Archive for the ‘civil rights’ tag
Bob Parks’ complaint is that “Transgenders are not like blacks,” or rather, that we’re appropriating black civil rights struggles to explain our own plight and justify why we need civil rights. Now, it is true that people inappropriately appeal to what black people have suffered as comparable to what they’re suffering, and this is not really a good way to make your point. It also ignores the intersections that trans people of color have to deal with both because of their gender and their race.
On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with drawing parallels, or learning from history. Bigoted speech about just about any minority parallels the speech about just about any other minority. The same tactics, the same silencing. Hate crimes happen the same way (even if for different motivations). The results of oppression are sometimes similar – lack of access to employment, housing, some protections. It’s possible to draw similarities between particular instances – such as same-sex marriage vs. anti-miscegenation laws – without claiming they’re identical.
What really disappoints me about Bob’s post is not that he is angry about racial struggles being appropriated for other causes. It’s how he goes on an extended tirade about how transgendered people are too weird to be acceptable, how trans women all dress like sluts, and how we don’t look right. In other words, he uses the language of bigotry to justify why he doesn’t want us to have our civil rights, and why he does not want us to even mention the black civil rights struggle in comparison to our own. He judges trans women by what he assumes we look and act like, and says this is a reason we don’t deserve civil rights.
Personally, I do not think it is cool to spread offensive stereotypes about a group of people and judge them as lacking based on those stereotypes. It does not matter whether those stereotypes are applied because you changed sex, because of who you love, because of the color of your skin, or because your body doesn’t fit into society’s norms.
Terrance of The Republic of T has a couple of great posts about ENDA, which he’s also cross-posted to Pam’s House Blend. For that matter, Pam’s House Blend is filled to the brim with ENDA-related posts that are worth reading.
In Terrance’s first post, LGB-T = ENDA, pt. 1, he discusses his experiences with the kind of incrementalism used to justify the removal of gender protections. He says, about the statement, “the implication of gradualism is that some people will have to continue to endure injustice without remedy,”
Its one thing to be an incrementalist and at least be honest about that last sentence. It’s quite another to declare that it is the right thing to do to ask others to continue to suffer injustice without remedy is the right thing to do, that they ought to be glad to do it, and that they are wrong for objecting to it.
That’s what’s asked of of gay folks by progressives on the marriage issue. And now that’s what gay folks are asking of transgender folks on employment discrimination, which for some transgender people is literally a matter of life and death.
That’s it in a nutshell. GLB-rights activists (for they are surely not *T rights activists) who magnanimously sacrifice someone else’s chance at fairness or equality to get theirs first aren’t really making concessions – a true concession requires you to give up something that matters to you.
Terrance continues with LGB-T = ENDA, pt. 2. Here he nails down just what workplace discrimination against trans people means. Seriously, even in San Francisco where trans people have a large number of civil rights protections, you’re looking at something like 75% unemployment. Looking at numbers like that, it’s hard to see how anyone could argue that we don’t need our civil rights yet if it means everyone else waiting an extra year or two. Because, really, unlike John Aravosis’ belief that including T could set his civil rights back decades, we were really close to having enough votes to get a trans-inclusive ENDA passed in the House, and we don’t even know for sure if we didn’t have those votes. People have observed a few irregularities surrounding the alleged whip count.
Terrance mentions how getting employment can be a matter of life or death for trans people, and specifically mentions trans women who had been murdered by men who discovered their trans status, who were in sex work to support themselves because of the difficulty in finding employment. This is called “survival prostitution.” The four women he names are trans women of color, who not only had to deal with transmisogyny, but also racism and sexism. Since transphobia and transmisogyny barely register as unacceptable to many people, it’s also more acceptable to turn up the heat on the racism and sexism.
Terrance highlights that the lack of protection for transgender people really is a matter of life or death. To call us selfish, to tell us we’re holding the gay rights movement back because we are very clear on how badly we need those rights, demonstrates a profound lack of compassion. I would like to know how many trans women have to turn to prostitution to survive, have to live on the edge of homelessness, how many have to die before we’ve earned our place at the table. Is it because the trans people who suffer most – who die most often – are trans women of color? Why is this lack of protection acceptable to civil rights “activists” like Joe Solmonese? Why does John Aravosis constantly characterize our need for these protections as selfish and demanding?
LGB-T = ENDA, pt. 3 further condemns incrementalism as a political strategy, emphasizing the cost to those whose rights are sacrificed “for the greater good.” As he states in these two paragraphs:
If Democrats and progressives are convinced that righting for legal marriage isn’t effective right now, then we need to find another way to protect our families right now, not ten or twenty or thirty years down the line. We need to do more than shake our heads and say it’s a shame that happens. If civil unions are the answer, then great. Let’s craft legislation, or pour resources into states where it’s achievable. But let’s do something besides “just wait.”
If we believe that employment discrimination transgender persons is wrong and shouldn’t happen, and an inclusive ENDA isn’t gongi to work right now, then we need to find another way to protect transgender persons right now, not ten or twenty or thirty years down the line. We need to do more than shake our heads and say it’s a shame that happens. Let’s start educating Congress on transgender issues now, get a panel of transgender persons who’ve experienced workplace discrimination in front of a committee hearing, or sitting down with key members of congress, or pour some resources into public education campaigns in key states or districts where legislators might be influenced. But let’s do something besides “just wait.”
I wish we had more voices like his.
On Pam’s House Blend, AHiddenSaint tells her personal story.
Autumn Sandeen discusses the dilemma for some representatives – whether it was worth voting against civil rights legislation in order to oppose the trans-exclusive ENDA.
Daimeon talks about picking up the pieces now that we’ve been thoroughly backstabbed and thrown under the bus.
Also, keep an eye on Donna’s ENDABlog as she posts post-mortem analysis. Donna Rose was on the HRC board until HRC voted to not oppose the trans-exclusive ENDA, at which point she resigned.
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it
The title comes from Upton Sinclair.
To celebrate Wednesday’s development in Congress, I’ve decided to pick on John Aravosis, who tells us every chance he gets that he isn’t a transphobe, that he’s not a misogynist, that he’s not a homocentrist. He wrote this article for Salon to explain why trans people are recent additions to the gay rights movement, and perhaps shouldn’t be part now, that perhaps it was a bit rash to let us in.
His article has many of the hallmarks of a classic concern troll:
Gay activists and 220 national and local gay rights groups angrily demanded that gender identity be put back in the bill, guaranteeing its defeat for years to come.
Notice the implication that this action will have terrible consequences. Mr. Aravosis repeats this theme in the article’s discussion, inflating the time to potential decades. He’s basically panicmongering, claiming that trans people are an albatross around his community’s neck, dragging them all down and forever denying them civil rights.
He revises history and implies that trans people have so much power, that it’s dangerous to question our inclusion in the LGBT community:
I have a sense that over the past decade the trans revolution was imposed on the gay community from outside, or at least above, and thus it never stuck with a large number of gays who weren’t running national organizations, weren’t activists, or weren’t living in liberal gay enclaves like San Francisco and New York. Sure, many of the rest of us accepted de facto that transgendered people were members of the community, but only because our leaders kept telling us it was so. A lot of gays have been scratching their heads for 10 years trying to figure out what they have in common with transsexuals, or at the very least why transgendered people qualify as our siblings rather than our cousins. It’s a fair question, but one we know we dare not ask. It is simply not p.c. in the gay community to question how and why the T got added on to the LGB, let alone ask what I as a gay man have in common with a man who wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become a woman. I’m not passing judgment, I respect transgendered people and sympathize with their cause, but I simply don’t get how I am just as closely related to a transsexual (who is often not gay) as I am to a lesbian (who is). Is it wrong for me to simply ask why?
Check out the little quote buried in the middle: “. . . ask what I as a gay man have in common with a man who wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become a woman . . .” He defines trans people as, well, that. We’re reduced to our genitals and nothing more. Not only that, but we’re reduced to our genitals in a vulgar, base fashion, as he invokes a lurid castration image to emphasize his separation from trans people. Of course, John is lying. Trans people have been here from the beginning. We were pushed out of the movement in the early 70s, despite having kicked it off. It wasn’t just us – the gay rights movement felt it was necessary to push away those who were “too different” to increase chances of acceptance for those who looked and acted straight – like the Mattachine Society:
Unfortunately, the new leadership shared none of the vision or experience of the original founders. They drastically revised the goals of the organization, backtracking in every area. Instead of social change, they advocated accommodation. Instead of mobilizing gay people, they sought the support of professionals, who they believed held the key to reform. They stated, we do not advocate a homosexual culture or community, and we believe none exists. (Mattachine: Radical Roots of Gay Liberation).
John Aravosis, Barney Frank, and others like them have more in common with these socially conservative Mattachine gay men than much of the LGBT community. Unlike the Mattachines, John is willing to acknowledge that there’s a gay and lesbian community, writes off bisexuals as part-time gays, and wants to push trans people out altogether, but the sentiment is the same.
He goes on to write:
I wrote on my blog last week about this issue, and shared my doubts and concerns and questions. And I was eviscerated for it. While the majority of my readers either agreed with me, or found my questions provocative and relevant, a vocal minority labeled me a bigot, a transphobe, a rich, white boy living in a big city who didn’t care about anyone but himself, and worse. An old activist friend even told me that my words were prejudiced, wrong and embarrassingly uninformed, and that no one of any consequence shared my concerns, and if they did, they were bigots too.
He appeals to his readership’s agreement with him, dismisses those who call him on his bigotry as a “vocal minority,” implies that his old activist friend is overreacting, and goes on to say that it’s not safe to ask questions in the gay community about how transgender people fit in.
Of course, as we all know, bigoted people are the best witnesses to their own bigotry. You can totally trust them when they deny their bigotry.
He ends the “Transgender Fiasco” blog entry with a sensationalist tone:
A STATE OF FEAR
People are simply afraid to ask any questions about this issue, and those unresolved conflicts are coming home to roost. I know I was afraid to write about this issue, and still am. I thought long and hard about even weighing in on this issue last week. Did I really want to have to deal with people screaming and calling me a bigot? And I’ve got gay journalist friends and gay political friends who have sent me private “atta boy”s supporting my public essays, while refusing to go public themselves.
There is a climate of fear and confusion and doubt about the transgender issue in the gay community. And no one wants to talk about it. And when you don’t talk about your small concerns, when you’re afraid to talk about them, when it’s not considered PC for you to talk about them, one day those small concerns turn into big problems and the revolution comes tumbling down.
I don’t know if he thinks there’s a trans mafia out there waiting to whack transphobes, but this just looks like the kind of fearmongering that bigots like to use to turn their audience against those they detest. He also appeals to the old fallacy of political correctness to imply that his ability to speak freely is somehow controlled – never mind that no one has stopped him from posting his transphobic and transmisogynistic commentary ever since he started whining about transgender inclusion in ENDA. He’s been criticized and called out for his bigotry, but I don’t believe he’s come to any real harm, beyond the social embarrassment of expressing obvious prejudice in public.
I admit, he’s typically much cannier about expressing it than the radical feminist stuff I’ve been looking at. He does, however, have his moments.
For example, this particular paragraph in the Salon article:
I support transgendered rights. But I’m not naive. If there are still lingering questions in the gay community about gender identity 10 years after our leaders embraced the T — and there are — then imagine how conflicted straight members of Congress are when asked to pass a civil rights bill for a woman who used to be a man. We’re not talking right and wrong here, we’re talking political reality. Our own community is still grappling with this issue. Yet we expect members of Congress, who took 30 years to embrace a gay ENDA, to welcome the T’s into the bill in only five months.
He supports transgender rights, but . . . Questioning Transgender claims the same thing before saying we flash our penises at cis women and might possibly start raping them, so that means absolutely nothing. But that’s not really the problem with this paragraph. He goes on to say that straight members of congress are too conflicted to pass a bill that includes gender protections, or rather “for a woman who used to be a man.” That is to say, John is saying (and this theme is repeated throughout his writing and Barney Frank’s own words on the issue) that a minority that suffers increased prejudice doesn’t really deserve to get their civil rights until they’re socially acceptable enough to get those rights. He’s not prejudiced against us or against us having these rights, but we just can’t have them until we’re not so freakish.
PS As an aside, I’ve just learned that there’s at least one senior transgender leader in America who is married (and I’m sure other straight transgendered people are married). That’s nice, and I support their right to marry. But I do find it odd that the gay community is being asked (well, told) to put our employment rights on hold until the transgender community can get theirs, but the transgender community isn’t putting its marriage rights on hold until we get ours. Then again, I’d never ask them to put their rights on hold until I got mine.
Of course, he wrote an entire article in Salon, and articles on AmericaBlog to painstakingly explain why transgender rights need to be put on hold until he gets his rights. Check out the “half a loaf” comment at the end of the Salon article. Never mind that he’s mischaracterizing United ENDA’s position, which is that we need transgender rights along with everyone else’s, not that anyone should wait. This is just based on the fallacy that working toward transgender rights would delay ENDA’s passage by 10-15 years, that we “didn’t do any education,” (an excuse produced in the 11th hour, with no information on who needed to be educated), and that we’re too freakish to get those rights.
Where you can really see John cut loose is in the comments in his ENDA posts. He scornfully edits his commenter’s posts when they call him on his transphobia, practices fallacious reversals (I’m a transphobe? You’re a homophobe because you don’t want me to have rights!), says some pretty hateful things to trans people like telling them they’re “playing ‘sick and twisted’ Barbie.”
John is cannier in how he communicates. He knows how to play the subtle game, and not say the things that make good bigoted soundbites. Also, AmericaBlog is just plain awful to navigate, complicating the ability to find those shots he takes at transgender people. His best shots are in the comments, where he doesn’t filter himself very well. The comments for each of the posts I’ve linked here, plus those in the Salon article and Susan Stryker’s response paint a pretty clear picture. He’s fond of transphobic variations of “Wite Magic Attax”, most especially fallacious flips, oversensitive, and drowning maestro, but I believe he manages to touch on all of them but the carom-scarom.
An example from the comments for Tammy Just Pulled Her Amendment (and John’s attitude toward the way the amendment was handled is either pure ignorance or considered politicking).
NOTE FROM JOHN: Funny how the same bill was fine for years, but now suddenly it’s really bad and really watered down. The only thing that’s changed is that a small group of PC activists has decided to kill our chance at getting some civil rights, so now suddenly ENDA must be poo-pooed. There hasn’t been one case of discrimination against gay people based on gender identity, not one that LAMBDA or anyone else can point to. NOT ONE. Yet now you’re hanging your “kill ENDA” hat on this bizarre notion that somehow we’re are really transgender and that’s how we’re all going to lose our jobs. As for fracturing communities, you’ve done a pretty good job of that all by yourself by trying to kill a civil rights bill that we’ve been trying to pass for 30 years.
Notice how he implies that everyone was fine with ENDA before T was added, never mind that trans people have been working for years to get T included – everyone was just happy. He also implies that it was a small group of “PC activists” that decided to “kill [his] chance at getting some civil rights.” 350+ LGBT organizations signed onto United ENDA, and they were supporting doing everything necessary to pass a complete ENDA. Unfortunately, Barney Frank chose to shoot it down rather than helping this coalition do what was needed to pass an inclusive ENDA, and Aravosis cheers him on because it supports his desire to kick transgender people out of GLBT activism entirely
Yes, John’s writing – in the Salon article especially – makes it clear that he doesn’t want us in his civil rights movement, and that’s why he supports the removal of gender protections from ENDA.
He’s also selective about how he addresses the gender protections, which are not specificed as transgender protections, but protects people from being fired for not fitting gender norms. This would include transgender people, but would also include people like Ann Hopkins and Darlene Jesperson, who were straight people who suffered discrimination for not being feminine enough on the job. If straight people can be fired for not being feminine enough, take it to federal appeals court and be turned down, then gay, lesbian and bisexual people are just as vulnerable to this loophole. Barney Frank and John Aravosis both tried to deflect this issue by insisting that no gay men or lesbians had been fired for this reason. To be honest, though, we don’t know. We only know that there’s only one case that’s ever come up. We don’t know how many gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight people who have been fired for not conforming enough who never tried to take it to court. I would guess that there’s been more than a few, and with the loophole in ENDA, anyone who wants to fire lesbian, gay, or bisexual employees will have a way around ENDA by labeling it a matter of not being masculine or feminine enough.
So, what are we to make of a man who obsesses on the fact that trans women surgically invert our penises, who does his best to distance trans people from him in every way, who constantly questions whether we even deserve to stand alongside LGB people, who consistently presents a version of gay rights activism in which transgender people only came to the party very recently and forced our way in, who implies that there’s some kind of transgender mafia waiting to come down on anyone who criticizes our inclusion? A man who indicates his contempt for bisexuals as “part-time gays?”
We’ve fought to carve a place in LGBT activism after we were forced out for over 20 years. While we can and should forge coalitions and build bridges to other activists – to people with disabilities and people of color – the fact is that as far as many straight white Americans are concerned, we’re not that different from gay and lesbian people, and our goals are not really all that different. Yes, we don’t gender conform, but neither do feminine gay men, butch lesbians and drag queens, and where we transgress gender by identifying outside male/female or moving from one to the other, they transgress gender by being attracted to and having relationships with people of the same sex. Also, a large number of trans people are gay, lesbian, and bisexual. We’re intertwined, and while we may not be much like John “Mattachine” Aravosis’ version of gay, we have a lot in common with large swaths of the gay and lesbian communities.
We’ve done the work, we’ve spent years engaged in activism, trying to educate, trying to forge our way to, well… an inclusive ENDA. Anyone who tells you different, who tells you we weren’t here at the beginning, that we don’t do the work, that we don’t try to educate, has his own motives for trying to alter history, or at least how we remember it.