As I have mentioned in the pages of Baltimore OUTLoud before, I attended a Jesuit university in New York City in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although my university selection plagued me somewhat at the time, I recognize, on reflection, that the school perfectly prepared me for a life of advocacy in the GLBT Community. Located in the city, I came of age as a Lesbian. Located in the university, the high Jesuit walls protected me from the likes of Judith Butler and her “everything is everything” gobbledygook. Instead of women’s or gender studies, I majored in English and Psychology, with a concentration in Victorian literature. And I only heard about Gender Theory at political meetings, where I quickly thought “huh, interesting” and got back to the real work at hand.
Fast forward to the late 1990s. I have been out a while and heavily engaged in political work, including advocacy to enact the Anti-Discrimination Act, which banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations. In addition to the right-wing nut jobs who oppose All Things Gay, the biggest opponents of the legislation were the Baltimore Advocates Coalition, led by two Bisexuals in Heterosexual relationships, and Late-Transitioning Heterosexual Males who now “identified” as Lesbian. At the time, I found both of these groups wearisome because they lacked any irony about what they were doing. On reflection, their behavior seems to fit a pattern I have noticed in the 16 years I’ve lived in Baltimore.
It’s not Lesbians who lodge the most vociferous complaints against other Lesbians who dare to speak publicly about how Gender Identity legislation robs Females of their right to exist without the gloss of Gender. Rather, it is people OUTSIDE of the Gay Community who only entered into our “Community” when they “decided” to transition or when they “decided” to have a same-sex relationship (or at least say they wanted one).
Why does this make a difference? As a Female, I – like all Females – have been socialized in our culture to “act like a Woman.” This means a number of things, not the least of which is that we are taught to make others – especially Males – feel comfortable and to not credit our own opinions. This is part of the reason why Girlhood is Significant. We as Females have a common experience shaped not only by our biology, but by our shared experience of how we are socialized to be subservient. As a Lesbian, I – like other Lesbians – fail on the “making Males comfortable” front in part because I am not sexually available to them. I still, though, had been willing to credit – subconsciously – the opinions of Males over my own. As a Gay Activist, I was able to quell the cognitive dissonance I sometimes experienced when engaging in political work with my Gay Brothers because, well, we were all Gay – we shared the common experience of same-sex attraction and desire. As I got older, though, and more Late-Transitioning Heterosexual Males decided to become “Lesbians,” I felt less and less comfortable and willing engaging in advocacy in the “Gay Community.”
The reason for this is quite simple – Gayhood Is Significant. Being socialized in the Gay Community is different from being socialized in the Straight Community. We have different rituals, different culture, different routine – not better, not worse. Different. This is why I am more comfortable in the Gayborhood than I am in Glen Burnie. The Gays are my people. Even the Gay Boys who engage in misogyny all day, every day – I definitely don’t like them, but I know them. We as Gays and Lesbians have the common experience of same-sex attraction and how that same-sex attraction shapes our both our personal lives and how we as the Gay and Lesbian demographic fit into the larger society.
My Trans friends who came out of the Gay Community – and this includes a great many Trans Men who “used to be” Lesbian and a great many Gay or Queer Men who now identify as Women – are qualitatively different than the White, Late-Transitioning Heterosexuals MTFs who seem to dominate the Trans Movement Leadership. Lesbians are generally not the ones using the word “Lesbian” as a shaming tactic. Lesbians are generally not the ones who say that other Lesbians don’t speak for the GLBT Community or for Lesbians. It’s Late-Transitioning Heterosexual Males who do this with regularity. It’s Late-Transitioning Heterosexual Males who tell Feminists who argue against overbroad Gender Identity legislation that Lesbians “just don’t understand.” A patronizing pat on the head from a Late-Transitioning Heterosexual MTF feels a whole lot like a patronizing pat on the head from Every Sexist Man I’ve Ever Met.
You think we just don’t understand, but we don’t believe you. We don’t believe you because we credit our opinions just as much as yours. We don’t believe you because we don’t trust you because you demand much and give little, and we don’t believe you because we’ve seen how quick you’ve been to use the sharp edge of Homophobia against us when we raise Feminist concerns about Gender Identity legislation.
Late-Transitioning Heterosexual Males. Unlike Females, Males are socialized to expect that everyone will credit their opinions and that they are eminently qualified for any task, no matter how many qualifications they lack. Add Heterosexual to the mix, and you have every President we’ve ever had.
In making this observation, I am in no way diminishing the journey of late transitioning MTFs or the pain they endure due to it – indeed, I have sympathy for any human who goes through this. What I am suggesting, though, as that we as a Gay Movement and we as Lesbians in particular might be wise to think not only about the causes we take up as our own, but the people who ask us to lift a laboring oar for a cause that does not necessarily inure to our benefit – particularly when they employ abusive tactics to shame Lesbians into supporting them. As it stands now, the Gay Movement has taken on a cause for Late-Transitioning Heterosexual Males. How Gay is that?
Friday, 24 February 2012