Bil made an excellent comment regarding trans allies on one of Antonia's recent posts. I want to repost it it here because I think its an important sentiment in the LGBT community:
Even in a previous post from this week on a trans issue, someone said in the comments that I should stop posting on trans issues. From the comment, I assume that they're trans. When I asked for a trans 101 on the site, I got knocked for not "reading a book." If I mess something up, I get bitched at for not knowing all of Trans 101.
And in talking to literally dozens of trans allies, I think that's one of the biggest reasons why folks will mouth the word LGBT - and mean all letters - but when it comes to practice, they'll shy away from getting involved for fear of messing something up and getting jumped on for it. See, for example, how many contributors - even some of our older trans contributors - no longer post about trans issues. They've been frightened off by all the nasty hateful comments those threads get telling them what ignorant motherfuckers they are.*shrugs*
Dyss, you know I wasn't even going to post on the Tosh.0 story since I was tired of the same old, same old comments. What did I get? "You should stop posting on trans issues." Yup. At this point, I agree totally.
His comment isn't the only one I've heard from straight allies. At least a half-dozen people have come to me at one point or another, admitting that they don't talk about trans issues for fear of being called out on the carpet by sensitive trans people. The big LGBTQ sites - Towleroad, AfterElton, Queerty, Joe.My.God., to name a few - approach trans issues with kid gloves, afraid of rousing this kind of attention in their comments and negatively affecting their traffic as people say "This just ain't worth it."
The real kicker, however, is that allies aren't the only ones getting scared off of trans issues; in the past few months, I've been in the same boat. Why comment about trans issues - my issues - if I'm just going to be told that I'm too ignorant to know how to talk about it?
It should be noted here that Bil is not ignorant nor callous to trans issues; he never has been and never will be. Anybody who knows Bil personally will attest to this fact. The sad fact of the matter is that he has been pushed into silence by a strong-arm force I call the "Trans Mafia," and this trend toward silencing allies is not conducive to gaining ground in terms of acceptance.
Why Does the Trans Mafia Exist?
Two words: trust and agenda.
The trust side of this question should be pretty obvious for anyone who has followed LGBT issues these past few years. Trans people have often been thrown under the bus in the name of both political expediency and "ick" factor bargaining. We saw it in 2007 with SPLENDA, in New York with the separation of GENDA, and even in 2010 the "bathroom issue" continues to be the primary point of contention in passing the law. Our issues, visibility, and acceptance is approximately 20 years behind that of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, and sometimes that separation starts to rear its ugly head in the form of "we'll come back later" pleasantries while our concerns are stripped out of bill after bill. We know that some - but not all - people in the LGBT movement are perfectly okay with throwing our concerns to one side and are always waiting for that other shoe to drop. Nothing works like paranoia to make a group trigger-happy.
The agenda side, on the other hand, does get a little dicey. The transgender umbrella is huge, and a lot of the effort involved in trans activism still goes into defining what we need to discuss. Some people attempt to bifurcate "true transsexualism" from other trans identities, others reject the medical system as gatekeepers to transition, others make a point to mention bigender/two-spirit/other gender presentations whenever the topic of political agenda comes up in a heartfelt attempt to be inclusive. Take this in comparison to LGB talking points, for which there are specific, terminal, straightforward points: marriage/no marriage, equality/no equality, and military/no military, among a few others. In most cases the answers for this segment of the community are pretty black and white, despite debate on specifics, and this simplicity has allowed unification of opinion on every important political issue.
Not that this confusion of agenda is a bad thing: the trans community is neck-deep in the agenda-defining process, being approximately 20 years behind the LGB community in terms of idea formation and lobbying maturity, and these are debates that need to be resolved moving forward. However, this process has become remarkably dirty, and many of the daggers we aim at transphobic cis people end up becoming friendly fire, striking our allies into silence.
The Effect On the Community
When everyone is silenced out of hand, nobody can speak; when nobody can speak, we can't defend ourselves from stigmatizing legislation and rhetoric. Trans people are especially at risk for opportunistic demonization right now; as anti-LGBT groups cope with the fact that gay-hate no longer brings in fundraising dollars they will look for another group to make into villains, and they are very good at making us look like guys in dresses. (Sorry, dudes: trans men aren't usually sensational enough for their attention.) Antonia has posted about how easy it is to remove our identities, even after they are firmly established by the law. Augusta, Maine's "controversial" school-board decision to treat trans people like human beings shows just how easy it will be to whip up fervor in response to the fact that we exist.
Scarier still is the thick veil of trans denialism that pops up whenever trans issues hit the mainstream media. Search the comments of any mainstream piece about us, or the copy of a "fair and balanced" journalist just hoping to present both sides of the case and the denial becomes clear: anti-gay groups like PFOX think transition is the wrong cure [pdf] for gender identity issues.
Legal protection against discrimination based on mental illness is not provided for any other disorder. Those who wish to assume a "gender identity" contrary to their biological sex are in need of mental health treatment to overcome such disturbed thinking, not legislation to affirm it. "Gender identity" legislation endangers the physical and mental health of the very people it is trying to protect. Physically mutilating the mentally ill is not the answer. For example, will healthy limb amputation, another mental disorder known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), be the next protected class?
What these people don't say is that transition is among the most successful treatments in the mental health community. However, people who know this and can say this are often scared to do so, knowing that some member of the Trans Mafia may come along and ridicule the cis-ally for daring try and discuss trans issues. Silly them, right? Stepping in and defending trans people from oppression. That's a trans-only job.
The Ghost of Separatism
On top of trans people becoming a trendy new target for oppression, we have some cleanup issues in our own backyard. The ghost of separatism seems to come up in every article about the trans component in the LGBT alliance, be it in comments or in the post itself. The topic has been hammered on all sides and is pretty well dented and dinged; however, I'd like to point out that the call to separate comes from both sides of the coin. As distrust has grown, some trans people have become distrusting of cis people. I've seen it in action in my local area, and the results are not pretty.
Projector Tobi Hill-Meyer wrote about the phenomenon in an essay for Questioning Transphobia:
The academic model was very familiar to my own experience with race, but I have since realized it is also very much in line with my experience the trans community. Applying the model for people of color to trans experiences: The first stage is Conformity to cis behavior and attitudes because cis-ness is perceived as positive, followed by Dissonance between trying to be "normal" but receiving drastically different treatment than their cis peers. At some point it becomes too much - my instructors described this as the "bubble bursting" moment - when the individual becomes more completely aware of the magnitude of oppression they are facing. The next stages, Immersion and Emersion, are characterized by a distrust of cis people, surrounding oneself with trans community and support structures, and of course, a lot of justified anger. Gradually, during the Internalization stage, frustration with cis people shifts off of individuals and to cis-supremacy/transphobia in general. Finally, in the Awareness or Commitment phase, their personal sense of identity is translated into a plan of action or general commitment to the concerns of trans people as a group. Of course, these phases are not always linear or in this order, and people might go back and forth between them.
What makes this really significant in my mind - beyond the insight it gives to helping defuse such conflicts - is when you take this approach to individuals and apply it on the macro level. There are cultural moments that lead to large numbers of people experiencing the same phases. The second wave of feminism and the consciousness raising groups of the time are a good example of a collective "bubble bursting" moment, leading to a decade or so of an unusually high number of people in the immersion/emersion phases. I would argue that trans people are in the middle of a similar cultural moment.
Look, I know we trans people have to be very careful, lest we get thrown under the bus once again in the name of political gain. I also understand the distrust of cis people; sometimes, good friends ask the dumbest questions, or say the dumbest things, and in the back of your mind you want to say "Shut up; you're making it worse." That's why the Trans Mafia exists in the first place.
At the same time, though, if we keep shooting at every shadow behind a tree, who will be left to stand up to say "Wait a minute! this is ridiculous!"? The answer lies not with the LGBT movement, but with its opposition, who stands on a simple, easy-to-understand platform: "Trans people are messed up, and should be cured instead of treated."
We need to stop shooting down our allies. They need us. We need them. "I don't want to post about trans issues" is not a prevalent attitude we want, need, or can afford to have.