I'm busy today grading essays for my online summer courses. I'm in a grading mood.
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.
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?