Editors' Note: Guest blogger Malic White is a student and freelance writer who aims to smash the gender binary and build community in unexpected places. He has written for Genderqueer Chicago, The Ironing Board Collective, and The L Stop. Malic is currently working on his first book.
This week sex advice columnist Dan Savage responded to his second glitter-bombing of the month. While filming his new MTV series, "Savage U," at UC Irvine, Savage referenced "shemales" in his response to a student's question about her boyfriend's porn interests, prompting two individuals to shout, "Transphobe!" while dousing Savage in a fistful of fairy dust.
In his most recent "Savage Love" column, Savage explained that he was only repeating the language that the student had used in her question. In fact, Savage says he was on the verge of addressing the offensive use of "shemale" when the glitter bomb hit.
Savage's track record with the trans community doesn't exactly sparkle, a fact that Savage himself has readily acknowledged. In a recent interview with The New Cilvil Rights Movement, Savage noted that while he has been transphobic in the past, he has gained a better understanding of trans issues over the years and now considers himself a trans advocate. In his response to the glitter bomb, Savage joked, "If I'm the enemy of trans people everywhere, trans people everywhere could use more enemies like me."
So why have some queer folks been so offended by Savage in particular? After all, as the activists behind Savage's first glitter bomb pointed out in their official statement, Savage is just another white gay guy whose understanding of more marginalized sectors of the queer community is unlikely nuanced.
But from what we've seen in the past, trans people have a reason to be concerned. As Savage rises to the level of the nation's LGBT spokesperson, he threatens to adopt the well-known rhetoric of some LGB(T?) advocacy organizations that empower gay voices to speak for (and sometimes over) the trans community.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has a history of calling out transphobia in the media. But when an organization that doesn't bother to include a "T" in their name speaks on behalf of the trans community, the message will likely be skewed, as evidenced by GLAAD's response to the film Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives (TOTWK) last year.
Billed as a "campy homage to exploitation films," TOTWK follows a group of transfeminine people accused of "manipulating" a group of guys who thought they were "real women." After a gruesome scene in which the stars are beaten and left for dead, the ticked-off stars of the film turn on their attackers.
Some transgender people were upset by the triggering images featured in gay director Israel Luna's film. The use of the word "tranny" in the titled invited criticism, and racist remarks throughout the script only made matters worse. Yet GLAAD's criticism of TOTWK centered around the respectability of transgender people. According to GLAAD,
"...while some of the actors in the film identify as transgender, the characters are written as drag queens, 'performing' femininity in a way that is completely artificial. The very names of these over-the-top female caricatures (Emma Grashun, Rachel Slurr, et al.) drive this point home."
GLAAD also contended that TOTWK "demeans actual transgender women who struggle for acceptance and respect in their day-to-day lives and to be valued for their contributions to our society."
But who are the "actual" transgender women? GLAAD's statement insinuates that these are the "Transamerica transwomen," the ones whose genders conform to an MTF/FTM binary which imposes on transwomen the same expectations of femininity imposed on cisgender women.
As Kate Bornstein pointed out in her review of TOTWK for Out magazine, emphasizing the "difference" between transwomen and drag queens is a disservice to the community as a whole:
"Transgender is a experience shared by countless people with a limitless number of gender expressions...The last thing we need is an ally like GL(noT)AAD unintentionally driving a wedge into our tribe along class lines, with transgender being a higher class than drag queen and therefore a more respectable identity."
GLAAD's inability to get the message right follows in the footsteps of the Human Rights Campaign, an organization with a sordid history of throwing the trans community to the wayside. The HRC received most criticism in 2007 after accepting a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that did not include protections for gender identity and expression in the name of "incremental progress" for the LGBT community. This strategy didn't sit well with transgender people, including the HRC's first and only openly transgender board member, Donna Rose, who resigned in protest.
Regardless of whether Savage deserved the glitter bombs or the "transphobe" title despite his avowed reformation, the recent glitter bombings draw attention to the trans community's fear of being lost in the roar of LGB voices that all too often speak for us. This sparkling outcry indicates that it's time for the dominating LGBT organizations and LGB leaders to make room for trans grassroots groups to flourish instead of giving us something to fight against. That means Savage, too.
If it takes a glitter bomb to get the message across, we'll be the first to raid the craft stores.