Skirting the Issues: Lemonade
That’s the most generous phrase I could muster as I read my friend John Townsend’s piece, “When GLBT Nonprofits Lose Their Bearings” in the July 6 edition of this magazine.
Take your pick—“transgenderism” (a phrase which religious conservatives often use to marginalize); “lies about transgender suicide that could not be”; and “plant(ing)…ideation and …idealization of suicide in vulnerable minds”—any one of these propositions reflects, at best, an incredible misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender.
At worst, together they demonstrate a deep bias—oh, I’ll just say it, transphobia—that has long been held by some gays and lesbians against trans folk. That bias goes back to Stonewall and a strategic decision by the architects of “gay liberation” to deliberately disenfranchise trans persons from the gay rights movement. That disenfranchisement continued through 2008 when the Human Rights Campaign willingly agreed to exempt trans people from the scope of a then-proposed federal law to protect gays and lesbians in employment.
We in the trans community called it “being thrown under the bus.” It’s been uphill for us ever since.
To be accurate and fair, the HRC has now gotten its act together relative to transgender people—even to the point of opposing a local Texas measure that would have protected gays and lesbians but not trans folks. Further, the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index mandates that a 100 percent rating requires trans-inclusive health policies, a step which has greatly expanded the number of employers who offer such policies.
All of that is good and something that I’m grateful for.
Yet, John’s piece reflects a critical missing link of understanding and compassion between us queer folk on the street. It’s not unlike something I heard three years ago at a book club comprised of older (60+) gay men who had read my memoir and invited me to talk about it. There was a great deal of friendly banter and frivolity. When we were done, one of the men quipped, “You’re actually a nice person. You’re the first transgender person I’ve ever really gotten to know.”
There’s the rub: how well do the GLBT letters know each other? Do they even want to?
I suspect because we’re all human, we each have our preconceived notions of what it’s like to be another letter. This is no different than how the straight community has its misimpressions of us as one indiscernible group—something that we collectively detest.
It’s human to have stereotypes. But it’s not okay to be ignorant of them and to then espouse misinformation that risks harming others.
I sure wish John had called me before he started typing.
Those who know me know that I’m a problem solver. Yes, I will pontificate, but always with the goal of making the world more compassionate for all persons regardless of what might otherwise separate us.
Even for those who get things so incredibly wrong.
Thus, I propose making lemonade out of a big fat lemon. Specifically, I propose using John’s piece as a reason to convene a meeting—maybe even a summit—to discuss how we in the GLBT alphabet perceive and treat each other. Let us use that as a jumping off point to better understand each other in our alphabet “family.” Perhaps it will also be a pathway to future collaborations that might benefit everyone in the community at large.
If you’re interested in collaborating to create this, email me at [email protected]. I’m totally serious about helping to facilitate/lead the process for such an event.
One last item relates to my role as a contributor to this magazine, which I’ve been writing for since 2011.
Truth be told, I have moments of wondering if my words here matter. After all, I’m 60 years old and someone who came to the party awfully late by transitioning genders only eight years ago. I sometimes question whether I’m a good representative of the trans community. Indeed, a trans person once even offered that I was Lavender’s “house tranny.”
Ouch. I know, more ignorance.
That John’s piece showed up in this magazine gives me further pause. And pain.
Still, I know editor Andy Lien and many of the Lavender staff. From what I can see, these folks have always been forthright and accepting of me and, as far as I can tell, of other trans people.
They’ve never given me reason to think that I or my words are window dressing. I’m not being an apologist here, please understand, and only relating my experience.
The reality is that there are very few platforms with the reach of this magazine. To have an “out” trans person write regularly about being transgender means that my words—words of compassion and critical reminders about trans grit and resiliency and the need to protect transgender kids/youth—potentially reach many eyes and quite a few brains, GLBT or otherwise.
We all make mistakes. That’s not a reason to unfold something that has been so incredibly important to the Twin Cities GLBT community for decades.
Rather, the key is to learn from our mistakes.
Learn we must.