Tough Transitions

Okay, so I’m going to finally write about trans stuff. The problem is, I’ve been hesitant to write about it because I fall into the category of one of those folks who wants to be as supportive as possible of trans issues and help create some dialogue, but I’m still not as educated as I would like to be in order to confidently stand at the front of the picket lines. I majored in gender and sexuality studies in college, but ironically very little of it led me to the study trans issues; we were too busy talking about the gays, gay this and gay that with a little dabble of gender norms here and there. I guess I just need to bite the bullet and write, and risk making a mistake or two. So feel free to call me out.

When the ENDA poo recently hit the fan, I was really upset…and it kind of struck a chord with me from a very, very similar situation I was in a couple years ago:

Back in college I interned for a state-wide gay rights organization in a state where no protections existed in any shape or form against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Our organization was fighting to put a protection on the upcoming ballot, a protection against discrimination for state employees (a protection now required by the passed ENDA). The reality was, and everyone knew, that this move would never pass to be included on the ballot…but they were doing as a symbolic statement to show these rights were in demand. Quite progressively (considering the very red nature of our state), our organization put forth legislative language that included protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity. I admit I kind of expected it; as a young, eager college activist, I thought: “Of course a gay rights organization would be fight for the rights of trans folks. How could one marginalized group leave another one behind?”

A couple weeks into the push to include this on the ballot, powerful (read: $$$$) members of the organization confronted the director about the language on the bill to protect gender identity. One member even stormed into our office in outrage, and I was in earshot of the conversation he had with the director in another room. He first argued that including gender identity would make it impossible for the bill to pass (a reality they already knew would happen anyway). After my director spoke with him about his exact concerns he started to calm down, and then he told a long-winded story about how as an effeminate, gay-curious teenager he was subject to transphobia; people made fun of him saying that because he was gay he was more like a girl than anything, and his family would worry he would become a transvestite and want to maybe have surgery to become a girl (something he resented and has violently rejected since his youth; he was gay…not, God forbid, transgendered).

And that’s one of the big sources of where my frustration with the ENDA comes from. It’s a fear that underneath all of this political stuff about “just getting it to pass” (and I believe the reality is that it really would not pass if it included gender identity), the deep truth is that gay people around this country are uncomfortable with our country's multifaceted transgender community, and further – gay people are excruciatingly uncomfortable with their own gender issues. And while this is definitely for another post, I think the reason this is so is because gay men are being reconfigured in our heteronormative, gender-normative society that can only tolerate other forms of gender variety when they're mocked.

I realize I’m not being particularly objective. I promise something better soon!

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