Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Grading the Trans Community

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | June 18, 2010 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: trans advocacy, trans community, transgender community

I'm busy today grading essays for my online summer courses. I'm in a grading mood. A-for-effort.jpg

I've also been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the trans community's recent failures with regard to ENDA and the New York State Gender Non-Discrimination Act.

That makes me think about what if I had to give a grade to the trans community as a force for change? What would I point to as "well done" and what would I point to as "needs improvement?"

It's not that I'm really in a special position to judge. I think that everyone ought to be thinking of how the community is doing. That includes not only trans people, but also straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, questioning and all other allies. Why is this a good idea?

Well, for one thing, it encourages people to think of the trans community as a community. Many people doubt that we have a "community," thinking of us more as a "population."

More significantly, it could give us a clue as to why we have been so ineffectual, even as it acknowledges the strengths we can build on.

And if you are thinking "I'm not trans, why should I engage in such an exercise," let me note that we are in many of the same boats. The hole under our seat is in your boat.

And so, my grade, and comments in red ink, after the jump.

Of course, all grading is relative. Ramapo College, where I teach, isn't Harvard, and although some Ramapo students are as smart as anyone anywhere, it would be unfair to grade the average Ramapo College student as if he or she were at some Ivy League institution, or in graduate school. As my former dean told me when I arrived at Ramapo, and was shocked by the first essays I received from students, one does not need to change one's definition of an A, but you will need to change your idea of what deserves a C.

In addition, it's quite unfair to simply assign a grade without explanation. The point of grading, in my opinion, is not to be merely judgmental, which is all too easy. It is to advise the student that improvement is needed, and how to do it.

The other important thing to keep in mind is what the grade is for. I can't grade students in my Law & Psychology class as if they are students in my Comparative Legal Systems class. My grade for the trans community is based on its effectiveness as a community in accomplishing it's agenda. My grade is only for the U.S. trans community, since that's the part I know best. Part of the problem is that the agenda is not exactly clear, and it's wide-ranging. It includes laws and regulations on the federal, state and local levels, reduction of discrimination and prejudice in private spaces, reduction of social stratification within our own community, civic engagement in the public sphere, receipt of public benefits accorded to other communities, creation of community institutions and infrastructure, and more.

And so, in grading the trans community, I am mindful of many things. First, it's unfair to compare it to the LGB community, which is much larger and has more resources and a longer historical timeframe in which to organize. Second, the trans community has changed greatly over the past ten years, and any judgment must take that into account, encouraging the positive moves as well as noting the negative ones. Third, the bad things people do to us and say about us shouldn't be a criterion for the grade. We get a lot of negative energy directed at us, and we only have so much energy to put into combatting every single thing. We have to pick our battles.

The Grade

C minus

Comments

Trans community, you have improved greatly over time, and some of your work is very well done.

Particularly of note is your work in gathering allies in the LGB community. When Barney Frank dumped you from the 2007 ENDA bill, you were successful in creating a mass protest in the LGB community. You have been successful so far in remaining part of the effort for federal rights, and have even been recognized by Rep. Frank for your efforts in lobbying for ENDA.

At the same time, you are overcoming years of stigma from the medical community, which advised you to go underground and hide, living stealth lives in order to survive. As a result, your efforts to create community and community organizations have been greatly hampered. You have one federal organization, and a few dozen local organizations. Good job on getting started in the institutional area. But you need more.

Without those, you cannot become a strong force for change. The organizations you do have on the federal and local levels are valiant organizations that have done a lot with few resources. But these are separate entities without much communication or shared effort. Start communication. Start a coalition of transgender organizations.

Another major area of needed improvement is gathering the grassroots. At this point, it's hard for you to gather 100 people to demand action on even very serious issues without major effort. Government officials on every level have largely ignored you. And yet, most people in the trans community are largely uninvolved. Work on getting more trans people to understand the importance of getting involved, and how that will benefit them both personally and as citizens.

An important point regarding the grassroots is that there are a lot of social, economic and racial divides in the community. You're certainly not alone in that, but these divides diffuse a lot of your energy and effectiveness. Complaining about each other takes time and energy away from accomplishing more for your community.

The public is largely uneducated as to who you are, and why you should be allowed to go to the bathroom, let alone having solidarity with your rights. That needs to change in order for your community to have success in forwarding your agenda.

In sum, work on creating more organizations, getting a higher yield of participation from trans people in your communities, and work on educating the public.

I am sure you can succeed.

What grade would you give?


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I would disagree with that grade - I would say in the last 10 years the trans communities have grown a lot. There is a Coalition of State/City Trans Groups that has been formed in the last 2 years. There are over 30 transgender political/advocacy groups around the country.

I would say what we are most sorely lacking in is resources, which includes funding to build an infrastructure, grow our leadership development, and support trans activists with a living wage so we can have some dedicated full time trans people with the skills to do some of this work.

Did you know that LGBT advocacy groups world wide gets 1/2 of 1% of funding? Out of that 1/2 of 1% I can't imagine that transgender specific groups are getting even a 1/4 of that.

Did you also know there are less then 10 transgender people in leadership at any of the major LGBT national and state advocacy groups (excluding trans specific groups).

What the trans community could get a c minus in is supporting transgender advocacy work, financially and grassroots wise.

BUT what the larger progressive funders, donors, and advocacy organizations should get is a grade of a D minus for not helping to build the capacity of transgender leaders, organizations, and communities so that we can effectively advocate for ourselves.

We have long history of unemployed and underemployed trans people doing what they can with what little they have to make change. I think we have made some strides and those should not be discounted. Do more of us need to come out and be visible, yes, but we should not discount those who have done so to get to us to where we are.

I would disagree with that grade - I would say in the last 10 years the trans communities have grown a lot. There is a Coalition of State/City Trans Groups that has been formed in the last 2 years. There are over 30 transgender political/advocacy groups around the country.

I would say what we are most sorely lacking in is resources, which includes funding to build an infrastructure, grow our leadership development, and support trans activists with a living wage so we can have some dedicated full time trans people with the skills to do some of this work.

Did you know that LGBT advocacy groups world wide gets 1/2 of 1% of funding? Out of that 1/2 of 1% I can't imagine that transgender specific groups are getting even a 1/4 of that.

Did you also know there are less then 10 transgender people in leadership at any of the major LGBT national and state advocacy groups (excluding trans specific groups).

What the trans community could get a c minus in is supporting transgender advocacy work, financially and grassroots wise.

BUT what the larger progressive funders, donors, and advocacy organizations should get is a grade of a D minus for not helping to build the capacity of transgender leaders, organizations, and communities so that we can effectively advocate for ourselves.

We have long history of unemployed and underemployed trans people doing what they can with what little they have to make change. I think we have made some strides and those should not be discounted. Do more of us need to come out and be visible, yes, but we should not discount those who have done so to get to us to where we are.

Gunner Scott
Boston Trans Activist

Excellent points, Gunner. I have tremendous respect for the work you have been doing in Massachusetts and nationally.

Where can we get more information about the Coalition of State/City Trans groups? That seems like a very positive development. I tried looking the organization up on google with no luck.

"Complaining about each other takes time and energy away from accomplishing more for your community."

"complaining?"

if you want a stronger political movement, you must begin by acknowledging that the concerns that many trans spaces, including trans activist spaces, are racist, classist, ageist, and ableist are legitimate. it is the responsibility of the leaders and majority participants in those spaces to enact change- to examine what can be done to stop pushing out elements of their own community. if people of a certain group keep walking away, ask not why they can't just suck it up and stay- ask what you're doing to drive them out. figure out how the privileges experienced by the leaders, and not by those who are disengaging, influences the situation.

for instance... are your meeting spaces wheelchair accessible? available by public transportation? 21-and-over only, alcohol served? do you include opportunities for engagement by those who may not read at all, or may not speak English? do you hold events with racist themes and/or which assume a white participant as the "norm"? do you actively seek to learn more about oppression of people with disabilities, people of color, and working class people? how do you or does leadership respond to criticism, and are diverse voices taken seriously? are unpopular views generally shouted-down and sneered at, or given due respect and heard? how democratic is your group/conference/etc, and how are disagreements or changes of mission/vision addressed?

energy put into the analysis of these questions, when done with open hearts and responsibly, does not siphon energy away from a movement. quite the contrary- it builds the strength, the numbers, the community ties, and possibilities for coalition-building. it helps make it about justice, not "just us".

pretty much all of this could also be said about the rest of the LGBT movement, but it is trans spaces I'm talking about right now.

Good points, Jo. I didn't mean that we shouldn't address social stratification problems like racism, ageism and ableism. I meant that we shouldn't be afraid to come together to discuss these openly with each other, instead of "merely" complaining from a distance. You're right - we must address these questions in order to succeed as a community.

thank you for the response, Dr. Weiss. I understand now what you meant.

I think, on top of just "not driving people away", these considerations open up our community to gather even greater perspective on successful political advocacy. individuals who are already active in anti-racist work, disability rights, labor, etc can bring that knowledge and experience as well as any existing organizational or political connections. sometimes the "LGB" lens that is more familiar to some (to me, anyway) does effectively move things forward... but some trans-specific issues really, really benefit from other approaches too.

anyway, thank you for yet another thoughtful post!

Jillian, I think your post acknowledge certain complexities of the "trans community." Firstly, what's largely acknowledged to be the largest and wealthiest part of the "transgender" community, male-bodied crossdressers, is still largely in the closet and not terribly politically involved (at least in an out way). Basically, they haven't stepped up to the plate and I don't see any of our "leadership" calling them out on this. A large percentage of these people are professionals and extremely experienced yet they've done little to forward the movement for transgender rights. Honestly, they deserve a separate grade lower than a C-.

The community has far wider self-identification gulfs than the even the gay community. There are many people who might fall under a transgender definition who don't identify that way. My analogy for the trans umbrella is something like the term "Asian Pacific Islander"... an imposed demographic which is so vague and inclusive as to be politically useless (and was probably created for just that reason). Maximum inclusiveness isn't always a positive... it creates a lot of complexity in creating political action, communication and in coalition partners linking together. This isn't being acknowledged by our activists because it sounds privileged or bigoted... but it's true in a practical sense.

The trans community has greater racial, economic and demographic divides than many other marginalized communities who are also struggling. All of this goes into the mix before you can truly evaluate how we're doing. Not only are we marginalized, but we're a very fractured group of marginalized people and, sadly, the paradox is, the more inclusive we become, the broader the definition of transgender, often the more fractious those divides are. Is that a function of the people within the coalition or the leaders/theorists who have told us the formula for what transgender means?

Moreover, grassroots political action on any but a very passive level requires that people be "out". While it's nice to say everyone should be out, we're not at a state of social development of legal, safety nor community support where being "out" (the way it is in the gay community where many of the most powerful are still closeted) is viewed as being a positive. It's nice to say "come out" but you have to be willing to truly support those people when they face the consequences of it. I don't see this in the trans community at all.

A large portion of our "leaders" are committed to an LGB institutional power structure which has performed very poorly on the trans population's behalf. Is that the fault of the larger trans community? Our institutional leaders/spokepeople have done a very poor job... D- at best.

I agree with Gunner, we've made a great deal of progress on some fronts (a sizable portion of which came before GLBT) but the current GLBT coalition is joke when it comes to trans participation. Until we either greatly improve the integration with that coalition or break free from it as a dysfunctional relationship, our progress will be limited.

Thoughtful points, Gina, thank you. While I agree that attempting to represent a community defined too broadly is problematic, "community" implies a certain generalization of identities that are, in reality, highly individual. If there's any problem with our theories of community, I would say that it is we put too much emphasis on the differences, and not enough on the similarities. It's true that my identity as a middle-class white educated Jewish bisexual woman of transsexual experience is different from of other trans people. At the same time, if I started an organization for people like me, and I had a 100% success rate in gathering all such people together, I don't imagine it would be more than a few dozen people. And our lead issue would probably be the divisive "everything bagel vs. onion bagel" issue.

Onion.

My first line should read:

"Jillian, I think your post DOESN'T acknowledge certain complexities of the "trans community."

IMO, it's more useful to see the trans community as an alliance of different subgroups potentially impacted by overlapping similar issues rather than a monolithic all-inclusive umbrella. The issues and identities can be quite different for different parts of that alliance. The umbrella... ain't workin' for many of the participants. Ignoring this won't get us anywhere. Part of the reason our community progress has been stalled is because of the unwieldiness of the artificial alliance that's been tacked together often by outside forces.

Following this thread, I would like to add that there is far too much time, and energy, used in imposing an identity upon people rather than actually struggling for the common goals that would unite with far less animosity.

I quite realize the leaders of, certainly, the American "trans" community have immense parts of their personal careers, and self-worth, tied up in their construct of transgender and rather defend that than embrace those who would objectively benefit from their, the leaders, espoused goals.

Truly a difficult thing to do, sacrifice their identities for the goals they espouse.

It sometimes seems, for them, more fun, and certainly emotionally satisfying, to fight with those who are actually closer to them on any objective scale one could suggest, than challenge those who are enemies to all of us.

And the usual slogan, our enemies see us as all the same, hardly seems to cut it.

We are truly lost not only when we accept, but positively revel in the identity our enemies impose upon us.

PanoramaIsland | June 18, 2010 4:45 PM

Yeah, I -want- my fellow trans people to come out and be visible - but I can't -expect- them to do it. It's hard enough for me, and I'm in San Francisco, for fuck's sake! Visibility is important, but after all most trans people have been through, I can't really expect them to be soldiers for the cause and sacrifice much of what they've worked so hard to gain for the sake of an abstract ideal. Trans people deserve comfortable, safe lives too, and asking people to risk serious danger now for theoretical future safety is going to be a hard sell indeed.

I do think that much of the answer IS here in San Francisco, and other places like this - congregating in meccas where we can create our own norm, integrate into the society as just another one of the local minority groups, and have a real voice. It's a lot easier to come out and be heard under those conditions.

I think Gunner has a lot of good points. There are probably less than a dozen trans people in this country who get paid being an activist. You cannot grade people who are doing the best they can volunteering to help with the various needs on the national and local level. It's insulting.

I'll use TAVA as an example. Half of the board members have full-time jobs. Angela Brightfeather, our VP, owns a plumbing business in NC, facing the tough economy. The other half are unemployed or students getting Masters and PhDs. As a person who has earned a PhD, you should remember what you had as a social life before you got the degree.

TAVA has gone through a half dozen Membership Directors, several Media Directors, 3 or 4 Secretaries, a couple of treasurers, a couple of VPs and a couple of Internet Directors. One of our board members died. Some of the Board Members have had tragedies in their lives, like Katrina for one, and others had to quit because of health reasons.

And yet, we still trudge along, doing what we can when time permits, and we still get things done, surprisingly enough. We have made an impact and we will soon see the VA put out a policy toward trans veterans that will accomplish a good part of our mission. THIS IS on top of us working, raising families, going to school, AND helping in our local LGBT communities.

You have done a Herculean job of keeping ENDA in the forefront of our minds and getting us out to call, E-mail and lobby. But, you are definitely not in a position to grade the rest of us. No one is.

I give TAVA an A- . . . so far.

Monica, I have the greatest respect for your great achievements through TAVA and your volunteers. At the same time, why can't the work of volunteers be judged? When I was a hospital volunteer many years ago, we had to had some training before we were allowed to volunteer, and the director sat down with us and discussed how we were doing after a few weeks. I didn't have a problem with that, and the feedback was useful. A volunteer who accidentally dumped a wheelchair patient was let go. Why shouldn't we be able to judge how we are doing, and see what needs correction and what deserves kudos?

Apples and oranges. If a volunteer at a hospital screws up, they have the potential to injure or kill someone. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall a volunteer in an advocacy organization screwing up and directly injuring or killing someone. I know that no matter how badly TAVA could screw up, no one will die in the process.

And, NO, you cannot judge or "grade" volunteers in trans organizations. This is 12 years of experience talking now. If a person within the organization goes to judging other people's performances, they will soon find themselves isolated and ignored. I've seen it happen. If it happens from the head of the organization, the whole group can fall apart. Seen that, too. Also, people will just leave. A person who is doing a little bit of work will leave and then that little bit of work is done by no one. Volunteers at a hospital can come and go, but it is like pulling teeth to get trans people to volunteer.

If another organization evaluates your people, the chances of those two organizations working together in the future is zilch. I have given HRC a lot of grief in the past and now they will not do anything to help TAVA, because I represent TAVA in their minds. Same thing with individuals not representing another organization.

Bottom line, telling volunteers they need to work harder and not screw us so often will shrink the limited volunteer resources that are out there. It's not advisable to grade people in the trans community.

I think Gunner has a lot of good points. There are probably less than a dozen trans people in this country who get paid being an activist. You cannot grade people who are doing the best they can volunteering to help with the various needs on the national and local level. It's insulting.

I'll use TAVA as an example. Half of the board members have full-time jobs. Angela Brightfeather, our VP, owns a plumbing business in NC, facing the tough economy. The other half are unemployed or students getting Masters and PhDs. As a person who has earned a PhD, you should remember what you had as a social life before you got the degree.

TAVA has gone through a half dozen Membership Directors, several Media Directors, 3 or 4 Secretaries, a couple of treasurers, a couple of VPs and a couple of Internet Directors. One of our board members died. Some of the Board Members have had tragedies in their lives, like Katrina for one, and others had to quit because of health reasons.

And yet, we still trudge along, doing what we can when time permits, and we still get things done, surprisingly enough. We have made an impact and we will soon see the VA put out a policy toward trans veterans that will accomplish a good part of our mission. THIS IS on top of us working, raising families, going to school, AND helping in our local LGBT communities.

You have done a Herculean job of keeping ENDA in the forefront of our minds and getting us out to call, E-mail and lobby. But, you are definitely not in a position to grade the rest of us. No one is.

I give TAVA an A- . . . so far.

I also have to point out that the trans community has not done a good job of getting people of color involved and represented in its leadership ranks.

The one trans organization that had that going for them, NTAC, was a multicultural one.

NTAC unfortunately was never given a chance, especially by the white transgender power disproportionately represented in NCTE to have an opportunity to lead.

Some may decry 'identity politics', but the reality is that the American political system is all about identity politics.

If we are to petition a government for redress of our civil rights grievances that has a Congressional Black Caucus, A Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a Congressional Asian Pacific one for example, it would be smart to have lobbying orgs and lobby days that incorporate members of those ethnic group to not only show the diversity of our community, but more effectively lobby Congress or state legislatures.

It is not for lack of trying, Monica. I don't think it's a lack of effort, I think that white folks like me are clueless as to how to get this done.

I know a lot of African-American, Latina and API trans women who self-select organizations that are either not ethnically diverse, or are directed primarily toward social service issues rather than the political agenda.

The trans political coalition in New York unites Empire State Pride Agenda, which is largely white, with Housing Works, which is largely POC and has a larger trans contingent, in addition to NYTRO, which is largely but not exclusively white and suburban (except the NYC chapter), and NYAGRA, whose leader is Korean-American.

At E&J Day on Monday in Albany, the trans lobbying was not at all lily white - so ESPA and Housing Works made a great effort on the turnout - and in the suburban district near me represented by State Senator Greg Ball, I personally brought with me an African-American trans NYTRO constituent of his as well as a white trans member of the clergy - also a constituent of his.

I really wish I had the magic formula to get more people involved, regardless of race or ethnicity, but I do what I can, and when I am clueless, I appreciate whatever advice I can garner as to how to become less so.

Jillian
I wish Some of the NJ T-people formed a Group! We have You, Babs, Rebecca, and a whole lot more movers
and shakers herein NJ! Garden State Equality has done a lot of work for us here in NJ maybe they could use some help? What does the members of this blog think?

Stonewall Girl Stonewall Girl | June 19, 2010 6:17 PM

Regina,
NJ has a group GRAANJ, we added gender identity/expression to the anti bullying bill that passed unanimously, we amended the Law Against Discrimination to provide protections in employment, housing and public accommodations in record time for a state law and by a vote of 102-8. We strengthened and added trans protections to a hate crimes bill, filled loopholes in the anti-bullying bill and it took about a month to pass 100-10! We changed the Motor vehicle policy to change the gender marker so that instead of needing a new birth certificate, all one needed was for a licensed social worker to sign off on a simple form!

We did those things either by ourselves, or aided or in partnership with allies. And you know what? We did it with just a few dedicated activists and with smoke and mirrors. Were we smart? Were we united? We had transpeople on the executive boards of Garden State Equality, the Coalition, NOW, Stonewall Democrats and we used all of their alliances and political capital.

We showed that when LGB and T people and allies work together, we can achieve!

You know, I have never been approached by any out of state transgender activist to ask for any advice or to find out how we did things? Oh and yes, except fpr a couple of folks who were out of work and were reimbursed for their efforts, this was all done on a volunteer basis. We had a 3500 grant form HRC that we later returned, then did receive 5000 grant from them, a small grant from the Task Force plus invaluable staff help in writing legislation and back up support and some help from ourselves, Garden State Equality and a Rutgers Student Group!

So, what's the big deal? I'm sorry if we don't go around trumpeting ourselves, but we are working on trying to get ENDA going and other FED legislation.

I think part of the problem is that so many trans folks are in the closet which is directly inflicted by not having a law like ENDA. There are also those in our community that are stealth so this combination makes it very hard to get large numbers of people to be able to be face to face with a lot of the issues we need to tackle.

We need to have leadership and an official organization that can help give us direction and consolidate us.

Another thing that still bugs me is how our celebrity trans brothers and sisters aren't using their star power to make a difference in our lives. Has anyone heard Chaz Bono say one word about ENDA? How about Calpernia Addams? I am on her facebook friend's list and all I see is where she is going to go party that night. Andrea James posted something on her website but never pushed it. Simply put it up, announced it then went back to making money from the trans community. It seems the ones who don't need ENDA could give a shit about the rest of us. They got theirs.

Stonewall Girl Stonewall Girl | June 19, 2010 9:17 PM

Donna, you are right. for the most part, those who don't need ENDA could care less, they only reach out when they do have a problem. We'd have some folks get involved until their problem was solved and we'd never see them again.

Are we too self centered to care about a movement?
Do we lack the necessary passion to follow through and create change? I would also include the LG and B in that question as well!

You're right, Dana.

I will often refer to the trans community as being like an iceberg. There are a few of us who are voluntarily "out" outspoken advocates, some who may at one time or another be thrust into the public eye unwillingly (whether as a victim of violence, or as a murder statistic, or as a litigant and sometimes with journalistic disrespect) or willingly. There are some who will work tirelessly on political goals, while others devote much time and energy on working to improve the community in other ways. The large majority, though, is either closeted, at one end, or woodworking, at the other.

There are those who have every right to say that they just want to live their lives in peace - and don't have any desire to get involved with anything other than living their otherwise ordinary lives like anyone else. While I wish that more of them would emerge as activists, I realize that it is just not going to happen. Whether we refer to their lives as "stealth" or "in the woodwork," they have transitioned, they have gone through whatever collateral damage, and they just want to be left alone. I respect that - though I am frustrated at the same time that they don't realize that we need all the help we can get.

At the other end, there are those who are part-time bi-gendered CDs, many of whom are so deeply closeted that it takes them years to work up the courage to go to a suport group where they can express their "inner other self" for a few hours a month. Some of them, in their "out" personae, are actually just as anti-trans as some of the closeted gay GOPers are anti-gay. There are others who are out in a part-time way, and some who work hard on the political agenda, or the social agenda, or both.

As a whole, the trans community has fewer economic resources per capita than many other communities. There are parts of the community in abject poverty whose attention is drawn toward issues of survival and the question of where the next meal is coming from. There are some few who make it through a mid-life transition with only a little collateral damage, and are economically well off. Some are in the middle, paying the bills but not with a lot of disposable income.

We have resource-wasting dissension within the trans community over the definition and usage of terminology, who is included, and who is excluded, and who does not want to be included, who thinks that who else is "colonizing" their turf, etc. There are differences as to what the legitimate poltical agenda should be. And there is a legitimate agenda that goes beyond human rights, hate crimes, and marriage. We still have the military issue, the issue of "gender recognition" being a terrible patchwork quilt of legal statuses, in which we can be "female" for some purposes, and "male" for others. There is the issue of health care and insurance being arranged on a Chinese menu, where the "choices" of Column A or Column B don't include all our needs (For example, I can get covered HRT, but I have to have a prostate exam at a clinic that does not bother with insurance).

Then, when this sort of thing comes up, I start asking myself questions - Do *I* do enough?

Should I give up my job (one that allows me to pay my bills) to take a lower paying job at an advocacy organization so I can devote full time to trans rights advocacy?

Should I work on incorporating NYTRO and going through all the expensive governmental regulatory hoops and have to find people with fund-raising expertise to raise the money necessary to turn it from a tiny chapter-based grass-roots out-of-pocket low-key "unincorporated association" that does not have legal existence as an entity? I may be a policy wonk but I have no talent whatsoever for fundraising, and I don't know anyone who is a fundraising genius, either.

Don't think that these thoughts do not run through my mind. I just can't do full time advocacy, not and pay my bills at the same time.

I do what I can do, mostly on state-level work. While I don't think that the "C-minus" grade Jill gave out should bother me, it does. But I suspect I am not one of those at whom the grade is aimed. Or am I? *Do* I do enough with what I do?

Jessica, our enemies didn't come up with the 'transgender' term. We did.

Much of the arguments for it were advanced by the same WBT's who will deny they said it back in the 90's.

They rightfully stated in debates at the time that we should be using a term (transsexual) that a medical term imposed on us by others.

Now there are people in this community who wish to take that same transsexual term and use it as a club so that they can sneer at others who may not be able to afford or can't have GRS.


It is no more a sneer than those who continually call those whose bodies are dissonant with their lives, with their sex not their gender to say they are standing in the way of unity and equality, on the on hand, or simply non-existent on the other.

I am not more gender variant than I am gay, regardless of my sexual orientation, regardless of the way I might present from day to day--as a woman (and if you call me gender variant, you are also calling me a man, which, BTW, is on its face transphobic) there is far greater leeway for my presentation than for a man.

The requirement that we all adopt the same identity or be accused of destroying the movement is surprisingly reminiscent of Pat Buchanan's fear that the identity of white people is disappearing and with it American civilization.

America will not only survive but thrive as its population celebrates its difference and diversity, precisely as transsexual and transgender and gender variant people will survive and thrive with the explicit recognition and celebration of their difference and diversity, not police a single, lowest common denominator identity--for fear the sky will fall.

To say that just because something was agreed to by some in the past it is something that must be adhered to today is something I don't believe resonates in American history.

I believe Marx declared: Our goal isn't to understand history; our goal is to change history.

I am inclined to give it a D myself. After all we should have had more passed into law than we did. To my mind that was failure. Failure is a E in my book. The only mitigating factor is we did get the Hate Crimes bill to include us in it.

William Arhus | June 20, 2010 1:10 AM

I'm not sure I would give the trans activist community any more than a D- for effectiveness and an F for decency and respect for others. To me, it seems to act like a mob - highly emotional, lacking in wisdom, seething with misdirected rage, and ever vigilant for new enemies to attack. The sad thing is, even as a mob it is ineffectual. It's biggest achievement of the past year has been to vilify and exile a sympathetic gay writer here who had the audacity to disagree with you. No doubt, he feels a lot less positive about trans activists after actually interacting with them. I think that is true of a lot of people.

It is absolutely true, as you say above, that it is a major accomplishment for the trans community to get 100 supporters in a room at any one time. Any modest sized wedding reception in Toledo is about as large as the largest trans event in the US. But that is precisely why you needed to attach yourselves to the gay and lesbian community. You needed a host.

"And if you are thinking "I'm not trans, why should I engage in such an exercise," let me note that we are in many of the same boats. The hole under our seat is in your boat."

Uh, huh. We're all in a whole bunch of boats. And, defying the laws of physics, we occupy more than 1 boat at a time. And many of the gay boats are actually also trans boats except that the transgendereds are sitting below us, but only on those boats. Got it. Except I think that the trans boat is called the Titanic and the gays have been drafted to be your Carpathia.

How about you hang up the maritime metaphors and stick with the more truthful admission in your post, i.e., there is a trans community and there is an LGB community, sometimes allied, sometimes not, but always mercifully distinct.

Community is an awkward term that, for its fuzzy warmth, becomes a tyrant when it becomes the endpoint instead of equality--the step we must all enthusiastically adhere to before we even begin the struggle for equality and full acceptance.

If the goal were truly equality and full acceptance, then more would exit what some have called their "closets," more a gay metaphor than anything that has grown up out of the lived experience of transsexual and transgender people; if the goal were not the imposition of a common identity, a "melting pot," there would be more participants.

In almost anything else putting the failure on the very people--yes, people first, populations second, community(ies) later, maybe--would be blaming the victims; for some reason, all the discretion and respect we apply to others we, or our leaders, cannot conceive of granting to ourselves.

Even gender identity is an imposed common identity, originated with, certainly given institutional force by Blanchard, Zucker and the axis with Northwestern; we so love to bash them for what they do, but so desperately cling to their ideological/theoretical artifact.

It is so real, like the Statue of Liberty, it becomes the tyrant to homogenize all of us.

America was built on revolution.

Yet, its inheritors today, those who call for another revolution, have become the purveyors of another status quo--which is, as every status quo through history, destructive of the very things they espouse.

"In almost anything else putting the failure on the very people--yes, people first, populations second, community(ies) later, maybe--would be blaming the victims"

Great point!

The C sticks, but there is one glaring oversight in the rationale for this grade.

The "visible" trans community, e.g., those working for progress, is often older, white and comprised of those who transitioned in middle adulthood.

The politically active trans community nationwide has done a very poor job of including and reaching out to teenage trans people (so many are transitioning younger) and to trans people of color.

I had a conversation with a young black trans women I know. I was trying to convince her to become more politically active because so many of the younger trans girls look up to her. And she replied "Those old white bitches don't know nothing about our lives and they don't care"

Angela Brightfeather | June 20, 2010 12:25 PM

Jillian,

After over 40 years of activism in our community, this "old white bitch who don't know nothing about our lives and they don't care", gives our community a B+.

I think that the perspective of how bad it used to be has to be added to the perspective of how bad it is today and when I do that, I refuse to ignore the progress we have made over those 40 years, or to give up at this point. Actally, I am very sorry that, while I fully recognize and give great credit to the surge of progress that has occurred over the last 17 years, that progress exists soley on the basis that something actually was done before that to establish a base for action. If some of us old white bitches had known how far we were going to progress, we might have provided a more accurate histroy to talk about so that the young white bitches might have more history to go on.

It's hard to estimate how much further our community might be advanced and accepted, had we had a successful ENDA that was inclusive 17 years ago when it was first written, but I think that you might have seen a lot more old white bitches and a more diverse community out there fighting for full equality over the course of those years, had it succeeded. As it stands however, people are still left with the choice of fighting in the open, or losing their livlihood. Not much of a choice really.

My biggest disappointment with our community is that those who do have some security, don't contribute either financially, or with their time and efforts to help those who have less and to move the agenda in DC by having a more active and well staffed lobbying and education effort.

Some people may argue against such efforts, but the fact is that there are a number of organizations that have made some big differences for us over the years and had they had more resources, they could have done even more.

There are those who do a lot of work on the issues and spend much of their own time at it. But there has to be those who support them and help to provide opportunities.

Our gender issues are far more encompassing than finding and paying the right physician to get your brain and body in sinc. If anything, that individual responsibility leaves the vast majority out of the picture all together and serves to estrange us and make it harder to work together at the local levels. Our own community base is discriminatory and getting more so every day that we refuse to admit what we have in common, rather than focusing on our differences. I am always amazed at how easy and productive it is to work with others in our community at the national level and how disheartening it is getting, trying to work with people at the local level because of a self imposed politics of division. I am equally surprisewd that we have not rid our community yet, of any individuals and organizations that refuse to include our allies and friends in the GLB communities. There should be no acceptance of any form of homophobia or racial discrimination in the Trans Community, let alone any sense of superiority because of more affirmed sex credentials. But the present state of our community puts it on the precipace of falling into a deep hole of depression and exclusion after this recent go around with ENDA.

But overall, it won't take a whole lot more to get us a grade of A+ if our community decides to involve all of it's people and resources next time for the push on ENDA. We must remember that our issues are a matter of life and death for so many....not as much because of the ability to change one's sex, but because of the socially imposed poverty, the effects on our families and the injustices of the medical and psychiatric communities imposed on us that lead to depression.

After 40 years of involvement, I have found that despite our seemingly insignifigant numbers, we have made changes in our society that have bettered it in some very basic ways when it comes to acceptance and equality. It may mean nothing to some of us who hear Obama say "Transgender" on the news, or that he supports an inclusive ENDA. It may seem tivial to some to be standing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington when donating a wreath from the Transgender Community. But to some of us who have been beaten and abused for being Transgender in the past and made fun of and discriminated against, these things mean a kind of progress we only dreamed about in the 60's and 70's. The fact that we never stopped fighting and never will is what really matters. For that, you all get a B+ from me.

Our gender issues are far more encompassing than finding and paying the right physician to get your brain and body in sinc. If anything, that individual responsibility leaves the vast majority out of the picture all together and serves to estrange us and make it harder to work together at the local levels

Leaving aside the question of whether sex change is "gender issues" I must take issue with the "individual responsibility" of getting "your brain and body in sinc."

Why would anyone want to be part of a movement that seems to ignore, and worse, define out of existence this as something minor that can be left out of the equation as something of any serious consideration.

Maybe this is part of the rejection of the "old white bitches," particularly those who have long since changed their sex--sorry, I can't conceptualize what plastic surgeons do as anything other than sex change; otherwise I'd have gone to a costume designer.

Maybe there is a much larger question Americans cannot ask regarding collective responsibility, and whether the conservative limitation self-imposed, for fear of sounding liberal, much less socialist, has reduced the vision of the leadership of the movement to something that is not relevant to youth and all those who leave as soon as they can get the hell out.

Why blame people for achieving theirs, their American Dream?

This is what American culture is all about, getting yours and getting out.

Nothing is clearer when looking at the fiasco of the health (insurance) debate; it is all up to the individual, as if everyone will be Warren Buffet.

It is the youth of all marginalized demographics that bear the brunt of the idealism of the white, middle-class.

Coalition of State/City Transgender Political, Advocacy, Legal Organizations

http://www.masstpc.org/mediawiki/index.php?title=Transgender_Specific_National/Statewide_Activist_Organizations#Coalition_of_State_Transgender_Advocacy_Organizations

Currently a member e-list, advisory board recently formed and hope to have website up in the next few months. At this time we are surveying trans groups to find out what their needs are, what resources they currently have, and what types of information sharing they would be interested in.

This in no way is meant to do federal work, but to support and help to group state based advocacy work.

That's awesome, Gunner. I think this new coalition will be very, very important. Thank you for the work you are doing on it. If I can ever be of any help with it, please count on me.

I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to reply to all your comments individually. (I'm busy grading my courses, which are just ending, and it's hell.)

You all raised many great points. I understand the points about not being in a position to judge, and I don't advocate judging volunteers individually or even organizations. I also want to underscore the points made about being a more inclusive movement. Although we have made some progress on this point, it's so key to the future, particularly in a country that is rapidly becoming majority non-white.

I just wanted to convey my general sense of the movement. Grading is always somewhat subjective and arbitrary, and C minus might have been too harsh. It's probably not a good idea to go around grading everything and everyone. I'd be left with no friends whatsoever. And I'm sure I don't want to be graded all the time myself.

But I sure do appreciate all the time and effort everyone put into making such thoughtful comments. I learned a lot.