle class yearnings), who held steady jobs, had long, loving relationships with partners of the same sex, and who wanted the same lives that the majority of U.S. voters wanted. As a result, some gays found themselves agreeing with straights, who see in transgenders an assault on normative reality, as in the following diatribe thinly veiled as humor, written in 2003:

There's something a little annoying about transgendered people insisting that they be called whatever sex they want to be called. . . Like so many transgendered people, Califia is like a bush resenting the grass for not calling it a tree. Well, if you've got bush and no trunk, are you really a tree? Before all the MTF (male-to-female) transgendered people flick their compact mirrors shut and take up their pitchforks (with matching handbags, of course), I'd like to point out that there's a reality that exists outside of ourselves. If you wear brown and insist that I call it red because you say so, then you're asking me to skew an objective reality to your liking. Enrolling people into in an illusion unsupported by facts seems manipulative to me. . . .So for all the Pattys, Pats and Patricks out there, you go boys/girls/TBA. Just don't back over us with your whoop-ass mobile because we didn't get your pronoun right.

Gays were also upset about transgender identity because some transgenders pass as heterosexuals and reject homosexual identity, calling their sexual relations heterosexual. The reaction of some in the gay and lesbian community, predictably, has been an attempt to limit the inclusion of transgenders.

This reaction, which is often called "transphobia," is not a result of a psychological "phobia," but a result of the previously identified tensions between accomodationism and gender ambiguity, and between homosexual identity and "passing."

Is "Transphobia" A "Phobia"?

Is transphobia an example of "phobia" - irrational fears?

No, because such heterosexist attitudes are all too rational. They mirror the social tensions inherent in the historical formation of the U.S. homosexual identity. The gay and lesbian communities have worked long and hard to have same-sex desire be seen as an orientation, rather than a preference, a viable, open and healthy identity alternative to heterosexuality, rather than a stigma to be hidden or cured.

The path to this end has largely been gender appropriateness and accommodationism, with the significant but single exception of same-sex preference. Political progress has been won by the argument that gays and lesbians are "just like you," albeit with the minor exception of sexual orientation.

As "homosexuality" became increasingly more accepted, freeing itself from shame with the 1968 Stonewall Riots, and the 1974 declaration of the American Psychiatric Association ("APA") that homosexuality was not a mental disorder, the more accepted homosexual elements began to agitate for more social tolerance and civil rights in law.

In order to do so, like any political creation, it had to drop the "lead weights" represented by the less accepted and frankly unacceptable elements of the group, particularly feminine transsexuals and promiscuous bisexuals. Transsexuality and transgenderism are still considered mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association.

Homosexual rights groups, while committed in principle to inclusion of all homosexuals, including bisexuals and transgenders, began to be led by the more politically savvy gays and lesbians to espouse a platform that, consciously or unconsciously, served the interests of the normative homosexual elements, but not necessarily bisexuals or transgenders.

Over time, the "GL" portion of the platform became increasingly acceptable to the population at large, both through increased education and desensitization of the public and by disavowing the more unacceptable elements of the movement. At the same time, this political success fueled a separatist culture, which bisexuals and transgenders threatened to dilute and homogenize.

The fictional movie "Flawless*" (1999) contains a scene in which transgender community members confront gay Republicans regarding the gay pride parade. While fictional, the scene accurately portrays the tensions described here.

Gay Republican #1: Thanks for meeting with us gentlemen. We've been discussing this year's gay pride parade, and we felt that it would be important, well, a good idea, to show a united front...

Gay Republican #2: Synthesis I believe.

Gay Republican #1: Right, we felt as gay republicans, we thought it would be a really good idea if we could all come together and show the world our likenesses, not our differences. To celebrate the, um...

Gay Republican #2: ...synthesis...

Gay Republican #1: ...right, synthesis...

Transsexual #1: (sarcastically) You're very good. Sorry, go ahead.

Gay Republican #1: We could march together as a united brotherhood....

Transsexual #2: What about the sisterhood, honey?

Gay Republican #2: ...march on foot, no floats.

Transsexual #3: Yeah, you think if you have no floats we won't do drag because we can't march in heels. Well, let me tell you something, honey. We can march to Lake Titicaca and back in stilettos.

Gay Republican #1: Hey let's just calm down then.

Transsexual #1: Aren't you guys the same group that raised a shitload of money and gave it to Bob Dole's campaign and he sent it back, didn't he?

Gay Republican #2: No, no, that's because he would have lost support of the Christian right.

Transsexual #1: Exactly, because you're gay. You're gay, that why he sent it back. Aren't you ashamed? All right, listen, you are right. We are different, but not in the way that you mean. We're different because you are all ashamed of us, and we are not ashamed of you, alright, because as long as you get down on those banana republican knees and suck dick, honey, you're all my sisters and I love you, I do. God bless you and fuck off.

Transgender identity occupies a strange place within the contemporary LGBT terrain. It is simultaneously understood to embody both the worst aspects of heterosexuality and the best of queerness. Transgenders are seen, on the one hand, as heterosexual "apologists" because many subscribe to a gender binary, and, on the other hand, are also often seen as transcending stereotypical oppositions because many subscribe to a gender continuum. They are "traitors," insufficiently gay or feminist or queer, yet also positioned at the cutting edge of debates about gender, sexuality and political meaning.

From these historical circumstances, one can begin to see the outlines of the emerging split between "GL" and "T." It involves a classic case of political conflict of interest, which nonetheless appears to us to be an abstract psychological phenomenon of fear called "transphobia."

This is not to deny that florid phobias never have as their subjects bisexuals and transsexuals, but it is my instinct to restrict such terms to the far end of the spectrum where, along with fear of germs or public places, one starts wearing gloves and a mask and stays home to avoid contact with the open sky.

Power Politics

As we have seen, the historical circumstances of the construction of homosexuality in the U.S. created power relations, which called both for a more inclusive grouping and, at the same time, for a more exclusive grouping. These power relations created the four different groups of which the homosexual community are composed, assigning them different identities, different resources, different spaces in the political sphere. It is these social constructions that created the environment for identity politics within the LGBT community.

To the extent that this identity politics has created prejudice and discrimination within the community, it might be more accurate to call it "heterosexism" or "internalized heterosexism." I prefer to go with sociologist Paula Rust's understanding: "Heterosexism refers to the whole constellation of psychological, social and political factors that favor one form of sexuality over another."

Prejudice in gay and lesbian communities against transgender people is heterosexism because it is an accommodationist attempt to disavow these more "radical" forms of sexuality. As I have demonstrated, the accommodationist impulse came from the severe stigma, prejudice, discrimination and state-imposed violence visited on gay men and lesbians. Transgender people were also subjected to similar forces, and there is, as a result, significant homophobia in the trans community.

It is identity politics gone mad, for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders are all subjected to the same oppressive forces, which attempts to flatten them and drive them apart at the same time.

As Riki Anne Wilchins has noted of this phenomenon of identity politics:

Alas, identity politics is like a computer virus, spreading from the host system to any other with which it comes in contact. Increasingly, the term has hardened to become an identity rather than a descriptor. . . . The result of all this is that I find myself increasingly invited to erect a hierarchy of legitimacy, complete with walls and boundaries to defend. Not in this lifetime . . . . But at some point such efforts simply extend the linguistic fiction that real identities (however inclusive) actually exist prior to the political systems that create and require them. This is a seduction of language, constantly urging you to name the constituency you represent rather than the oppressions you contest. It is through this Faustian bargain that political legitimacy is purchased.

Are we going to let Faust win? I say no. No to the devil and the devil's forces that seek to make us hate one another. No to transphobia, and no to homophobia and no to biphobia.

No to hate. We can, and must, learn to love one another, or die. Has Star Trek taught you nothing?

I was going to suggest here some things to consider in approaching the problem of transphobia in the gay community, and also homophobia in the trans community. However, the length of this post requires that I do so in a third installment.

Click here to read "Building The LGBT Alliance: Transphobia in the LGBT Community, Part III"


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Very thoughtful post- Dr. Weiss.

Riki's comment that- "The result of all this is that I find myself increasingly invited to erect a hierarchy of legitimacy, complete with walls and boundaries to defend." seems so apt to what I have seen happen in the comments thread.

The use of a hierarchy of legitimacy to silence critics or POVs that are not exactly like yours.

I really believe it has a huge detriment to real bridge-building as we push away the very people who may on a very deep level are trying to be an ally.

How do we acknowledge the systems of heterosexism, classisms, etc- without falling into this trap of marginalization of people with opposing views?

When I see it - I find it so distasteful that it makes me want to shut down any conversation and take my cookies home.

Very thought-provoking post Dr. Weiss.

I love your question, CapitalistPiggy: "How do we acknowledge the systems of heterosexism, classisms, etc- without falling into this trap of marginalization of people with opposing views?" That is what I will be addressing in Part III of this series of posts. There has got to be a way, though I am sure it is not simply holding hands and singing kumbaya. I do not have "the solution," but I do have some thoughts on the matter sparked by modern philosopher Jurgen Habermas.

Excellent post, Jillian, Thank you. You've defined the problem more clearly and directly that I think I've ever seen, and it is certainly food for thought. I eagerly look forward to reading your next installment.

Dr Weiss,
This article provides useful and needed context for the sense of unease between various constituencies in our movement. Translational history, science, and linguistics brought to bear on our misunderstandings could go a long way in bringing us together. I look forward to your next installment.


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another excellent post, particularly from the wilchins quote forward.

I am interested to know what was the gay community's reaction or interpretation of men who transitioned medically before the 90's, and who were "out" or "outed" as such? michael dillon.. louis sullivan.. reed erickson (who is actually quoted in jorgensen's memoir, though his transition history isn't noted there)... petric smith... rupert raj... michael hernandez... mark rees... and definitely steve dain, he really made headlines!

interesting too that some of these were/are out gay men themselves...

I agree with capitalistpiggy: very thought-provoking and informative, Dr. Weiss. Your sane, intelligent voice is just what's needed now. Thank you.

I too add my thanks. The history itself is worth reading both articles.

However, I noticed (and have noticed in much that I have read) a sort of lacuna in the discussion about MtF transsexuals who are sexually attracted to women (apologies for the awkward descriptions here; I wish to avoid Blanchard-like terminology. I would prefer to call these people lesbian transwomen, but I have gotten into trouble before) and FtM transsexuals who are sexually attracted to men (gay transmen). It strikes me that these two groups seem to be minorities within these groups, which they purportedly straddle.

If there is some discussion of these groups (which seem to me to be even further marginalised than either of the two groups to which they belong), I have yet to see it and would be very grateful for any direction. My naive understanding of the history and politics of these social phenomena suggests to me that a study in these intersections would be instructive.

Jillian, this was a beautifully written essay which needs to be read by many of the GL 'experts/trans allies' at Bilerico and elsewhere. Unfortunately, because it's about trans-related issues, many of the GLB people won't even bother to read it and many others will dismiss it as one transwoman's opinion.

I would hope that many younger Queer/trans-activists who have grown up believing in the natural confluence of gay and trans interests (because that's what they were told in the 90s and early 00s) would read this to get a bit more perspective on the realities of what the trans community has had to deal with by its--some would say inclusion, I would say envelopment--by the larger GLB movement. Thank you, and I'm sorry it wasn't posted at a more welcoming time.

Jillian;
Thank you!
Diane;
A number of Lesbians of operative history are very involved Lesbian and Feminist activists. Yes, the Rad-Les-Fem-Seps have inflammatory attitudes towards them, but then, that group has inflammatory attitudes to about 95% of the women drawing breath upon the planet including about 2/3 of all Lesbians. They are just crazy, period.

So, Diane, if you are so inclined, get involved with NOW and the NCLR

Angela Brightfeather | December 13, 2009 2:50 PM

Jillian,

I take great pride in saying that I cried when reading your post. The actual experience of reading in the paper about the "possibilities" of my dream coming true, came to my attention at the age of 6, two years after i actively started to dress in my mother's clothes without her or anyone lese in my family knowing it. Actually, the article on Christine was the driving reason for me to seek out my first visit to a library, and learn the Dewey Decimal System and so that I could hopefully look up more articles, whcih I knew would follow.

I also made a committment at that time to rebel against everything and everyone who would stand inthe way of my accomplishing what she did. My grades in school went down and I took a definite downturn in friends because they sensed that rebelliousness but could not understand it. I knew that if I was honest about it, I would have no control over my life and I would be subjected to ridicule and psychiatric treatments, so I stayed rebellious and obstinite because if "they" would not let me do what I wanted, I sure wasn't going to respond to what they wanted.

This continued until I was 22 years old and I first came out to other Trans people and at my first meeting I met Ariadne Kane who gave me a direction to point my rebelliousness at and a cause that I felt would advance my life. Little did I know that I would be one of the first to take this path that would thrust me into a battle that I did not understand, but that I have committed my life to because I knew I had no choice in the matter.

I have been priveleged to have been there in the beginninbg and played some role up to this very point, moswt recently committing my activism to Transgender Veterans.

The history you note is the outline of my life and for that I cried because it brought back all the meetings, fights, bad feelings and transphobia that I have had to absorb, along with so many others to get to this point when we are the verge of obtaining the "real" protections that we need to go on as a community.

On the other hand, I have learned to understand the place of the Transgender Community as what I believe it is truly intended, to act as a bridge in so many ways between diverse communities. To be Transgender or gender diverse is to bridge so many of the differences used to keep humanity apart and easier to control. Our differences have always been highlighted for the purpose of defeating our ability to create bridges for others to cross and understand each other.

Over all these years, I find it so hard sometimes and it hurts so much, to have to understand that after all the work by so many Trans activists, that there are still people like Mr. Gold who know how it was back then for all of us who were GLBT and yet they still hold onto the disastrous and infuriating treatment of then, to justify their positions of today, as though nothing has changed and no one was actually working for changes, or that we have learned nothing during this fight.

Thanks so much for that great perspective Jillian.
Painfull, but at the same time liberating and educational.

Thank you, Angela, for your heartfelt comment, and for your personal testimony to the history you have witnesses. We all owe you a huge debt of gratitude for your work over the years.

From the site "Dyneslines" where the woner has reposted Gold's taurine scaology:

Wayne Dynes:

Pam (of Pamshouseblend.com) says that Ron Gold arbitrarily removed the letter T from GLBTQ. Who put it there in the first place? I don't recall ever assenting to this grotesque acronym. It was definitely not present at the two acts of creation of the modern American gay movement: in Los Angeles in 1950 and NYC in 1969. It is a neologism, and an unhappy one.

Maura, you point out that Wayne Dynes said that transgender was definitely not present at the two acts of creation of the modern American gay movement: in Los Angeles in 1950 and NYC in 1969. I would hasten to point out that the term transgender was not invented until the 80s and not in common use until the 90s. The term transsexual was not popularized until Dr. Benjamin published The Transsexual Phenomenon in the 1960s. Neither of those terms may have been present, but it is unlikely that there were no people with those identities as we now understand them. I thought of making this point to Professor Dyer, but after looking at his website, it seemed like he made up his mind long ago. Seems familiar...

Well, his claim of no trans presence at Stonewall is certainly speious. I believe that his reference to the 1950 event in California was the founding of the Mattachines.

Be glad that the trans people wwere in fact pointedly excluded from the Mattachines, as were many gay men.

The Mattachines were a bunch of commies. J Edgar Hoover said so. They probably favoured a public option in healthcare, too. (with a wink)

I remember in the early '90s when I and a few other gay guys started to hear about transgendered people and I was completely baffled.

I have a friend who considers herself transgendered (having aspects of a gay male sensibility about her identity) and was a major part of our group. She was the one who first introduced us to these ideas. We had lengthy conversations about what the different terms meant "transgendered", "transsexual", "gender", etc. Your history really captures how I remember things being - the tensions, the assumptions (including my own) about trans people "denying" their (homo)sexuality, the desire by some gay man to be "male identified", the fluidity of gender, social constructs and identity politics, etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, your essay brought back lots of memories and also helped by offering a context for what I and my pals did and thought and debated "back in the day".

Thank you. I look forward to more in the future.

Thanks, Joe, for adding your own testimony to the history of our community. I'm glad to hear from someone who was there that I accurately portrayed the zeitgeist. My learning is only from books, but yours is from experience, and is the more vital.

Dapper Ninja | December 13, 2009 4:51 PM

In articles on transphobia in the G/L/(a ti sometimes B) communities, I've seen people on this site mention "homophobia in the trans community." This surprises and concerns me.

It surprises me because I live in British Columbia, and the majority of trans people involve in trans community organizing are definitely not het, and the ones who are het tend to be GLB-friendly. Perhaps it is different where you are?

What concerns me is that I fear I'll hear transphobic GLB folk saying "we don't like them but it's not so bad because they don't like us;" a sort of "my predjudice is justified because there's also reverse discrimination" fallacy.

Yes, I tend to think the dropping of heteronormative and tightly enforced sex roles on trans women will lead to a lot more trans lesbians in the population at large, belying the 'transition the gay away' trope, than we have previously seen. At least... y'know, a girl can hope. ;)

You are right to have a concern, Dapper Ninja, that some GLB folk will say "we don't like them but it's not so bad because they don't like us." I think that has already happened and has been happening for a long time. I think one of the reasons that there are people like Ron Gold floating around in our community is that they didn't like transsexuals in the fifties saying they're not homosexuals. I also think there is a significant amount of homophobia in the trans community, and it's not going to go away because we ignore it. Will some gay people use that against us? Yes, but they are as wrong as those trans people who criticize the entire gay community because some gay people are transphobic. And we'll just perpetuate it on both sides by ignoring it.

Just have to say kudos to you Dr. Weiss. I must say that when I heard you talking in some of the college 101 -ism language I made some bad assumptions about you.

But I can see you have a great ability to take a step away and look at why people are where they are without casting judgement.

Its something I aspire to do better- sorry I made a crappy assumption about you- I'm looking forward to learning from you...

All is forgiven, Capitalist Piggy. I'm also concerned by people who discuss complex issues in overly simplistic terms. I try to talk with my audience, and not over or under them, but the balance is sometimes hard to achieve.

The source of transphobia in the gay community is our tolerance of it. Until we boycott sites that promote hate and then step away and giggle and pretend not to, it will continue.

Kathygnome, I'm not sure what you mean by the source of transphobia being our tolerance of it. It has to come from somewhere first in order for us to tolerate it or not. I would agree that tolerating transphobia perpetuates it, but not sure how that would source it.

This is one of the best posts I've seen on Bilerico in a long time. I will definitely be putting this one into my bookmark list; that way, when someone asks me "what's the big deal about this perceived divide?", I can hand them the link.

I actually did the same thing. :)

crescentdave crescentdave | December 13, 2009 8:22 PM

Selfishly (of course), thank you Dr. Weiss, for first explaining why it would historically make sense for there to be this tension between GL and T groups. I start to see the outlines of where there is space to create change. Secondly, thanks for intimating some of these same factors enter into the sometimes strained GL and B relationship. It just makes sense from a socio-political point of view. I look forward to your 3rd installment.

somehow my reply got lost I think, so I try it again:

Thank you so much for this post. I'm trans and gay btw.
All the time I have the feeling that we are being played. Who is gaining if we fight?
You describe very well that accusing the "other" queer people of being "the freak" is mostly a defence against oppression by straight society and an attempt to get human rights and inclusion. Lesbian/gay people have done it, and trans people have done it. But in the end, straight society doesn't really care if we are lesbian/gay or trans or whatever. They lump us together anyway. (It's no different with "non-white" communities) They lump us together, but if we then act as one against them, they try to split us into bickering groups. They can do that by giving parts of the community more rights than the other, by including parts of the community but not others. They are the ones to decide.

A friend of mine was treated with male hormones as a twelve year old kid in the 1960s- he was born a boy but dressed and lived as a girl until puberty. Then he was forced into the treatment program to make him an man/not gay.
Today he lives as a gay man/drag queen, but he feels that he is probably more of a transwoman.
So where do you draw the line between trans and gay? Is it really important if he was mal-treated as a trans kid or as a gay kid?
What are our priorities as a community?

You raise a good question as to where to draw the line between trans and gay, Ship Of Fools. I am not sure there is a sharp line of demarcation between the two. In many countries, there is no such distinction at all. In fact, part of my point in my postings is that the line has been somewhat artificially erected by the vagaries of local US history. I myself follow the rule of self-definition, allowing others to define their own identities.

I have come to similar conclusions as you, Dr. Weiss. But it will be very very difficult to explain that to LGB folk, as the moment of shedding the medical diagnosis and of shedding the association with trans are the same in public LGB consciousness.
As you said- the act of freeing themselves from medical scrutiny was achieved by freeing themselves from the suspicion of gender variance. I even remember reading a Foucault quote somewhere that seemed to be about the medical construction of homosexuality but was more about saying that gay men are "real men" and not transsexuals. I am so glad that this is discussed publicly now.

Great post, Jill! Thank you. I learned a great deal and it's given me so much to consider.

Greetings, Jillian...

Being privileged to have been Christine Jorgensen's housemate and confidante during the terminal six months of her life I think that you are unjustly laying too heavier burden of transsexual guilt on Christine Jorgensen self-protectively parroting common felt mid-twentieth century disdain of homosexuality.... I know that as a closet cross-dresser growing up during the early mid-twentieth century that I would have found it well nigh impossible—if I had had the misfortune to have been outed—to have swung public opinion in favor that I was a heterosexual and not a homosexual...

One thing for sure... the Christine Jorgensen whose company and confidence I came to enjoy certainly was far from being a homophobe... to wit... borrowing from my musings as I am wont to do:

2009-12-14 extract page 121 "a’top a dung-hill...” © 1987 - 2009 Brenda Lana Smith. R.af D.

Having essentially asexually cocooned herself in a predominantly "gay" environment since her "change..." Chris mourned—as I have—the loss of too many dear friends to this modern-day scourge... although terminally ill herself with cancer... I witnessed this stoic bygone myth of Christine Jorgensen on the phone soliciting support for a proposed benefit performance for nearby Laguna Beach's AIDS hospice just six weeks before her own demise...

I owe the Laguna Beach AIDS hospice and the memory of Chris an unreserved apology... I failed to carry out Chris' verbal request that donations in her memory be made to the Laguna Beach AIDS hospice for fear that the world might wrongly interpret that Christine Jorgensen had succumbed to AIDS... I hid my fear behind her earlier written testament that donations be sent in her memory to Hollywood's Motion Picture and Television Fund...

UNQUOTE...

Ciao...

Brenda...

Thank you so much, Brenda, for bringing to light your personal experience of Christine Jorgensen. I believe you when you say she was no homophobe, and I am also ready to believe you when you say that I laid too heavy a burden of guilt on Christine. After all, the line I quoted was one line out of a whole lifetime. At the same time, I'm fairly certain that many in the transsexual community of the time had major concerns about being labeled as homosexual, and that contributed to the rift.

Your writings sound fascinating. Is it a memoir? I'd love to be able to read it. Is it available anywhere?

My apologies for my apparent tardiness in replying, Jillian…

I was necessarily putting the finishing touches to an obituary for a dear friend's spouse who is unfortunately at death's door…

Meanwhile… back in the pre www days… the only sense of a trans community per se for myself was my membership in the likes of the Gender Dysphoria Program of Orange County Inc and on transsexual involved ALCU sub-committees… otherwise I was merely a condoned honorary member on a convenient local gay social scene… to wit… again borrowing from my musings:

2009-12-16 extract page 211 - 212 "a’top a dung-hill...” © 1987 - 2009 Brenda Lana Smith. R.af D.

Much as cross-dressing and gender-bending properties will be seen to have enjoyed an increasing and less of a cyclical form of popularity as nineteen-nineties' world of entertainment shifted along, the fact remains that cross-dressing still needs to be seen as crudely ridiculing womankind for most "western" chauvinistic males to feel anywhere near comfortable with male-to-female scenarios. And, alas, the more credible and permanent the transformation may seem, the more emasculating for these chauvinists the portrayal becomes.

With such male insecurity abounding, it's no wonder why most of the "outed," statistically insignificant, socially marginalized minority of transsexuals-to-female, whom for one reason or another find themselves in the thousandfold more politically significant, but equally marginalized "gay world," discover themselves way-near the bottom of what is probably one of the most complicated and misogynistic of all pecking orders. Way below parodying camp drag-queens, sequinned boards-strutting drag-artistes, hustling streetwalking "Tricks-with-Dicks," and the occasional out-of-the-closet "heterosexual" transvestites. Somewhere—slightly above the ball-breaking, acne-faced, "Diesel-Dykes"—amid what is a tolerated flotsam of "Mommie Dearests," chic-lesbians, and faithful "Mine's a Malibu" 0ld Fag-Hags!

Some twelve years after having formed the foregoing assumption, while living among North Hollywood's "gay" community, I came across a letter on the world wide web—in June '98s Boston Phoenix—taking umbrage over Boston's gay/lesbian movement not only having embraced the transgendered and their issues, but having renamed "Pride," "Trans-Pride," that probably paints a clearer picture of the transsexual-to-female's true status in the "gay world." To wit: "I'm gay. I'm not a drag queen, not a transsexual, not a transvestite. I'm gay. Period. Why don't these transsexuals/vestites, etc., get their own movement and have their own parade? I don't identify with these people any more than I identify with a zebra. To each his own—people can and should be whoever and whatever they choose, but please don't include me in this group!"

On the lesbian scene transsexuals-to-female don't seem to fair any better, either... on a long—well publicized—1999 summer's Philadelphian Dyke Marching invitation list... there we were... subconsciously relegated to forth from the bottom... squeezed between the "anarchist punk chicks" and the "girl-jocks..." who would have closed out the pecking order but for the parents, and supporters of lesbians...

The import of the "gay" culture's misogynistic regard of the discrete after-the-fact surgical irreversibility found between a transsexual-to-female's legs, and not the dress or one's sexual orientation—obliquely illustrated in the pecking-orders and the letter above—had not gone unnoticed by the eminent American endocrinologist Harry Benjamin in the early 'sixties.

Dr Benjamin's keen observation soon became the base of the "Litmus Test" used by psychiatric medicine to identify transsexualism in those professing or displaying varying degrees of dissociative gender identity. In that—no matter what the patient's sexual orientation—it is only the "true" transsexual who resolutely seeks to be completely identified with their opposite sex, and who would desire to permanently alter their primary and secondary sexual characteristics to—as near as possible—approximate that of their dissociative gender identification.

UNQUOTE...

On Bermuda my 1984-11-14 "Made-in-the-USA" womanhood was at best in 1986 relegated to socializing on the periphery of the island’s cliquish gay community. It is worth noting that it was among Bermuda's gays my estranged children's age and not my age that I experienced any true or enduring friendship. And excluded from mainstream society, except for a salving trip to New York and another to Los Angeles, I wiled away most of the next two years on Bermuda reclusively penning the origins of “a’top a dung-hill...” that with its now some 200-plus A4 page small print dyslexic 'stream of consciousness' style therapeutic musing remains "a work in progress…" procrastinating on my 2.66GHz Intel iMac… in much need of my editing, and properly punctuating by a grammarian before ever being photographically embellished and archived for posterity, whatever…

Ciao…

Brenda…

I cultivated a friendship with a MTF transgender woman, but she always seemed to be in some kind of crisis and I just couldn't handle all the drama. After she ripped me off, I wrote her off. Unfortunately, I haven't had any other experience with any trans people other than a manager at our local gym who was a gem, but recently passed away. I have a friend who will only date transwomen, but I never see him out with them, which I find kind of odd. I live in DC which is a generally conservative, in dress, in attitude, and most people value their privacy, sometimes to the exclusion of people in the general community for whatever reason. But all in all, I have to say that the trans community in DC is not very visible in the places I go (bars, clubs, glbt events, theatre, movies, ballgames, etc.) or else most are living lives in the burbs like most of my coupled gay friends. All this is to say that I don't get a sense of any trans community in DC that intermingle with the gay community since I haven't met more than 3 in DC over my lifetime leaving me scratching my head as to how the LGBs in DC can actually represent the Ts when there is no sense of community there.