Editor's Note: Guest Blogger Del Tashlin is a sex educator, author, and blogger who lives in Suburban Maryland. He does activism work for the fat, LGBT, polyamory, pagan, and disabled communities, of which he's also a member.
Yesterday was the Transgender Day of Remembrance. The one day a year where we as a community, acknowledge that there are still people in our day and age who are murdered for no other reason than having the courage to convey honesty and be their authentic selves.
Hopefully cisgender gay, lesbian, and bisexual people can relate to some degree, as people around the world are still sentenced to prison and death for who and how they love.
We try to let our youth know that "It Gets Better", but as we reflect on the TDoR, it is also important to remind not only trans* youth, but all LGBT persons, that sometimes it really doesn't. We feel responsible for uplifting the next generation, to give them the confidence to be true to themselves; but all the while we hope that they never have to learn the the very real, and sometimes mortal danger, that truth can put them in. Don't get me wrong - I agree this it is radically important do to so, if for no other reason than because of the heart-rending suicide statistics among GLB, and especially T, youth.
But the price of It Getting Better has been paid, and continues to be paid, by those who make the bold decision to be themselves in the face of danger. We, as a larger community, cannot afford to forget or hide the stark fact that with each advance in our liberation and acceptance in society, there are those who still struggle with the basic need to live an honest existence.
In particular, there is sometimes within the broad LGB community and civil rights movement a knee-jerk reaction to distance ourselves from our trans* siblings, many of whom have to renounce powerful social privilege, and inherent safety that comes with it, in order to heed an inner voice that never stops telling them that it won't get better unless we choose to make it so.
I keep coming back to a truth from my own experience. If we completely divorce sexual orientation from gender presentation - and seeing that as a broad topic that can to include effeminate men and butch women in addition to trans* expression - we end up in a world where those who refuse to conform to cultural norms around gender, become targets for violence without having made any decision other than to express their identity in a way that's true for them.
It may be easier to keep your sexuality in the bedroom, or to present your relationship as being nearly identical to a heterosexual relationship, save the gender of the people involved; but for some it can be downright impossible to force their gender expression to look heteronormative.
Most of us remember (or were) the effeminate boy in high school whom everyone assumed was gay, but wasn't actually dating anyone at all, or possibly was dating a girl - either because he was actually heterosexual, hadn't come to terms with his sexuality yet, or was try to hide it from other. He wasn't harassed solely because of his presumed sexual orientation, but rather because his effeminate behavior challenged his peers budding concepts of what is "acceptable" behavior for a man within the gender norms that our culture crams down our throats, especially when we're young.
Thusly, in my mind, the TDoR isn't just a time to remember those who've suffered from violence because they are trans*, but also to remember that anyone whose innate identity doesn't fit the heteronormative ideals for "males" and "females" are still at risk for harassment and violence. No amount of trying to paint queer/LGBT people as no different from heterosexuals except for their love/sex lives will bring that to an end.
We shouldn't forget that most of the brave souls at Stonewall weren't straight-acting homosexuals, but those who sought solace in a place where gender expectations didn't exist at all. Not only should we pay homage to the drag queens, cross-dressers, and trans* women that fought back that day, but to the butch lesbians and effeminate gay men who spent the rest of their lives doing everything they could to appear gender normative, and only felt safe in expressing their true selves in the company of those who would not only accept them, but appreciate their beauty and vitality.
So on the Trans* Day of Remembrance, I didn't limit my mourning to those who were harmed or killed because of their trans* identities, but for all people who suffered because they choose to live an honest life that may have included bucking gender expectations.
If we want to teach others that gender is not a binary, then we need to see and accept the wide spectrum of gender expressions in the LGBT community, and honor all those who have the bravery to express themselves in an honest and forthright way.
This needs to include taking a moment to look at our biases against non-trans* identified people whose gender presentation manifests in ways we may not want the mainstream press to see or focus on; it is understandable to want the rest of the world to understand that not all gay men have lisps and not all lesbians wear suits, but we don't want to swing so far in the other direction that we shun those who do fit within a common "gay" stereotype, either by keeping them from representing our community in the eyes of the media, or even just by adding the "no femmes" to our personal ads.
(Gender icons via Bigstock)