Full Spectrum

Today is the Trans Day of Remembrance.

I never know what to say about these things–hatred, complacency, and violent death, I mean. I could just send you over to this post or these others to read about the Trans Day of Remembrance.

A commenter over at Little Light’s had this to say:

I’m not aware of the specific issues here, of course, and I do not think it is acceptable for an unconnected organization to take over any groups celebrations. But, from reading this I have a few thoughts. Again, without knowing the specifics, and thinking that your complaints here are probably entirely valid, I still would like to suggest that a certain level of mainstreaming may be positive for the trans community.

If the world is frightened of transgendered and queer existance in general, then the only way to lessen that fear is through a “safe-feeling” introduction. I am NOT saying that it is the best way to gain rights denied. History has shown over and over again that for marginalized citizens to earn respect and their deserved rights they must fight loudly and be obtrusive. Ultimately, as you have said before, it is a type of war. However, I feel there is something to be said for the mainstream approach as well.

The more “normative” queer communities seem, the easier it will be for the fearful to accept their existance. Also, it is the best way to reach out to youth. The more transgendered people are seen in mainstream culture, even though it does not represent the full spectrum of diversity within the community, the more young people will learn to see them as people as opposed to monsters.

Mainstream awareness will not ultimately fix that which requires change. But I think it can help change minds and gain allies in the fight for equality.

Those are my thoughts. Do they make sense by your experience, or do you feel I completely off base?

(I hope she won’t mind if I use her comment as a jumping-off point.)

I think the answer is no. No, you cannot narrow visibility to a leading wedge of the best and blandest and hope that everyone else will be able to follow.

There’s the “hard cases” problem, like when pro-choice groups, in order to keep slippery elm obscure, focus the debate on women like Angela Carder. What about rape and incest? What about young girls? What about sick and dying women? What about women who are already mothers? What about women who look just like your daughters, sisters, wife, mom? What about women who look just like you? The effect of anti-choice laws on all these women–you included–is undeniable, and it should be a pressing concern for everyone considering support for an abortion ban. Don’t get me wrong: NARAL should be shouting these stories from the rooftops.

But it’s also important to define abortion as a right rather than a privilege. This means that less-appealing women should also be able to get abortions. It means that pro-choice rhetoric has to defend their less-appealing choices. When it doesn’t, it cedes a lot of ground to anti-choicers: specifically the idea that abortion is a last-resort option subject to review by well-intentioned strangers. Without that baseline belief, nobody’s safe, and any raped teenager in foster care can tell you how quickly hard cases break down. Shift your position to the easier answers, and you can lose sight of the more important questions.

Thus with the “LGBT community,” and with trans people. This is what happens when–is it we or they?–decide that it’s best to stick with the easy sell, the upwardly-mobile, white, cleaned-up, nuclear-family-oriented, monogamous, marriage-focused, buttoned-up, insured, taxpaying, homeowning, good gays. This is what happens when we only promote the ones who don’t act too queer, get too visible, make too many demands, get assaulted by the police, go to jail, go to prison, fight from prison, work shit jobs to survive, turn tricks to survive, lose their jobs, lose their homes, make trouble, shout too loud, scream too loud, look too different, want too much, die of neglect, die of cruelty, die of ignorance, die of exposure, die of brutality, or survive too long but not as gently as you’d like.

We cede a lot of ground. When we decide that those people are not fit to march with us, then we agree that they are not fit to exist. We agree that they can be ignored. We agree that they can die.

Trans people have general experience with this, because up until a few years ago, the mainstream gay lobbyist position on “transgender” was somewhere between meagre lip service and total exclusion. Trans people were occasionally useful when anyone wanted to talk about anti-(gay) violence, or when anyone tried to talk about (gay) transphobia, but a focus on, say, fighting an almost-certainly wholly transphobic national ID? Or, while we’re up, the ludicrous state-by-state patchwork of legal requirements for a valid sex change? The one that was stitched up by legislators who probably didn’t even know what they were referring to when they made it mandatory? Or the fact that homophobic marriage and immigration laws also do a lot of harm to people who’ve changed sex? Or the fucking bathrooms? Ooh, or how about employment discrimination?

Trans status rendered you unpalatable all by itself. Trans goals were by definition unrealistic goals. Your vulnerability, your needs, the circumstances of your life: all off the table. Now things are theoretically better, but ask yourself how quickly a hard case breaks down. Ask one of the good gays here in California.

This idea that a movement should–or can–start by fronting a few more normative types and hopefully eventually bring some of the others up with them? It’s killed plenty of people already. The Trans Day of Remembrance is about protecting the dead from oblivion, true, but their memory has another hold on the living. They remind us that we can’t barter away their lives.


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36 comments for “Full Spectrum

  1. Lenka
    November 20, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Powerfully and beautifully said. Thank you for writing this.

  2. jean
    November 20, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    I disagree with your line of reasoning.

    There is no unified movement for trans rights, and there can’t be. No one can control the way change comes about, you can only work on what is important to you. If Ugly Betty wants to normalize the existence of Trans people, thats great. If HRC wants to send an email blast to it’s 100,000 members about TGDOR, thats awesome. Anything that has as it’s essential message “trans people are human” then thats a step in the right direction.

    If you feel the big mainstream stuff isn’t repping what you want, then that’s why people need to keep on organizing, rather then engaging in ineffectual circular “what is really righteous” discussions.

  3. nonskanse
    November 20, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    My own limited experience in accepting people who aren’t like me was being exposed to the white, middle class gay and trans people first. I agree with the other poster, that there is progress to be made everywhere, including safe environments.

    I think that the denial of rights to loud/offensive/weird/too different people is very similar to class problems. There comes a point where a large number of people can’t identify anymore. I have a very hard time identifying with people who are very rich or very poor, or to women who haven’t had opportunities, or to people who have been discriminated against for their race.

    If it weren’t for these “safe” blogs, I probably would be a very white-rich-centric feminist indeed, with no regard for trans people as something other than weird. Admittedly this environment is a bit more exciting than my mental image of a “safe” intro :).
    A “safe” introduction can move that point a bit further out and help individuals see others as “just another person”, which goes a long way.

    YMMV

  4. jean
    November 20, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    Well I want to clarify that I dont think a mainstream intro is the right way to go. I think if it happens to go that way, then whatever take it for what it is and move on.

  5. Adrien
    November 20, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Thanks for this.

  6. November 20, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Excellent post, Piny.

  7. jean
    November 20, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    There is a serious case of possiveness going on in a lot of the blogs commenting on TDOR. It leaves a seriously bad taste in my mouth.

  8. nonskanse
    November 20, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    This idea that a movement should–or can–start by fronting a few more normative types and hopefully eventually bring some of the others up with them?

    By the way I think you’re partly right, mainstream *by itself* or as a preview for the public is a terrible idea. Great post either way.

  9. Mireille
    November 20, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Thanks Piny. I wanted to reply to that comment on that thread but could not sort my thoughts out clearly enough. You hit the nail on the head. People should not have to conform to social expectations to have their rights recognized. It shouldn’t take a “safe introduction” for someone to realize that a person, however strange they may seem, has HUMAN RIGHTS and doesn’t deserve to be killed and have the murderer get off on a bullshit “trans panic” defense. If we have to understand why people are the way they are, or feel comfortable around them, or whatever to accord them their right to live their lives, well… I dunno where that’s going. We don’t have to like everyone. We just have to let them be.

  10. November 20, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    Personally I disagree with the emphasis on the remembrance of violent deaths. I would much prefer to focus on the successes.

    I can see the argument that you are ignoring the people worse off than you, but that is not generally why it is done. It is done because our minds form new ideas based on abstractions. Most people seen in society are the normative face. Thus if you present the normative face of transgendered people you get a better understanding from society. Instead of parents worried that their children will be brutally murdered or wont be able to get a job you have parents knowing that their children can still do fine.

    Likewise transgendered people themselves benefit too. Remembering only the bad things places an enormous burden on transgendered people. You are suggesting to them that if they transition they will be killed. Most will do so regardless, but it is still a heavy burden to bear.

    I noticed for example that the linked blog makes a mention of 1 in 12 chance of dying. Personally that type of stuff was greatly discouraging to me until I realized it wasn’t correct.

  11. November 20, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    I am so glad that we have a day to mourn our dead.
    I don’t want to change TDoR just because it makes some cis* people uncomfortable.
    If it makes you uncomfortable, then go out and work to get the FBI to take over the investigation of Duanna Johnson (since its the local police at the top of the suspect list). Get your company to include gender identity and expression on their nondiscriminaion policy. Donate time/money/supplies to a trans* homeless shelter.
    But remember, this is not your day. You don’t get to tell us what we should really be focusing on. I don’t care if you have trans* friends or family members; you are not trans*.
    This is our day to remember our dead together.

    Most of the time, our dead are left unknown, unmourned, and disrespected. TDoR gives us a time to respect and mourn and remember our dead; even if we never met them and probably never would had they lived.
    This is not a day for upbeat parties. This is not a day for quibbling over whether LL has a 1/12 or a 1/50 chance of being murdered.
    This is not a day when cis* people or trans* people who haven’t lost a friend/sister/lover/etc to tell the rest of us to stop crying.
    This is not a day for the Homosexual Rights Champagne to fundraise.
    This is the one day we have to mourn our dead together. This is the day we remember them and respect them as a community.

  12. Alexandra
    November 20, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Thank you, drakyn. I agree 1000%.

  13. November 20, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    I third drakyn.

  14. A.W.
    November 20, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Yes, what Alexandra said.

  15. nonskanse
    November 20, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    “It shouldn’t take a “safe introduction” for someone to realize that a person, however strange they may seem, has HUMAN RIGHTS and doesn’t deserve to be killed and have the murderer get off on a bullshit “trans panic” defense.”

    It IS terrible that people don’t naturally assume non-normative people should have rights. I agree. It SHOULDN’T take a “safe introduction”. The world would be much better if things were the way they should be.

  16. Andy
    November 21, 2008 at 12:34 am

    Right on, drakyn.

    And great post, piny. I keep wondering, if humans aren’t entitled to human rights, who is?

  17. November 21, 2008 at 12:40 am

    Great post, piny.

  18. Woody
    November 21, 2008 at 12:44 am

    Hells yeah drakyn!
    Today I stood together with my friends, and not only mourned our dead, but also affirmed our community. We talked about how we would work as hard as we could to make sure that less people died from gender-based violence. We also came together after the remembrance ceremony and had a few drinks, some crying, and some laughing. We vowed to do this everyday, and to try and use what privilege we have to fight for others and ourselves. It was an incredibly intense, sad, and empowering afternoon.

  19. CBrachyrhynchos
    November 21, 2008 at 10:37 am

    I can see the point about focusing on the positive but fuck. This year just keeps getting worse and worse. It started off bad with Shanesha Stewart and Lawrence King. And just when I think “ok, the year is almost over” it’s Duanna Johnson and Lateisha Green.

    We need TDOR in the same way we needed the Quilt Project. When Huckabee argues that queer rights are not civil rights because queer people don’t experience violent oppression, it’s important to point out that silence does equal death, and that the costs of prejudice can be measured in lives lost. We set out a day to remember lives lost in war, we need a day to remember lives lost to bigotry.

    And TDOR certainly isn’t the only opportunity for activism during the year.

  20. November 21, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    To those who commented using the term “Trans Day of Remembrance”……..a sincere and heartfelt thank you.

    The term “transgender” has replaced “trans” in most of the TDOR announcements. This in spite of many on the list having felt, as I do, that the term is an insult, a deliberate denial of the right of self identity as simply woman or man. I just argued this point on Bilerico with Donna Rose who ended the exchange with an implication I dishonoured the trans dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. When Rose was stuffing her face with thousand dollar+ a plate HRC food, I was housing and breaking bread with the very transwomen who make up much of the list. I was doing this with zero support from the “transgender” community and in fact while they were maintaining a state of warfare with me……..over the simple respect of the term trans rather than transgender.

    Today is the day afterwards…….how many of those who were moved to tears by a service will now do anything? Almost none, take it to the bank.

    I work with the dead as a major part of my spiritual journey. I will be doing so with the trans dead myself tonight…..but the names in transgender activism consider me the enemy.

    I could add how in 97 I, by myself, walked out of a republican representative’s office office in DC with an offer to write and promote a Congressional letter to the DOJ to state tracking hate crimes against trans people. That was deliberately sabotaged the next day by Rikki Wilkins at the request of HRC.
    I could tell you how the next year, one other and myself almost changed the Ohio birth certificate ruling by ourselves while under constant attack by transgenders…….I could tell you how, when I was physically disabled on the job I then put everything I had left in the world into starting a trans housing project…….but then I’m the enemy because I ask for the simple respect of identity of those who didn’t “trans” their gender but rather their sex.

  21. unhurt
    November 21, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I keep wondering, if humans aren’t entitled to human rights, who is?

    THIS. exactly this.

  22. stuart
    November 22, 2008 at 3:01 am

    Thanks to Cathryn for the heads-up over the importance of “Trans”, I can see that it’s more inclusive than transgender. I identify as ‘transgender’ and can see that sometimes i have the tendency to think that’s somehow more radical or more true than identifying as a man or a woman… when in fact it’s just DIFFERENT.
    Back on the mainstream issue – I’ve been involved in lots of arguments in anarchist groups about whether to dress up nice for protests, put our best foot forward (ie use middle class people as spokesfolks), spellcheck our leaflets etc etc. I don’t think for a moment that tricking the mainstream into believing that anarchists are all middle class and university educated gets us an inch closer to revolution – even if they are more willing to talk to those of us who are (like me). What when they realise they’ve been tricked. That some of us are abrasive, emotional, disenfranchised and pissed off – they walk away. If they weren’t prepared to see all of us standing together, fierce, united and itching for change then they’re not prepared to change anything substantial about themselves or this society.
    And who is it that’s scared of angry poor people with dirty clothes who can’t spell anyway – the liberal middle class that’s who. Are they the only people we’re trying to communicate with?

    On the other hand not lying about who we are as anarchists or trans communities (with all our ‘undesireables’) is not the same as refusing to see the humanity of those who don’t agree with us or have just never heard of us before. The choices in those arguments always seem to be “staunchly who we are and hating everyone else” and “pretending to be palatable and trying to make friends”. What about standing firm on our ideals, ourselves and our solidarity AND trying to be open and generous with our energy, our explanations, our love and commitment to people as people.

    It’s a big ask for us who’re getting shat on on constantly, but i reckn it’s the way to build a broad-based absolutely radical movement.

  23. November 22, 2008 at 3:07 am

    Cathryn?
    While I myself use the ‘trans’ term in an effort to promote an inclusive umbrella, and while I’m familiar with your particular agenda from other times and places, this? This is not the goddamn time.
    We get it, okay? You give and you give and you give. The nasty “transgenders” are out to get you because you’re a real woman and they’re not. You’re not divisive–it’s everyone else who’s divisive. You didn’t get too big; the movement got too small. You just want a chance to not be associated with those “transgenders” who make real women of trans experience, like yourself, look bad, and is that too much to ask?

    Did you read the original post?

    No, actually, scratch that. Religiously, I, too, am very concerned with the dead. Do you think that they are comforted by your choosing to once again do this, here and now? Do they rest easier because you got yet another chance to talk about how we should all stand together, so long as you don’t have to stand with those people and whoever does merit a place is standing behind you? Because I didn’t see all these enemies of yours, these people out to get unoffending and ever-generous you, saying a word about you here, or about those you consider on “your side”. We were mourning together, with no rank, no leaders, just as, for a minute, a community.

    Couldn’t you, in this time and place, just for a whole day let that be? Just come in and just be present without firing off at other people who’re hurting right now, too? Can we not turn this, too, into a battleground when there’s so much fighting to do already?

  24. November 22, 2008 at 4:49 am

    Cathryn: Really, this is Not. About. You.

    Our Remembrance Day is the one day of the year which allows us, collectively, trans and cis, to focus on and grieve for our trans sisters and brothers whose rights to life have, without exception, been violently denied by those who have appointed themselves as judge, jury and executioner.

    And yet that simple act of commemoration, that short period of quiet reflection, seems to be insufficient for you.

    Please leave your baggage at the door.

  25. November 22, 2008 at 4:54 am

    Yeah, LL, seriously. Not the time, not the place. FFS.

  26. November 23, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Helen, no it’s not about me at all…….the vast majority of the victims on the TDOR list were heterosexual oriented trans-women. They were killed by men…..it’s a feminist issue and further, I find myself in open disbelief that when I call for using inclusive terms rather than ones that continue to divide on this issue in particular I am attacked openly……. Most of the women of transsexual history who most object to the umbrella use of transgender are themselves heterosexual in orientation. For the record, I’m bi myself. Again, most of the victims were also het.

    This is supposedly a feminist blog, my primary identification is as a feminist woman, a second wave rather than third wave one. Feminism is a BIG tent.

    When would be a better time to address the continued warfare within trans identities and the need to actually do something every other damn day of the year than now? Those of you who told me to shut up, what have you done to help those at risk?…..besides read off their names once a year.

  27. November 24, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Cathryn, everyone besides you and a very few others believes “transgender” to be the most inclusive term we currently have for anyone who transgresses the gender binary, whether post-op, pre-op, non-op, man, woman or child, and does not consider it derogatory or disrespectful. We understand that you vehemently object to the use of that term to describe you. You make that point very clear every time you get a chance, and even when, as in this case, it’s totally irrelevant to the issue at hand. What you don’t seem to get, however, is that you don’t get to define the debate or decide what terms any of the rest of us are allowed to use. You’re welcome to state your disagreement, but you don’t get to hijack ever discussion about transgender people and the issues we face to force the rest of us to conform to your party line.

    You don’t like it. We get it! Now, give it a rest, please!

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