Posts Tagged ‘lgbt’

Hanging Together.

Monday, June 27th, 2016

LGBT 5sansLast year an anonymous,* cisgender gay man started a change.org petition urging Lambda Legal, Human Rights Campaign, The Advocate, GLAAD, and several other LGBT organizations to disassociate from the transgender community and become simply “LGB” organizations.

It’s an idiotic, ignorant petition, full of hateful statements and outright falsehoods about transgender people and the trans agenda. Some of the claims are cribbed wholesale from religious right organizations.  Most of the parties to whom it was addressed quickly and categorically denounced it. Including Lambda Legal, of course. If you’ve been following my story for any length of time, you know that Lambda Legal’s attorneys, two of whom were transgender themselves, represented me in my lawsuit, and the organization has always been an unstinting champion of transgender rights.

The nut of the “drop the T” argument is this: to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual is about sexual orientation, while to be transgender is about gender identity. Two different things, with different needs for medical care, legal protections, and advocacy—but they’ve been lumped in together as if they’re all the same. You got your chocolate in my peanut butter! In addition to the cisgender gay men and lesbians trying to push us off the Pride float, a few transgender women and men have also argued for cleaving the rainbow, but there are very few transpeople trying to make that case. This argument mainly comes from the cisgender members of our movement.

It’s difficult not to see the argument as meanly selfish. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has fallen for LGB people, and marriage equality is now the law throughout the country. The “gay agenda” could justifiably be declared a complete success, if it weren’t for us pesky trans people lagging behind. Some probably want to cut us loose like a sick branch from a tree. Others, in fact, have already proceeded as if we don’t matter: The New York advocacy group, Empire State Pride, disbanded last year, standing on a metaphorical carrier flight deck and claiming, “mission accomplished.”

If you hadn’t already guessed, I think it’s a really bad idea to uncross these streams. Yes, there are many technical and societal differences that divide the LGB from the T, but there’s one much bigger similarity that overrides all those differences. Sexual orientation and gender identity are both about gender nonconformity.

The presumption that a man will be sexually attracted only to women is a gender stereotype. The presumption that a woman will be sexually attracted only to men is a gender stereotype. The presumption that a person’s gender identity will match their biological sex is a gender stereotype. All LGBT people confound these stereotypes.

Transgender people benefit from LGB advances that don’t obviously have anything to do with them. Marriage equality is one example. Before the Obergefell ruling, a transgender lesbian b2675e6a34e8586fcf67532b43who legally changed her sex on all of her identity documents might have been unable to marry another woman. Or, a straight transgender woman’s marriage to a man might have its validity denied, as happened to Nikki Araguz Loyd and many other people before last year.

Likewise, LGB people (and sometimes even straight people) always benefit from advances that seem, on the surface, to be about transgender people. My lawsuit, Glenn v. Brumby, obviously was a transgender issue—but the major precedent my attorneys cited in their briefs was Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, in which a woman, Ann Hopkins, was denied a promotion at her job because she didn’t look feminine enough. Hopkins wasn’t transgender (she wasn’t even lesbian), but the precedent her case set, which was extended by the win in my case, then extended still further by the following year’s Macy v. Holder, protects all females who suffer for seeming too masculine, and males who seem too feminine, whether they’re trans or not. Think about the words “butch,” “nelly,” and “sissy,” and you’ll understand how this precedent protects cisgender gay men and lesbians.

But the most important reason why we all need to stay in this canoe and paddle in the same direction is because the haters will always put us in the boat together regardless. Remember the story about two transwomen who were attacked on a MARTA train a couple of years ago? Here’s a quote from their assailant, interviewed after he was caught:

“I don’t hate gay people at all,” he said. “That’s not in my character at all. But when you are a gay guy and you come on to a straight guy and I tell you I don’t go that way then just let it be.”

It’s clear from that statement, and from others he made in the linked interview, that the man had zero awareness that there’s a difference between gay men and transgender women. It’s a very common misconception. Transwomen are called “fags” all the time. We suffer more violent hate crimes than the rest of the community combined. Our assailants may know we’re transgender women, or they may think we’re “gay men” trying to “trick” them. The difference is unimportant to them.

Such violence is what brought this topic back to my mind. Specifically, the mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Several of the victims were transgender women, and one account I’ve read leads me to think the shooter also wasn’t aware of or didn’t care about the distinction between gays and lesbians and transgender people.

As it was succinctly put in a comment section I once read: we’re all hated by the same people, for the same reasons. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. We’re all fighting the same fight.

“We must all hang together,” Benjamin Franklin said to his fellow delegates in the Continental Congress when he signed the Declaration of Independence, “Or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Franklin was a boss.

*He said he remained anonymous for fear of reprisals. Which is cowardly troll-speak used by trolls.

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Three Dollar Bills

Friday, September 13th, 2013

I perceive myself to be a member of the LGBT community; this initialism (it’s not an acronym, because you can’t pronounce it as a word) stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. It’s common to quibble about the order of those letters, but never mind about that for now. A common variation is “LGBTQ,” which adds “Queer” to the other four letters.

What is “queer”? It depends on who you ask. Ask five self-identified “queer” people what it means, and you’ll get at least six answers. The first four letters all have well-defined and commonly-understood meanings. So do we need the word “queer” added to the alphabet soup at all?

It hasn’t always been a respectable word; it has a bit of a sordid past. It wasn’t too long ago that the word was considered a terrible slur.

I recognize that resorting to the dictionary is one of the worst crutches of blog post or essay writing, but it’s a valid choice here. Let’s see what Merriam-Webster’s has to say about the word “queer”:

“2 d (1) often disparaging : homosexual (2) sometimes offensive : gay”

And there’s a footnote to this entry:

Over the past two decades, an important change has occurred in the use of queer in sense 2d. The older, strongly pejorative use has certainly not vanished, but a use by some gay people and some academics as a neutral or even positive term has established itself. This development is most noticeable in the adjective but is reflected in the corresponding noun as well. The newer use is sometimes taken to be offensive, especially by older gay men who fostered the acceptance of gay in these uses and still have a strong preference for it.

I’m all for reappropriation to take the sting out of a previously offensive appellation, as long as it’s a member of the group the word has been used against who does it.1 I’ve seen a Chinese-American friend do this with “Chink,” lesbians with “dyke,” and Jews with “Hebe.” African-Americans have done this to a certain extent, although now I think we’re seeing a backlash against the idea that anyone can acceptably use the word for black people you’re all thinking of right now. But that’s not exactly what’s happening with “queer.”

My earliest memories of the word “queer” were in childhood; “queerbait” was used as a schoolyard taunt. I had no idea what it meant until Eddie Murphy’s “Gumby” character on Saturday Night Live also used it, and I parsed out the two words. “Queer as a three-dollar bill” was also common back then, and it was a term that explicitly conflated the two chief meanings of “queer:” eccentric or strange, or homosexual (Strange that it’s a money-based metaphor, isn’t it? Why not “queer as a five-legged horse” or “queer as a snowfall in July”? Either of those would be surpassingly strange, whereas there’s nothing stopping a money-printing authority from printing bills in the denomination of three dollars if they wanted to.).

The Online Etymology Dictionary dates the “offensive term for homosexual” usage from 1922. The similar usage for “gay” is about the same age, but significantly, it was originally used as a self-definition by the gay community; it wasn’t first a slur.

These days I almost never hear a gay or lesbian person self-describe as “queer.” It has become a self-definition, but not one of gays and lesbians. It’s gaining a new definition, and refers to individuals who are gender-fluid, eschewing the gender binary in favor of weaving from one side to another, or right down the middle, or denying any gender identity at all. Maybe even better-known and more often used is the variant form, genderqueer.

Are these useful terms? My instinct says no. On the other hand, I recognize people with no fixed or preferred gender identity do exist, although they do somewhat complicate our ongoing civil rights battle. It’s difficult to get an employer to deal respectfully with someone who has changed gender; it’s much more difficult to broker the same level of respect for someone who changes their gender back and forth.

What do you think of the words “queer” and “genderqueer”? Should either or both be among the letters used to refer to the sexual-orientation-and-gender-nonconforming community? Should we use letters in the first place? Give me your feedback in the form below.

1This is why RuPaul doesn’t get to tell transpeople they shouldn’t be bothered by the word “tranny.” RuPaul doesn’t speak for the transgender community.


Anachron

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Here’s something I meant to write back when it was timely, but I was too busy with work to get to it until now.

My partner and I attended the world premiere of the play Angry Fags, written by local playwright Topher Payne, at Seven Stages back in February. We learned about it (and were offered free tickets) because every past grand marshal of Atlanta Pride was invited (with a plus one). It was general seating, and we got excellent seats near the center of the audience; Payne himself sat right behind us.

The show opened, played its run, and closed so long ago that it seems like everyone knows its story by now. But many reading this aren’t in Atlanta, so in a nutshell, the plot is this: when one of their friends is brutally beaten in what looks like a hate crime, two gay best friends decide “it gets better” is too passive a position, and embark to “make it better”…by going on a killing spree targeting right-wing religious groups and homophobic politicians. They murder a hypocritical politician. They blow up the building of a Focus On The Family-like group, Oklahoma City-style.

I’m not interested in reviewing the play; that’s been done already by many critics better qualified than I. I will note that Payne, whose work I’d never seen before, is a very gifted playwright. The story juggles many different narrative balls and keeps them all in the air. Angry Fags is also extremely funny, and most of the humor is character-based, which is the most difficult kind of comedy to pull off. When, late in the play, we hear a voiceover of the voicemail greeting of one of the characters, it’s hilarious because we’ve come to know that character, and what we hear is exactly the greeting that character would record. There are moments like this throughout the rather long (three hours with two intermissions) play, and it was a delight to watch.

The central characters, Cooper and Bennett (those are their first names) come to believe that violent confrontation is the appropriate, even necessary, response to homophobia. If a few outspoken bigots die, they reason, and it’s clear they were targeted for their homophobia, then they’ll be afraid to engage in hateful rhetoric against gays.

Also, Cooper and Bennett believe, a gay public figure needs to die as a martyr to the cause (and they have a candidate picked out). Cooper tells us Harvey Milk doesn’t count as this martyr because Mayor Moscone was also killed by Dan White.

Out in the lobby after the premiere, some friends and I were scratching our heads, baffled. No, I don’t think Topher Payne advocates violence against anyone. But he does appear to believe that violence has been a necessary handmaiden to past civil rights advances. Cooper and Bennett are not presented as insane; in fact, Bennett seems careful and calculating. The show plays more like a political thriller than a satire; Payne is clearly going for a realistic approach. He’s careful to explain, for example, how the pair acquires all the materials they need (poisons, explosives) for their assassinations.

This is why I was so perplexed by the play. I don’t know when Payne wrote it, but it felt like it should have been written five or ten or more years ago. It’s the story you’d expect from a movement that feels like it’s in stalemate with the system, frustrated by its inability to find a populace sympathetic to its cause. When the Reagan Administration was indifferent to the AIDS crisis or when George W. Bush was talking openly about a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution: those were times when a rage-driven play like this would have seemed reasonable. Angry Fags would have been perfect as a period piece.

But it’s not a period piece. I don’t remember hearing any dates, but that unfailing year indicator of the past two decades, the size and design of the characters’ cell phones, tells us it’s set in the present day. And in this present day:

  • Four openly gay legislators are serving in Congress
  • Another four are in the Georgia General Assembly
  • Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is on the garbage heap of history
  • Ten states and the District of Columbia have full marriage equality

And all of these were achieved without violent actions by the gay community or violent reprisals from our enemies. The LGBT community’s battle has been a breeze, in fact, compared to past struggles. The African-American civil rights pioneers and their allies in the 1950s and 1960s had to deal with organized monsters like the Ku Klux Klan. People were driven from their homes, lynched by mobs, bombed in their churches. Teeth were knocked out. Crosses were burned into lawns. Sometimes local sheriff’s departments were even in collusion with the bad guys.

The worst we’ve had to contend with since Stonewall are loudmouthed cretins like the Westboro Baptist Church. They shake their offensive signs and shout their misunderstood scripture, and they’re objects of ridicule more than they’re agents of menace. They don’t scare anyone.

I don’t mean to suggest there hasn’t been, and isn’t still, violence against the LGBT community. As a transperson who reads the names of too many murdered transpeople each November, I’m acutely aware that the world is not a safe place for us yet. But the personal, one-on-one viciousness we experience is not perpetrated by the people Topher Payne targets in his play, and his characters’ jihad against them wouldn’t do anything to end it, either. If Angry Fags has a useful point to make, I’ve missed it.