Queer Issue 2014
It's true that the United States has had a banner year for marriage equality—yay!!!!—but marriage equality is not the finish line in the march for LGBT equality. It's not time to pull up the ladder, clink champagne glasses, and declare victory. Don't listen to the Huffington Post when they run headlines like "Gay Marriage: America's Last Major Civil Rights Movement." We have more to do—and it has everything to do with that T in LGBT.
A CBS News poll this month found that only 26 percent of Americans believe trans people should be allowed to use the public restroom of their choice—that is, less than one-third of the country thinks trans women should be allowed into the women's room and trans men should be allowed into the men's room. More than double that number, 59 percent, say trans people should be banned from the restroom appropriate for their gender. That sort of humiliation—making someone betray their core identity in public—is just as unacceptable as denying a marriage license to a loving couple, making a black person ride in the back of the bus, or forcing someone to partake in a religious ritual they don't believe in.
When you see bigots like Family Research Council president Tony Perkins claim transgender people are "disfiguring" themselves with gender transition treatments, or hear conservatives claim that trans people are trying to "trick" them into sex by "pretending" to be women, it's easy to conclude that those people—the radical right—are the only folks discriminating against trans people.
But they're not.
There are also plenty of gays—along with some straight and bi people who swan around at pride parades wearing tacky plastic rainbow necklaces—who have their own history of open discrimination against trans people.
Consider what happened outside the US Supreme Court last year at a rally to support same-sex marriage. A staffer for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) singled out a trans man named Bryan Ellicott. Ellicott's offense? Holding a trans pride flag. "This [rally] is about marriage equality... This is not about the trans community," the HRC staffer reportedly told Ellicott. (For the record, the HRC bills itself as "America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality.") Then HRC staffers told Ellicott three times to remove the flag, and a videographer allegedly threatened to set Ellicott's flag on fire.
Ellicott refused to budge, god bless him. HRC initially denied the incident happened. But after Ellicott told his story on the New Civil Rights Movement blog and the controversy exploded, HRC apologized in a written statement.
This sort of "trans people are not really part of our community" attitude is rare but real. Some gay men at gay bars give the stink-eye to trans people, certain gay people refer to a trans person as "whatever that is," and even pioneering liberal politicians have insultingly undermined progress on transgender issues by considering them too politically risky. Congressman Barney Frank, who is gay and deserves a share of the credit for how far the country has come on LGBT issues, removed coverage for trans people from a 2007 bill originally intended to protect all LGBT people from discrimination. Why? As the New York Times reported, it was because he believed the bill would pass if it covered only gay cisgender people, not transgender people. (The bill failed anyway.)
The Stranger has published a Queer Issue annually since 1996, and every year we've included transgender writers and articles specifically focused on transgender rights. This year, we decided to do nothing but. Oh yeah, sure, there's the most comprehensive Pride calendar in the city, for gay boys and gay girls and straight allies and everyone else on the gender spectrum, but all the other articles are either written by transgender contributors or about transgender issues. When people say that marriage equality is "not about the trans community," we say yes it is. Trans people have been backing gay-marriage rallies, remember? And with support for gay rights and marriage above 50 percent, and support for basic trans dignities below one-third in polls, it's important that we—as a country—don't leave trans people behind.
Some activists might scream that we're writing about trans issues wrong, or we didn't get enough of the right sort of trans writers. I edited this package of stories, so sue me if I didn't do it well enough. I tried. I was born a white male and still am. But sometimes, when I meet a guy for a date—a date I set up using an online profile that identities my race—they apparently don't believe me. They say, "What are you—are you ethnic?" I have olive skin, thick black eyebrows, and a big nose thanks to Irish and Jewish ancestry, but some guys act like I'm trying to pull something over on them. I'd be proud to be Latino or Middle Eastern or whatever these guys guess I am. But it's deeply weird to realize someone suspects you're attempting to trick them, like they're a detective trying to uncover your lie.
So let's clear up something right now: Trans people are not trying to "trick" anyone into believing they are one gender when they're secretly another. Trans people—whether they are male, female, or somewhere on the spectrum in between—are being exactly who they are. They are, in their present identity and the way they identify, telling the truth.
Some people try to separate the gay-rights movement and the trans-rights movement; they're both right and wrong. Trans is about gender identity, not sexuality. But gay and trans causes share an important commonality: We are a threat to a patriarchal society in which one man dominates the family, and we have suffered discrimination because of it. Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia in Orange Is the New Black, probably put it best last October in the New York Times:
When kids are bullied and called anti-gay slurs, it's rarely because the victim seemed to be attracted to members of the same sex. It's because the child did not conform to gender expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. The bullies might yell "gay," but it's about gender expression.
As Marsha Botzer, who founded Ingersoll Gender Center in Seattle three decades ago, explains: "It's pervasive discrimination in a more global sense, rather than the more blatant thing of being thrown out of a business. It's discrimination that follows from fear. It's linking trans with the unstated idea that there is something dangerous here. Probably sexually dangerous. Maybe crazy. That filters into everything from human services to health care. If you want a therapist in Seattle, we now have that covered... In Seattle, access to therapy and counseling is not as hard as other places, but outside Seattle, it is harder."
Trans people who can't find counselors, who don't reach therapists, and have no chance for medical intervention attempt suicide at astronomically higher rates than other people do, as Danielle Askini writes. The best-selling author Janet Mock talks about what it was being like being grilled by Piers Morgan about her appearance as a trans woman. Justin Vivian Bond writes about the controversial word "tranny," with a take that might surprise you. Tobi-Hill Meyer has tips for sex and dating, and trans sex workers talk about their experiences. And there's so much more.
Finally, Trans* Pride is Friday, June 27—and two of the keynote speakers are Kai M. Green, who wrote an essay we titled "How to Stop Thinking All Trans People Are the Same," and CeCe McDonald, who is interviewed here.
Where do you fit in? What can you do to help? Read on.