Girl On Girl: Fostering The T In LGBT
This week is Trans Awareness Week, an event to raise awareness and visibility of transgender and gender nonconforming people leading to today, November 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Coincidentally, just a few days before the week began, someone started a petition to “Drop the T” and exclude transgender people from the LGBT platform. It’s easy to laugh something like that off –anybody with an internet connection can create a petition on Change.org for any topic varying from an S Club 7 reunion (please) to ending the shipment of hunting trophies. It’s also easy to feel like the people that sign that petition are few and far between and that it is not at all reflective of the queer community. Not everyone may feel strongly about the “T” in “LGBT”, but the marginalization within a marginalized group is very real and we have a responsibility to stop it.
When DOMA was repealed in 2013, I joked around about how I’d have to take my relationships more seriously now that marriage was an option. It was a real fear for me that now that there was this end goal to relationships, queer dating would inch closer and closer to that mapped out path of marriages and mortgages and a mold that I never felt comfortable in. My fear was that when we were let through the gates of marriage, it wasn’t going to be a revolution, it was going to be assimilation to the status quo of the heteronormative. It was the solidification of homonormativity. Sylvia Rivera, a trans activist involved in the Stonewall Riots, warned of the same thing in 1973, and actively fought against attempts for the queer community to assimilate to seem more attractive to the heteronormative majority. One of the most recent cases of this whitewashing of queer culture can be seen in the “Stonewall” movie where the straight-appearing white male is the catalyst for the riots and the strong drag and transgendered presence is erased.
The gay community is notorious for pushing transgender people to the back in favor of their own platforms. When trying to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2007, they comfortably dropped transgender protection from the bill to try to get the bill passed to protect sexual orientation. It still didn’t pass. The gay community has shafted transgender rights in favor of half-wins and basically told trans people to wait their turn. When Jennicet Guiterrez interrupted Obama’s gay pride speech to protest the deportation process of trans immigrants, the reactions were that there was a “time and a place” and people applauded Obama’s shutdown without even brushing over the fact that transgender detainees are being assaulted and abused. It’s sad because if anybody should know how terrible it feels to be told to be patient and wait, it should be gay people, since we waited for decades and just now got the right to marry, to join the military, and are still waiting on the laws to protect us from housing and workplace discrimination.
I think we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that transgender equality is on the horizon. There is acceptance in the celebrity world. We celebrate Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox the same way that we celebrated Ellen Degeneres and Elton John years before the public consensus shifted on gay people. Society finds a couple ideal examples of minorities, champions them, but doesn’t want to do anything to better the situation for the entire group. Even in World War II, everyone knew their one good Jew, but were still okay with looking the other way during their mass genocide. So, while Caitlyn Jenner is winning Woman of the Year, the number of transgender people murdered in the U.S. is at an all-time high and they are still four times as likely to end up living in poverty than the general population which leads to higher rates of crime, violence, and suicide.
Nobody wants to talk about the real issues of faced by the group of people their public figures represent. We’d much rather hear Caitlyn Jenner talk about how difficult it is to find something to wear than how terrible it is that there are so few laws in place protecting her from discrimination. Society wants its celebrities to show up, to act the part, and pretend that we’ve all evolved past prejudice. But we haven’t.
There is an Intro to Psychology-level argument to be made over how sexuality and gender are different things and, thus, the trans movement should be separate from the gay and lesbian movement. As if any aggressor is going to know the difference between a drag queen and a transwoman. Those who hate gay people or hate trans people lump everyone in the same category no matter how hard cisgender gay people distance themselves from transfolk. More importantly, self-discovery of sexuality, gender expression, and gender identity are so closely intertwined. No one just immediately comes to the conclusion that they are gay or that they were born the wrong gender. You get this initial feeling of “being different,” you feel a little isolated from society, and, eventually, you’ll figure out where you lay on any spectrum. I spent years wondering if I should have been born male while coming to terms with my sexuality. It goes the opposite way, too. A lot of men and women identify as gay before realizing that they identify as the opposite gender. These are people in our community! We shouldn’t toss them out or make them feel any less welcome.
As the LGB(T) movement becomes more and more mainstream, we need to stop treating transgender issues as an afterthought. The way that gay people relied on the support of straight allies for decades, we need to be better allies. We need to foster the trans movement. We need to take a seat while the T of the LGBT movement secures basic rights and better quality of life. We can provide the platform to advocate without eclipsing their battles. We also need to consciously welcome transfolk into the queer community and spend more days celebrating transgender awareness rather than mourning transgender remembrance.
Morgan Cohn is a recent LA transplant to NY, splitting her time between working in digital publishing, writing, and discovering what seasons are. Follow her on Twitter!