The Fractured Relationship Between The Trans and Gay Community
When broaching this story, I must acknowledge the sensitivity of it. In this forward, I would be negligent to imply that the contents apply to all gay or transgender people. I have wonderful gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and non-conforming people in my life who ardently stand against much of what this article details. It is intended to speak on a much broader, social scale.
There are many Transgender identifying individuals who do not feel properly represented by the “T” in LGBT and have expressed their desire to see it removed. The reasoning is quite simple for some; Transgender is a gender marker. It has nothing to do with sexuality. While there are lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and asexual + transgender people, the concept of being Trans isn’t associated with the sexual aspect of their lives.
There are also many gay men and women who wish to be separated from the “T” in the famous acronym. Not usually because they are nefarious or anti trans, although there are some who simply dislike Trans people, even going as far as to start a petition to remove us on the grounds we are just bad people who, the originator of the petition, a gay man known only as “Clayton” says;
“Any attempt to rationally discuss issues that gays/lesbians/bisexuals are concerned about regarding the trans movement is met with unparalleled vitriol, harassment, death threats, and silencing — demanding that the person commenting contrary to the trans narrative be banned from forums, for example.
I know that lesbians have for several years been the object of attack from trans activists for their (rightful) desire to enjoy exclusively lesbian and women-only events such as the now shuttered Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, in the wake of the Stonewall brouhaha as well as the recent proliferation of stories about effeminate boys and masculine girls being directed by their parents and health professionals into the trans identity. So many gays and lesbians were “sissies” and “tomboys” as kids, I think they see themselves in these children and are concerned about them being directed down an inaccurate path.”
Terrifyingly inaccurate, certainly, but in contrast, some approach the subject and express their desire to remove the “T” because they determine the request for rights differ vastly, thus, should be separated. It is, at the very least, a more intellectual and far less caustic argument.
“By being part of the same-sex acronym, trans individuals are rarely recognized as a unique group that requires its own specific agenda to obtain equality. Instead, they are often considered an obscure and misunderstood subgroup of the gay community.”
The goal of most Trans people is to ease themselves, uncontested, into society as the gender they present, regardless of what their birth assigned gender had been. Typically, they don’t want to draw attention to themselves, but rather blend in and live as every cisgender man or woman does effortlessly.
A simple google search reveals thousands of results of articles, blogs, forum posts and social media status’s that argue for the removal of Transgender people from the LGBT umbrella. They cite different reasons, some incredibly hostile and dehumanizing toward the Trans community, others more sympathetic. Factually, the majority of these authors debating the removal of the “T” from LGBT are gay men.
Most Trans women I’ve spoken with as a member of the community myself have traditionally expressed alarmingly similar sentiments. I’ve been told by Trans women that they feel distinctly unwelcome in LGBT spaces such as bars and nightclubs, even at political events. Some Trans women have confessed that most of the transphobic abuse they’ve received in social situations has come at the hands of, not cisgender straight men, but feminist lesbians, and gay men.
I have a friend who is a leader in my local community. She’s a beautiful young Trans activist who has been nationally recognized for her work on behalf of LGBT youth. A couple of years ago, she said to me as we sat on the patio of a cute little bistro, “It’s hard not to feel like we’ve been thrown under the bus in pursuit of gay rights. We stood there and fought alongside them against DODT, campaigned for marriage equality, argued for homosexuality to be declassified as a mental illness, petitioned for gay adoption. When we come under attack, there is radio silence from the gay community who have left us behind.”
Ironically, a year later, my own trans mother expressed the same sentiment. In fact, she used the exact same phrase. “Thrown under the bus on the road to gay equality.” It appears they’re not the only Transgender people who find that phrase appropriate.
Transphobia within the gay community is more aggressive than ever.
Miriam Ben-Shalom, a staunch gay rights advocate who had been chosen as Grand Marshall in Milwaukee’s Pride Parade back in 2016 found herself ousted for publicly, via social media, declaring Trans women a threat to women and young girls. Indeed, she is not alone, there are a growing number of TERFS, another acronym created to reference Trans-Exclusionary-Radical-Feminists. One might be just as shocked as I had been to find how many lesbians subscribe to the same mentality.
The CEO of New York’s Pride Center of The Capital Region, Martha Harvey, posted an article to facebook called “Lesbians Under Attack.” It was a venomous piece by a self proclaimed feminist warrior who claimed that Trans Women are deliberately integrating themselves into Lesbian society and claiming victimhood if a Lesbian does not want to “Be penetrated” by a Transgender woman with a penis. It was an effort to provoke fear and resistance toward Trans women. Teela Wild, a volunteer at the Pride Center, advocated for Harvey’s removal and explained in detail the damage she had done to the Trans* community. As a consequence of Harvey posting such vapid hyperbole, TERFS came out of the woodwork and launched a massive assault on Transgender women who opposed such rhetoric. However, similarly to conservatives who follow Trump’s lead when he pokes the MAGA Masses by providing an opportunity to attack his critics, the TERFS felt just as justified in doing so. Martha Harvey apologized and claimed she would open her office to anyone with concern. According to Teela;
“A couple of other quick things about the fauxpology: She did not make herself available and pretty much locked herself in her office after the incident. And I have on good authority that when she was pressed by members of the trans community she WOULD NOT even say ‘trans women are women’ Like she flat out refused to go that far. And this is the woman who is supposed to be looking out for my best interests? WTF?
And that’s when the terfs came at us.”
Martha Harvey still holds her position as CEO.
In my personal experience, I’ve dealt with much of the same resistance to my presence in LGBT spaces. Recently, I’ve had one gay man quite simply refer to me as “an inconvenience” when I protested against Rupaul’s decision to excise Transgender individuals and Cisgender women from his popular show, Rupaul’s Drag Race. Because I felt the exclusion was both transphobic and misogynistic, I received dozens of messages calling me a “Bitter Tranny,” “An entitled piece of sh*t” and told “If you wanna cut your d*ck off that’s up to you, but don’t act like you can shove it down our throats. It’s a show for MEN.” These came from gay men.
In the aftermath of the Rupaul debacle I was reminded of the time I objected to a radio station erecting a billboard mocking Caitlyn Jenner by having the host dress up in a mock Vanity Fair cover with the caption: “And Don’t Call Me Caitlyn.” It was placed less than 5 miles from where a Trans woman had been brutally attacked and left to die in the street.
Not only did I object to using a Trans person as a punchline, but I also objected the lack of conscience regarding it’s message. It was ridicule. It was sending a toxic message that dehumanized a person. Then came the inevitable trans-hate messages. The support for the billboard and the Shock Jock responsible was immeasurable compared to those who were against it. I was accused of lacking a sense of humor, being a snowflake, looking for any excuse to be angry… many of these remarks originated from gay men who were happy to lock-step with the same cisgender heterosexual males who, ironically, find them morally objectionable as well. It opened my eyes to the startling limitations of tolerance the gay community has placed on Transgender people, despite our alleged shared experience as a marginalized community.
Another experience: I had seen that a local organization had decided to host an LGBT Town Hall that would be televised on a public access station. The panel would consist of a gay men, a lesbian and a gender non-conformist. Fantastic. Except there was literally no one to represent the Transgender experience. Already the hate parade had started once promotion of the segment began, making evident the harsh climate all LGBT people are subject to:
I spoke out, knowing very well that there were highly qualified Trans men and women who could participate but hadn’t been considered for a seat on the panel. As a result, someone in the organization reached out to me, likely because I wouldn’t shut up, and they put one of those incredible Trans speakers on the panel. However, make no mistake, speaking out created a divisive scenario where I became a liability… again, an inconvenience to the LGB community for using my voice to promote awareness and education where it is clearly, desperately needed. Whereas before, there had been dialogue with these individuals, friendly communication, afterwards everything went cold.
These are our allies. I’m an inconvenient Trans woman. And I’ll stay that way.
Since Donald Trump has been elected, the Transgender community has had a target painted firmly on our backs. The redactions of protections for Trans students, the banning of the word “Transgender” in any communication from the CDC to the White House which deeply impairs research and progress involving the health of Trans Americans. We’ve witnessed a Transgender Military ban directly from the President of the United States via Twitter, then an appeal, then another vaguely reworded ban, and another appeal. To date, we have seen record numbers of Trans women being murdered. People don’t understand why Trans homicide is an issue when there are murders happening every day, everywhere; Let me show you why:
The science is not that there are more murders of Transgender women, the science is that there are less of us by comparison to the CIS community, thus the frequency of our death by murder should be less, not more. The fact that these homicides are almost always hate-motivated, comitted specifically because the victim was Transgender, is also a massive contextual difference. These are not random killings.
Despite the social and political war being waged against Transgender people, our allies in the LGB community, in greater numbers, have failed us, despite how badly we need them. Whether it is over something as benign as a television show that is demonstrably tone deaf to our dignities, or the further disenfranchising of us by our own government, the voices of support are far and few between.
Is it because we’re all an inconvenience?
Do we complicate their agenda of acceptance in the greater mainstream?
Do we somehow taint their efforts or progress by being thrust under the same umbrella?
It’s clear there is resentment towards Transgender women by an alarming number of gays and lesbians who feel we have no place in their space.
In Auckland New Zealand recently, the leaders of the Pride Parade, two lesbian feminists, headed the march carrying this banner:
If we defend ourselves, we’re labeled problematic, overly sensitive or antagonistic- by our perceived allies in the greater LGB arena. We’re quite literally required to be complicit in our own invisibility if we are to remain included, even if inclusion is done so begrudgingly. Is this why progress for Transgender individuals has been so slow? Are we, the “T” in the acronym just leverage for companies and non-profits to generate grant money and charitable benefits by appearing diverse or inclusive? Is it really LGB$?
After Stonewall, in 1974, the LGBT movement began. It had been organized and publicized by Trans icon, Sylvia Rivera. In New York City’s Washington Square Park, hundreds of gay men and women gathered to listen to words of empowerment. The problem? It was Sylvia, a Trans woman, responsible for doing it. As soon as she took the stage, the gay and lesbians began to boo her. Regardless of her commitment, her efforts, her reaching out to influence change, she was deemed inconvenient to the movement she helped begin. She stood on the stage and had to defend her right to be among the rest of them. Bizarre as it may seem today, she was being booed by the very people she was fighting to help.
Predictably, I’ll be called homophobic, divisive, and once again, problematic for pointing out facts rather than sitting idly on my hands and baring witness to my own communities systematic disparagement and erasure.
It is not unreasonable, in this very damning climate, for us to request help and support from those who portray themselves as allies to the “T”…
Because after all this time, we’re still being booed off stage and with regard to us, there is still little progress to be had.