Monday, June 23, 2014

Toward A More Perfect Union


It is a term many of us struggle to pronounce let alone wrap our minds around what it means. Indeed, when I came out in the 90's the term was already in flux from various forms of GLB to LGB. Not long after, I learned we had added the "T" and a whole bunch of people freaked out about that. However, in spite of all their histrionics about the addition of Transgendered to the label our community stuck, and has been the (mostly) accepted lingo we have used for most of my adult gay life. Most recently, we have added Intersex and Queer/Questioning to include a spectrum of experience that transcends both sexual orientation and sexual identity. It may be hard to say, but until we invent a single word to describe the is the best we have.

While it may be an awkward term to explain to those outside our community. We have to explain what each letter means and why it is used. More often than not, their expression reads as if I had tried to explain life on another planet. However, they are not the only ones...Some who fall under it's 
broadly inclusive banner also struggle to understand what links us all together. For example...

In a totally bewildering exchange that took place on Americablog. John Aravosis, a writer I have respected over the years has written an article titled The End Of Gay History . A piece initially meant to speculate on the future of gay activism and orgs in the face of the victories they have achieved. The actual question asked being, "Are we at the end of gay history?" However, what actually developed by the end of the story was less about the relevancy of gay activism in the gay community...and more a wild veering off into the perceived fractures between the letters of our movement. And I used the word "perceived" for a reason. The whole thing was one massive /facepalm moment.

That this post devolved into a fight  between "gay white men" and the Transgendered community, left me bewildered and scratching my head at just what the hell any of these people were thinking. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Among the issues that surfaced  were...Who are we as a community? What binds us together? And as we see progress on one front, how do we treat the others who aren't advancing as fast? least, that's the nice way of phrasing what they posed much less nicely. Pull up a chair and your favorite cup'o something and lets tackle this messy business head on...
First some background,...

Aravosis' post began with attempting to make the point that advancement in certain areas of gay rights can mean that gay rights organizations can then become irrelevant and die off. This affect applies to individuals as well as orgs. What happens to our ability to organize and fight back as a community if we have lost those already established organizations and individuals willing to fight? For an example he used the recent struggles of gay military advocacy group Outserve-SLDN, which has been undergoing financial troubles post-DADT, as an example of the loss of one of these important institutions(a statement later revealed to be premature...Outserve still functions). 

I’ve been watching the latest unjustified assault on gay activist and writer Dan Savage, and it’s gotten me thinking more and more about a troubling theory I came up with last year, watching the “gays in the military” group OutServe-SLDN implode.  I worry that we’re witnessing the beginning of the end of gay history. And I’m not entirely convinced that it’s something to celebrate....

...I think the fact that we won (at least the gay partof the battle over the military ban), played a huge role in OutServe-SLDN’s demise.  The organization was the canary in the coalmine of what gay life will be in America after we’re free and equal. And that America will (one hopes) have far less need for civil rights group than it does today, even if OutServe-SLDN’s end came before its time.
But here's were things started to veer off in a strange direction...instead of building on the point made above, Aravosis instead chose to draw on the recent controversies between certain Trans activists, Dan Savage, and RuPaul as an example of how certain members of the LGBTQI community are causing schisms.

Dan is part of a larger years-long campaign by some, but not all, in the trans community to destroy him. The animosity towards Dan is part of a (often younger) group of vocal activists on the left who subscribe to “critical theory.” They believe, among other things, that fighting for marriage equality is wrong (that’s one of the reasons an LGBT activist glitterbombed Dan a few years back, because he’s been a lead advocate of gay marriage), and that men, white men, and especially gay white men have done little to nothing to advance civil rights and equality — and in fact, those men have been the major force holding back other minority communities. 

Given his original point, that he took it here was odd in my opinion. The community as a whole has never been free of these types of internal conflicts, and to point to them as a symptom of the "death of gay history" was just.....weird and uncharacteristic of the writer been familiar with. That Aravosis feels passionately about the contributions of men like Dan Savage(who is a friend of his) or Andrew Sullivan who he credits with helping him gain a measure of acceptance of his own sexuality, makes a certain kind of sense within that isolated context. To be passionately angry at those who you view as not having a solid perspective on gay rights, to defend your friends, to be concerned about the health of the overall LGBTQI community makes perfect sense. link all of this together into one giant "death of gay history" thing doesn't make sense. But would that it stopped there. Aravosis went on to pose a very loaded question...

I’d written years ago about my concerns that we’d never had an open discussion about what makes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people (and intersex people, and asexuals, and many others) all one community. It’s a question I’d been asked a lot privately by friends and colleagues, gay and straight, but one that people didn’t feel safe asking publicly. And because I think unanswered questions sow the seeds of future discord, I asked, and in response got the same kind of response that Dan gets on a regular basis.
Indeed, having an open discussion about what connects us all as a common community would be constructive...enlightening to many...possibly even healing. However, the implication in this post is that of a romantic break up and the tone was not lost on one commenter who decided to raise the ante...

I agree with very little of what you wrote I have been open under the
alphabet rainbow umbrella for a very short time compared to many
here. But I do agree whit the main point of this sob fest. We need to
break up. This relationship is not working. The whole abbreviation
thing was never a good idea. Because one particular letter wants to
be in charge. One particular letter has the privilege to control
everyone and take what they want.
The money comes from mostly gay white men, and there tends to be where it
stays. Part of the implosion of SLDN Outserve was the fact that once
DADT was repealed the trans community was left on its own after
firing the only transgender leadership. I watched it John. I watched
it from inside. I watched the donors walk away when they flatly
rejected us.

Whoa...whoa...whoa...hold on there people....everyone take a breath...

To be honest, I struggled on how to paraphrase all this because it had veered so wildly from its original point to a giant internet cat fight. Also it seemed the thought process of the writer  seemed so drawn from different threads that it seems like Mr. Aravosis himself had not drawn a conclusion but was still working it out...and the countering side was so adamant in their belief that the gay community is an enemy that I struggle to do either side justice and make any sense myself...and somewhere in there present my own take on the issue without making it all even more convoluted.

 Indeed, in reading the initial article I wondered how one could tie the theoretical end of activist orgs due to changing times with a very controversial conversation we are having over grievances with parts of the Transgendered community two things which seem to have nothing connecting them. Then toss in throwing around terms like "break up"  and "privilege" and I felt more like an uncomfortable observer at a marriage counseling session. To any other sane reader it was an example of failed communication and an epic /facepalm moment.

Were this is not the first time we have had to come up against a topic like this one. Yet, as Aravosis article intimated, the conversation covers a whole lot more than just sexual identity versus gender is race, culture, and gender as well. Just a couple of short years ago, a similar controversy erupted regarding the visibility of minorities within the gay community. Leadership of gay orgs and representations on television most often depicted us as gay, white, and male. That particular conversation also got heated, never resolved, and faded over time as we all focused on other goals.

And so here I sit...typing away and wondering why everyone has gone insane. Are we splitting up LGB from everyone else as if we have nothing in common?  Heated words aside, we all know thats not going to happen. The thoughts attitudes and opinions of a few people do not echo the sentiments of the whole....but I do think that having an open conversation about what links us all into one community is a worthwhile one...and one I am not afraid to have....nor should anyone else be.

As I have said many times before...we are a community drawn from so many different walks of life that it is INEVITABLE that you will have people within your community that will be so different from you in worldview that one wonders how we consider ourselves a cohesive community AT ALL. Hell, If you put a bunch of (mostly) homogenous people in a room(pick your type) and let them get to know each other...they will find ways to stratify into subgroups. Whether we divide on male and female, religion, Affluence, education, sexuality, or gender identity reasons...the fact remains that no matter how fine the distinction may be, we will divide ourselves up along it....just ask all those nearly identical religious denominations who give each other the side eye every Sunday.

Additionally...It blows my mind that you can find gay men and women who are racist. And I don't mean having a preference for one type of romantic partner over another....straight out, white sheet wearing, racist. It just blows my mind that anyone could live under discrimination themselves and still find some way to justify their own. It seems like an utter failure to learn the lesson your own life has taught you. Whenever you know what it's like to be treated as lesser...and you turn around and deal that injustice out to another group, you show that you failed to understand the lesson in all you have fought to overcome for yourself. 

Hell...just ask the average bisexual person how welcome they feel in the community and hear some of the responses they have to endure from gay people...who somehow...don't seem to apply the lessons of acceptance they so yearn for to another who's feelings and motivations differ from theirs. "There is no such thing as bisexuality" is a common argument...or..."Bisexuals are just gay people afraid to completely come out." To find acceptance as a bisexual is to find judgement from both sides of the sexuality spectrum.

My point?...

We consistently see ourselves as separate from each other and draw hard lines between the L/G/B/T/Q/I as if we are separate tribes temporarily aligned instead of peoples who have both been shunned and fight to be treated as equal human beings. Because that is one of the many link that join all the letters in common. But here we are focusing on our difference and throwing stones. 

To put a finer point on it, even if you just looked within the "G" of the "LGBTQI" would be to see people from far flung countries, college graduates, midwest bible-belters, rich, poor, Black, White, Native name any human distinction and you will find it within that single letter.  I simply can not believe the difference that we embrace in who we include under that banner of "what is gay?" How much greater is the diversity that we call community across the wider spectrum?

Moving beyond the "G", next we embrace the "L"...though we struggled with that for a time as well. It then seems like a natural extension to include the "B" as those who share kindred feelings and experiences. And then we realize what we have done. Our vision has expanded enough to realize the many who have been ostracized, judged, outcast, and suffered in ways we(hopefully) can come to recognize in ourselves.

..And yet....there are those who have the gumption to consider the struggles the Trans community goes through as somehow separate from ours?! I'm sorry...but both of us can still be beat to death just walking down Main Street USA. As much progress as the gay community is not a safe world for anyone in the LGBTQI spectrum. Our and always will be the same fight until the world is a safe place for all of us to exist...period..full stop. The facets of that fight may differ(housing, employment, etc.) but the intent is the same...we all have the right to exist and be treated fairly and we all know what it is like to not be treated that way.

That their are difficulties, disagreements, and controversies to be hashed out, does not mean our paths are so different as to break off from each other...that is the path to insanity.

Which brings me to the whole issue with the word "Tranny"...So many have made this an issue about their personal freedom that they miss the point. RuPaul thinks he owns it because of the pain he has gone through to make it a word without sting. I can not fault him for that point of view. However...I hate the word faggot. I hate it with a burning passion because it was used against me so often as a teen. I knew when it was whispered behind me in class and accompanied by giggles that I was the butt of the joke. The world was not safe for me and I dam well better watch my back. I know how a word can encapsulate a lifetime of hatred and fear. That the term "Tranny" makes someone feel the way that "faggot" makes me feel is enough for me to put that one in the dustbin of history right alongside "retarded". It's really that simple in my opinion.

But I see the Trans community taking some very important steps to finding it's voice.  As society learns to accept(or merely tolerate, in some places) the notion that gay people exist and that you cant treat us as pariahs anymore, so the Trans community is asking for the same thing and finding their anger to achieve it. They are doing no different than we have done in our own near history and in my opinion, it needs to happen. Trans people need to find their voice and be heard in order for the wider world to realize who they are..and more importantly, who they are not. Not monsters...not pedophiles...not "its"..and not anything other than human. Can we not relate to that as well? That they will misdirect that voice..or even sometimes rightly direct it at members of the greater community does not make them any different than us(the "G") in that regard.

I can not count the number of times a gay man has said that we don't need marriage because it is simply copying a failed heterosexist norm or even called my husband and I terrible names and threat to the community because we do support marriage and family. My response to that is....whatever.... "You live your counter culture dream and I will take my legal protections, thank you very much."

In the end...we are not only people with same sex attractions. Nor are we only a people who feel they were born in the wrong body. In so many ways, every letter in LGBTQI interweaves within the others to find more commonalities than differences. Our very own symbol of the gay flag are differently colored strips of cloth sown together into one symbol. If you imagine that those colors can also represent the many types of people who make up our community, you can see what happens when the seems that join the colors unravel and fall away. No wholeness...and who are we then? 

We often ask ourselves as gay rights progresses...whats next? Or better gay issues slowly(sooo slowly)  become non-issues, were will that next civil rights battle be? I believe it is in the "T", the "Q", and the "I" and every one of them is going to need someone to have their back....that someone needs to be us.

Not saying they are gonna be right all the time. Every family has it's crazy uncles. But I hope we can take a breath from throwing stones marked "Tranny" and "privilege" to acknowledge that we do walk the same path...and do....belong to the same community.

Until next time dear readers....


  1. A very thought provoking post. I know that the more I find out about the other letters of the LGBTQI community (and I freely admit that I am not as well educated in the last three letters as I should be) I find that we are more the same then we are different.

    I find that that approach to life and those that share the world around in general is very important. After all we are all more the same then we are different, and in the case of the LGBTQI community we are even more so.

  2. A good-hearted, encouraging essay. It seems simple enough. We are all part of the same community because we are all sexual minorities in one sense or another, &, as you (the author) write, we are all, consequently, subject to certain challenges when attempting to navigate within the broader society. It's reason enough to stick together -- especially when, as you say, so many of those challenges come in the form of various permutations of hostility, whether external or internal; individual or societal; structural or very personal & brutal.

    But if our shared minority status is why we are classed together & society's (sometimes) rejection of all of us is how we wound up stuck with each other, then I agree that what ought to make us want to stay together is an actual belief in the message we've preached over the generations: that a community is enriched by its varied members; that there's room in a healthy, functional society for everybody & that we should "Celebrate Diversity!" I, as one representative of the far right-hand end of our family monogram, do not wish to be banished. I always appreciate it when someone from the left end (the G,L, or B) says, "Don't go!"

    I also really appreciate the allies, who, along with folks who identify as asexual, comprise the segment of the community oft represented by an "A" tacked to end of the acronym -- past even me out here in the queer hinterlands!

  3. To me, one of the biggest reasons for the LGBT+ community to fight together, is that out enemies see no difference, They don't care if they are bashing a gay man, a transsexual woman or a drag queen. To them, it's all the same. So, the thing is, we won't solve the problem of one "letter" until we haven't solved the problems of all letters.