Today is 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.